Piles and Piles of Wood Chips
May 24, 2020
In his book Be All You Can Be, author John Maxwell tells the story of a Stanford University psychologist who did an experiment that looked at the productive attitudes of the common everyday worker.
The psychologist hired a professional logger from a local logging camp. He told the logger that he would pay him double what he made in the logging camp if he would try to chop a log with the blunt side of the axe for eight hours. Don’t worry about chopping the wood the logger was told, just hit the log with the blunt head of the axe.
The logger thought it sounded like easy money. So for over five hours that day the man hit a big log with the blunt end of the axe which of course, did absolutely nothing to the big log. Then, after working a little more, the logger suddenly threw down his axe and quit. The psychologist asked him why he would just up and quit when he was making twice the money he normally would and all he had to do was hit the log with the blunt side of the axe. The man replied, “I’m a logger. Every time I hit the tree with an axe I need to see the wood chips fly…because if I don’t see the chips fly it’s no fun…it’s as though I’m not accomplishing anything” (John Maxwell, Be All You Can Be, Wheaton, Illinois; Victor Books, 1987, 21).
We need to see the wood chips fly. We need to accomplish something. We need to produce. We need to feel fruitful. That’s why man works. Working makes us feel useful. Working day in and day out forms a significant part of our identity…of who we are…while at the same time it bolsters our self-respect. Working helps identify our strengths and helps explore and develop our potential so that we can “feel” like we are contributing to society by using our own God given capabilities. “Working helps us navigate our efforts to be in line with a changing world – and at the same time it helps us explore our horizons” (Yoko Ishikura, Why do we work and what do we get out of it?, World Economic Forum, 06March 2017).
The average everyday human being wants to work…needs to work. It makes us feel good to be productive. It’s good for us physically and it’s good for us emotionally. When I think of all the people that have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 virus, which means they lost their jobs through no fault of their own, it breaks my heart.
When it comes right down to it, whether you’ve been laid off, or downsized, or forced to take an early retirement, losing your employment is one of life’s most stressful experiences. Aside from the obvious financial stress it can cause, the stress of losing a job can also take a heavy toll on your mood, it can affect your relationships with others, and it can affect your overall mental and emotional health.
Our job is more than just the way we make a living. Our job influences how we see ourselves as well as the way others see us. Whether you like your job or not really doesn’t matter. Our jobs provide us with a social outlet while at the same time it gives structure and purpose and meaning to our lives.
If you have ever been out of a job you know it can take a toll on you. Finding ourselves without a job can leave us feeling hurt and angry and depressed. Without meaningful employment one begins to question his/her identity, we find ourselves beginning to grieve for what we have lost. We find ourselves feeling lost and after a period of time we find ourselves beginning to feel restless and anxious about what the future holds for us.
This is my fear for those people who have been laid off or lost their jobs because of this virus. People need to work. People need to produce. Not just for the money, but for their own wellbeing. Like the logger in the experiment, people need to see the woodchips piling up beside them as they work so that they are able to find purpose and meaning in their lives. For the sake of their own financial and emotional wellbeing as well as for their families, people need to work, people need to produce wood chips, people need to be fruitful to stay healthy.
John Maxwell went on to comment in his book that he’s “concerned that there are many Christians who are using the wrong side of the axe and there are no wood chips flying in their lives. In other words they aren’t producing any fruit and the joy in their life has disappeared. Their joy has been replaced by a sense of futility, a sense of uselessness and as sense of immobility” (Maxwell, 21). These people who have lost the joy in their life are the people who are on the verge of becoming spiritually bankrupt.
Like the typical everyday worker, spiritually successful people also need to see the chips fly and the greater and more prolific their spiritual lives become the deeper the pile of wood chips becomes. And the only way for the pile of wood chips to keep getting deeper and deeper is by living a life of faith. A successfully spiritual life must start and end by living with a faith in an all-powerful, ever present, all knowing God.
I’m glad to see the warm weather come because I never know what to expect when I walk into my office during the winter months. Sometimes it’s nice and warm and other times…well, other times it’s not so nice and warm. It took me a while but I finally realized that what I need is a space heater. I plug it in and put it up close to my desk and I stay nice and toasty warm. That’s one of the keys to a successful spiritual life as well – you have to stay close to the heater…you have to stay close to God. If we are going to produce, if we are going to live fruitful lives, we have to stay close to God. Stay close to God and your faith will always stay nice and toasty warm.
Vibrant, fruitful Christians are people who are continually growing by learning and improving and excelling in their faith journey. This word “fruitfulness” that I’ve been using is a word that is used as a metaphor for the overall fulfillment of our Christian faith. If we go back and look in the Bible we’ll find that the scriptures are filled with stories about fields and harvests and vines and branches and stumps and shoots and trees. These words along with the word fruitfulness are used as a type of faith language to help us understand what Jesus expects from those who call themselves Christians.
Fruitfulness isn’t just something that Jesus came up with. The expectation of fruitfulness begins way back in the first Chapter of Genesis when God says to mankind, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Here, fruitfulness is used as a response to God’s fruitfulness after he made the heavens and the earth and all that is within them. This same expectation of fruitfulness then extends to the very last chapter of the very last book in the Bible, Revelation. It is here that the author describes a new creation with a river of life flowing through the holy city. And on each side of the river is the tree of life with twelve different kinds of fruit…trees that are expected to produce fruit each and every month.
Jesus makes it a point to talk about fruitfulness in all four gospels. In Matthew, he describes a disciple’s life, your life and my life, in terms of fruitfulness. He says, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit…Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits” (7:17-20). The difference we make in this world, which is our fruitfulness, comes from our interior qualities, qualities such as our character, our motives and of course, our relationship with God.
Mark tells of Jesus seeing a fig tree with no fruit and cursing it because of its lack of fruitfulness (11:12-14).
Luke tells of the farmer who scattered seed on the ground. We’re told that some of the seed fell on rocks, some of it dried out and some were choked out by weeds. But the seed that fell on good soil grew and grew and produced an abundant harvest. “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen” Jesus said (Luke 8:4-8).
As disciples of Jesus Christ we will be faced with all sorts of obstacles and failures throughout our lifetime, but those who work diligently with trust and with hope will produce good fruit because they trust in the God of the harvest and not in themselves.
Finally, John’s gospel describes the relationship or the correlation found between a life devoted to God and our fruitfulness. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because without me, you can do nothing” (15:5-8).
In just three short years the disciples of Jesus produced a lot of fruit. They healed people and they taught people and they served others just as Jesus served them. They confronted evil; they advocated for justice; they acted with mercy and the offered God’s forgiveness to others. They produced fruit. They made a difference by going out into the world and changing people’s lives simply by carrying God’s message of love through their words and their work. The gift of the Holy Spirit was in each of them because they were connected to God through Jesus Christ.
Fruitfulness is clearly expected of Christian disciples. That’s why Jesus’ teachings consistently present the expectation that his followers are thought of as stewards and that when God has trusted them with something, God not only expects them to return what he trusted them with but he expects more. Life in Christ and fruitfulness and fulfillment all go hand in hand.
Over the years we have talked about how God has given all of us certain spiritual gifts and talents. But we have also been taught that not all of us have the same spiritual gifts or talent nor do we all have the same amount. By the same token not all of us can be equally fruitful and not all of our fruitfulness is going to look the same.
Bishop Robert Schnase, in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, tells of another Bishop sharing a story with him about her perception of fruitfulness. She describes how sometimes one has to climb up a tree and then go way out on a limb just to get an apple. Other times, all you have to do is shake the tree and the apples fall right before you. And at other times, when the apples are perfectly ripe, they fall from the tree and all you have to do is pick them up.
What this story suggests is that for some of us, there are times in our lives where everything we do, every small step toward a fruitful lifestyle comes slowly and causes us a lot of effort to reach what we’re striving for…but at the same time, for others of us there are times in our lives when the harvest lies right there before us and is so great that we should almost ask God’s forgiveness for not doing more with what he has given us.
A spiritually successful, fruitful life comes to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. A spiritually successful, fruitful life comes from applying God’s grace to the way we live our lives. That’s what Paul wanted from the Ephesians and that is what Paul wants for us…to experience all of the dimensions of God…which means that we experience not just the good things in life, but the bad as well.
For us to be successful spiritually, for the wood chips to pile up around us so that we can recognize our fruitfulness, we have to experience God as he reveals himself to us through the Holy Spirit. As we allow the Spirit to take greater control of our lives, the ways of God become more evident and more prominent in the way we live our lives.
“I pray for you constantly, asking God to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God” (v 16-17). That’s what Paul wants from us today. He wants a fuller revelation and a fuller knowledge of God for each of us. He wants us to be fruitful in all that we do. He wants the wood chips to pile up beside us because our growth in knowledge and our growth in grace are absolutely essential if we are going to live and grow as Jesus wants us to live and grow.
If the power of Pentecost is going to rock this church…if the power of Pentecost is going to rock your life we have to be ready for it. We have to lay a foundation for it. We have to be committed to let the Holy Spirit into our hearts and into our lives.
May we all come to know Christ better. Because the more we know about him and how he wants us to live our lives, the more we will be like him…and the more we are like him, the more fruitful and joyful our lives will become…and the more fruitful and joyful our lives become the more our lives will change. And the wood chips? Oh, the wood chips will just keep piling up.