The northern kingdom of Israel displayed little that was heartening for the servant of the Lord. Despite the remarkable work of Elijah, the nation continued on its idolatrous way. Nevertheless, in the midst of this there was encouragement to be found. The sons of the prophets, groups who sought to follow the God of Israel, were active. One such group had met a problem - their accommodation was too small as their numbers had increased.
How encouraging it would be for the prophet to see growth amongst the spiritual in a society that had turned its back on the Lord and His word. How encouraging such a situation would be today. So the call to build goes out with the approval of Elijah. The prophets ask him to accompany them, confirming that the move was not to distance themselves from the man of God.
By the side of the Jordan the work progressed: every workman committed to the task, eager to see progress and be a part of the work. How could anyone or anything cause harm? Surely such a group of devoted servants would not fail!
But unexpectedly, suddenly, and disastrously the blow fell. One workman, as he cut down wood, saw the head of his axe, which was borrowed, fall into the water and disappear into the depths.
The power of this man to work had been removed. He could wield the axe for the remainder of the day, but nothing would be achieved. His usefulness in the work had gone. But what could have caused such a loss? Certainly he had been guilty of negligence. If only he had been careful in his use of the axe the problem would not have occurred.
In there any lesson for today? There is indeed! Those who seek to serve the Lord faithfully may find that the cutting edge of their service has gone. Carelessness in how the work is carried out, confidence in ones own abilities with decreasing reliance of the Lord, or occupation with other less worthy matters may all rob us of effectiveness in service. Take note that this is not a case of deliberate abandonment of the work, but of unrealised loss of power in the work.
The question that must be asked is, "Are we as effective today as we have been in the past?". Is it possible that we go through the motions but know in our hearts that the power has been lost? Are we wielding an axe with no cutting ability despite the fact that the effort is as great as ever?
The axe head had been borrowed. It had been given by another for the furtherance of the work, just as are spiritual gifts. It is the responsibility of all to ensure that these gifts are kept "sharp" and available for service. Should we fail in this, we may still be engaged busily, but without result.
What is the answer to such a problem? The workman turned to Elisha. He had the answer. No other could restore the axe head. It is, therefore, to the Lord that we turn to restore the power, the "cutting edge" of our service.
But Elisha asked, "Where fell it?". We have to search our hearts and identify where the problem took place, what caused us to lose our power. This involves confession on our part, with the acknowledgment that restoration is His work.
But Elisha, having made the axe head available again, calls on the man to "Take it up to thee". Elisha performed the miracle, but the servant of the Lord had to play his part and take the axe head up. It is always this way in recovery. The work of the cross, pictured in the stick that was cast into the river, is the basis of the recovery of the servant, but he had to reach out and take to himself what had been made available to him again.
Let us all examine again our service for the Lord. Has it lost its edge? Is it no longer effective? Let us stand back, take stock, and then find it in our hearts, if necessary, to say, "Alas, Master!" as we cast ourselves upon Him to renew our fervour for the work which He has given.