IVE BEEN THINKING.... about polishing swords and sharpening our gospel message. These are two activities I truly enjoy and I use whatever opportunity I find to pursue them both. They are very similar activities I believe.
When I first came to Japan, in 1982 as part of a evangelistic team, I had lots of opportunities to speak and challenge believers and non-believers alike in churches, street corners and shopping areas, and wherever people were to be found. We saw some results, but as I look back on it now, it seems like I mostly beat people over the head. My message then was more like a stick to hit people with than a sword that pierces to the heart. Over the years Ive found Ive needed to continually polish my message, just like polishing a sword, to pierce the hearts of those Im trying to reach.
Polishing swords, the real samurai swords like you see in a museum, is very different than say, sharpening a kitchen knife or honing a dull axe. The process is entirely different, and it can not be done by just anyone. Samurai swords are not only sharp, they are strong with thousands of layers of steel fused together. And when they are polished like a mirror, they slice through just about anything.
This must be what the Bible refers to when it says, "The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." You can't do that with an axe. Until I held in my own hands a perfect samurai sword I never could understand the meaning behind this scripture verse.
However, even a well made sword does not keep it's polish forever. It has to be polished by a trained sword polisher who knows what he's doing and is willing to give it the time necessary to do the job right. We're talking hours and hours. To be qualified as a sword polisher the apprenticeship is ten years, working long painful hours five-six days a week. A sword polisher may charge up to $75.00 per inch. Quality is always expensive.
I have enjoyed dabbling with it by trying to polish a low quality sword now and then. But after I've done my very best a true polisher will still have to start over from the beginning in order to recreate a perfect polish. Each step in the process has to be done correctly or all work that follows is of no value. A sword polisher uses as many as ten different polishing stones, each with a different texture to create the incredible beauty where every layer of steel can be seen individually.
There is something about the process of being bent over the wooden stand with the polishing stone and water bucket and trying to get ones whole body, mind and emotions to concentrate on one smooth and simple activity, that seems to me to be meaningful and even spiritual.
Sharpening our gospel message is the same. A teacher in my missionary training days told me that if Im called to communicate God's word I should start practicing my messages long before I ever get invited to speak. I have done that for years, with notebooks and drawers full of possible messages, that for the most part have never been preached. But just now I'm beginning to see the wisdom.
The goal of any Bible teaching is to mix real life, from our own experience, with the Bible truth in a way that it slices, dices, and pierces into the hearts of others. Its too easy to beat on peoples heads with a Bible verse, leaving bruises rather than changed hearts. But to polish a message until it comes alive to the listener is the goal for every Christian messenger.
We need more missionaries in Japan, thats for sure. But what we need most of all is to find the life messages that have the power to cut through to the heart in this age and generation. And then we need to polish them to create a beautiful cutting edge. I really believe a harvest time could be at hand, if our swords become polished and ready. But there are no short cuts in sword polishing, and I doubt we will find them in preaching or teaching the Word of God either.