My grandfather really knows how to put an edge on a knife. As a skilled woodcarver, he would be quick to explain how essential it is to have sharp tools. Consequently, some of my earliest memories are of him patiently working a blade over the surface of a stone. When he was certain he had made enough progress for a test, he would roll up his sleeve and carefully run the edge over the surface of his arm. Not until a knife was sharp enough to shave with was it sharp enough.
There is a principle that applies to both knives and our minds and that principle is eluded to in Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Just as it is difficult—even dangerous—to work with a dull knife so it is with a dull mind. Research has shown us that the mind can be strengthened with exercise as well as atrophy with neglect. Indeed, we must all ask ourselves if we are neglecting this vital aspect. With this at the fore, I would like to highlight two ways in which we can sharpen our minds.
The first is developing and maintaining quality friendships with those who are concerned with the development of their own mind as well as that of those they meet. This can have a powerful effect on us because such people have natural curiosity and a penchant for learning. Covet such relationships and treasure them if you have them.
The second way is a personal soapbox issue for me. Reading quality books from respected authors—not from obscure internet websites!—is a necessary activity for developing the life of the mind. I know what you are thinking, I just dismissed my own blog as irrelevant by my own standards. If so, so be it! I see an alarming number of people develop bad doctrine by reading crummy web trash. Note: you can justify reading from the web if you know the character and reputation of the author.
The usual objection to this second point is that some people are not “readers”. I even heard one man say he didn’t have the reading gene. Imagine! I will concede that some take to reading faster than others just as a seven foot man has a head start toward a basketball scholarship. But, I cannot imagine saying to myself, “I see that a treasure of knowledge lies over there and I see some worthy souls sampling it. But, I will not venture there because, for me, it will take longer to reach and the path seems difficult.” Remember that Solomon wrote, “fools despise wisdom and discipline.” His further instruction included these words,
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Pr. 2:1-6)
* The picture is of one of my most cherished possessions--my great grandfather's knife. It was handed down to me by my grandfather (after a good sharpening of course!)
**For those who take Solomon seriously I recommend J.I. Packer's classic book Knowing God as a good place to start sharpening their minds.