An audio recording of the whole service...
Sharpening the Saw (Steps 10 & 11)
Trevor Hudson tells the following story -
Once upon a time all the temptations were put on sale. Each one was packaged, price-tagged and advertised: The temptation to be selfish, to control those around us, to lose our temper, to nurse our grievances, to tell lies, to be greedy, and so on. Most of these temptations were expensive. But there was one which was marked ‘Free’. It was the temptation to be complacent. One day a customer came along, noticed this jar and asked why it was being given away for nothing. ‘Oh, if you fall for that temptation,’ came the answer then you are vulnerable to all the others.’
Trevor goes on to write that complacency is one of the most dangerous temptations on the spiritual journey, especially for those who have managed through the first 9 Steps, who have now begun to reap the real benefits of the program, whose lives are beginning to feel lighter, more harmonious with a new sense of stability. It may begin to feel for such people that their goals have been achieved and after all the hard work it is now time to relax.
But Step 10 is a reminder not to become complacent, emphasizing the ongoing need to continue practising everything that has been learned and maintaining everything that has been gained.
In 1 Cor 12, the apostle Paul, in the midst of a reflection on temptation writes the following words:
“If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.”
It is the encouragement not to become complacent.
And so Step 10 on the 12 Step Program, right near the end, comes as a reminder that the 12 Step program is not a program that you graduate from and then leave behind. Rather it is about a training in a set of principles for harmonious and stable living and that therefore need to be practised on an ongoing basis.
Step 10 does this by emphasizing the need for ongoing self-reflection. Step 10 reads:
We continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
This is a step about practising the skills learned so far.
In 1962 Gary Player told a story about his fellow golfer Jerry Barber in his book “Gary Player’s Golf Secrets”.
Once Jerry Barber, a great sand player, was practising bunker shots. He hit one ball near the flag. The next shot went in.
A person watching Jerry told him: “Gee, you sure are a lucky bunker shot player.”
“Yes, I know,” Jerry replied. “And the harder I practice, the luckier I get.”
And that is really what Step 10 on the 12 Step program is emphasizing. The more practised we become at reflecting on our character flaws, spotting them and identifying them, the easier it will become to promptly admit that we are wrong, the less mess we are likely to create in our lives, and the easier it is going to be to clean it up.
I think we are all aware how keeping a room tidy on an ongoing basis is much easier than leaving it to get messier and messier and then in the end cleaning it is going to feel like an enormous task. The same is true in our personal lives. If we can catch our character flaws early, the smaller the mess that we’re going to create in our personal lives and in the lives of others.
In a way, it is not only Step 10 that emphasizes the need to maintain our progress, in their own way, Step 11 and 12 do so as well. For the rest of this reflection I would like to focus on Step 11.
While Step 10 encourages us to continue the practice of self reflection and making amends by apologising promptly when we see our faults and character defects re-emerging,
Step 11 is an encouragement to practice an ever deeper reliance or consciousness of our Higher Power, or God as we may understand God.
Step 11 reads: We sought through prayer and meditation, to improve our conscious contact with God, praying for knowledge of God’s will for us and for the power to carry it out.
Two parts to Step 11
1 – Through Prayer and Meditation seeking to improve our conscious contact with God
2 – Praying for knowledge of God’s Will and the power to carry it out.
In the late 1990’s, an American life-coach called Stephen Covey, wrote a book called the Seven Habits of Highly Effective people. One of the principles he identifies in the book is what he called: Sharpening the Saw using the following story:
A woodcutter strained to saw down a tree. A young man who was watching asked “What are you doing?”
“Are you blind?” the woodcutter replied. “I’m cutting down this tree.”
The young man was unabashed. “You look exhausted! Take a break. Sharpen your saw.”
The woodcutter explained to the young man that he had been sawing for hours and did not have time to take a break.
The young man pushed back… “If you sharpen the saw, you would cut down the tree much faster.”
The woodcutter said “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. Don’t you see I’m too busy?”
In the context of the 12 step program, one of the ways we can sharpen the saw, is by seeking to maintain and deepen our conscious contact with God, through prayer and meditation.
It is the encouragement to find a discipline that on a daily or weekly basis will keep us connected with God, our Higher Power or our Higher Self.
For Christians, one of the most obvious ways of doing this is regular attendance at Church worship. But there are other ways too...
For some it might be practising conversational prayer… speaking to God as though God were your dearest and best friend. But not everyone can connect with prayer in that sense. And so for others, it might be memorising a prayer like the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi (or perhaps even the Lord’s Prayer) and saying it slowly and meaningfully every day. For others reflecting on the Gospel stories of Jesus or memorising inspirational verses of Scripture. For others, it might be more along the lines of resting into the stillness as the Psalmist says: Be Still and Know that I am God. But for others it might be spending time alone in nature, connecting with God through the natural world.
A little boy was watching his granny rub some cream onto her face. He was intrigued and asked her why she was doing this. She replied simply, that she hoped the cream would take away her wrinkles. He became quiet, continued to look closely at her face, obviously concerned. After a long silence, he said ‘Granny, I’m sorry, but it’s not working.’
Prayer and Meditation can take many different forms. The most important thing is doing whatever works for you, whatever it is that helps you to feel more deeply connected with a sense of the peace, wisdom and love of God. So that your life begins to align more and more deeply with God’s Life.
The second half of Step 11 is about praying for God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
What is God’s will for you? Some Christians approach that question as though God is some kind of micro-manager wanting to meddle in the finer details of your life. I don’t find such views helpful. For me the bottom line of God’s will for us us that more and more we should grow into the Mind of Christ, in other words the mind of Love and Wisdom. If you are growing in love and wisdom, then I believe that you and fulfilling God’s will and purpose in your life
In our gospel reading today we encounter Jesus going off early in the morning in solitude, spending time alone in nature in order to connect more deeply with God in prayer. This appears to be the spiritual heartbeat of his life. After a busy night the previous night, Jesus seeks seeks to be refreshed and renewed by reconnecting with the Divine. And it is out of this stillness and prayer, that Jesus seems to find his direction and purpose. When the disciples find him and want to drag him back to the house where people are waiting for him, Jesus recognises that it is time to move on to other towns and villages. By reconnecting with God or the Divine, Jesus is not only refreshed and renewed, but his has a renewed sense of purpose.
I end with 2 quotes:
For Step 10 – about not becoming complacent
Philippians 3:13-14 "Brothers and Sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
For Step 11 – deepening our connection with God
1 Chronicles 16:11 - "Seek the The I-Am, the Holy One and his strength; seek his presence continually!"
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