Three apprentices were one day making swords for their Master, who had commanded them to do so. The Master also had given specific instructions on how they were to be made.
As the three apprentices worked they debated over what was really the proper procedure and the many secrets of making fine steel. The first apprentice said to the other two, as he pounded on the red hot metal:
"I think I am almost finished with this sword; just as soon as I cool it, I can begin to sharpen and shine it."
"The Master told us to wait until the glow of the metal is white to pound it out," said the third apprentice. "Then he said to fold it over and heat it until it is white again and then pound it out and to repeat it one hundred times. Your metal is only bright orange and you have only pounded it out five times; how can you say are almost done?"
"Mind your own business!" said the first apprentice. "I say it is finished and that we need not do everything the master has told us."
With that, the first apprentice took his newly-forged blade off to sharpen and shine it.
The other two apprentices continued on their own, heating the metal and pounding it out, folding it over and repeating the process until they had done it nearly one hundred times. This had taken several weeks and on the final day of their forging process, the second apprentice said:
"I can't take the heat any longer. I've done this almost a hundred times and I am too hot and tired to do it any longer. It's not fair of the Master to ask us to do this so many times when it is so hot and such a tiring process."
"I agree." said the first apprentice, who was just finishing his newly-shined and sharpened sword. "Look at this," he boasted. "It is sharp and it shines brightly. The Master will be very pleased and very proud, he'll never know that I didn't follow all of his instructions."
The second apprentice finished pounding out his blade for the last time, then he took the blade and stuck it in some very cold water. The third apprentice said:
"No, wait, the Master said that we should watch the metal until it stops glowing and crystals start to form on the crust, before we cool it in water. You cooled your blade while it was still glowing and very hot."
"What difference could that possibly make?" said the second apprentice. "I have applied enough heat and tempering to my sword and I say it will be fine."
With that, the second apprentice joined the first in sharpening and shining his blade.
The third apprentice continued to finish forging his blade until he had completed the process one hundred times. When he had finished pounding the metal for the last time, he held the metal close to his face and watched carefully as the metal turned from a bright orange, to a bright red, then to a dull red and finally the metal went black. After a moment the metal began to crackle and small white crystals began to form on the blackened crust. The apprentice knew the time was right and he thrust the blade deep into the cold water. The metal crackled and hissed as it hit the water, but when the blade was cooled it was hard and strong.
The third apprentice sighed with relief, his face was streaked with sweat and caked on ashes. He also had many blisters from flying sparks during the forging process. But he was glad the metal was now ready for the final touch and he took the blade and joined the other two who were shining and finishing their swords.
The day finally came when the Master arrived to check on their work and to collect their swords. The three apprentices stood side by side anxious to see which sword the Master would choose to be his sword. The Master stood in front of the first apprentice and took the sword from his hand. He then drew it from its sheath.
The first apprentice's jaw dropped open in disbelief, for his sword was no longer bright and shining, but had turned to a dull gray. The Master looked up and said:
"You thought you could fool me, but you have only fooled yourself. It is plain to see that you did not apply enough heat to the metal and therefore you failed to burn off the impurities in the metal and it will not hold it's shine for long."
The Master then took the sword and chopped it into a tree three times. Then he ran his thumb along the edge of the blade. The blade was bent and dulled and the Master said:
"You also have failed to fold the metal over and over one hundred times, therefore the metal is weak and soft." The Master then struck the tree with the flat of the sword and the sword bent almost around the tree.
"Leave me." said the Master. "You have not heeded my words nor did you have the patience to even test my wisdom and see if it was true."
The Master then stood before the second apprentice and took the sword from his hand. The second apprentice, having seen his comrade fail to hide his slothfulness was not so at ease as he was before. The Master drew the sword from its sheath and held it up to the light. The second apprentice let out a sigh of relief, for the blade was smooth, untarnished and it shined beautifully in the sunlight.
The Mast held the sword for a moment and then again did as he had done before by chopping the blade into a tree. When the Master pulled the blade from the tree he again ran his thumb along the edge of the blade. The sword was still sharp, but to the second apprentice's surprise there were small nicks in the edge of the blade where it had struck the tree. The Master looked up as the second apprentice in an inquisitive manner and said:
"You too have deceived yourself. You have done well in heating and folding the metal, but because you thought your wisdom was greater than mine you cooled the metal while it was still much too hot."
When the Master had said this he struck the tree with the flat side of the sword and to the second apprentice's dismay the blade broke into three pieces and scattered across the ground.
"Because you cooled the blade with water while it was still much too hot," said the Master, "the metal has become hard yet very brittle and as you can see it was easily broken. Your blade on the outside was beautiful and bright, but beauty and brightness do not make it strong, effective and useful."
"Leave me also," said the Master to the second apprentice, "for if a man were to use either of these first two swords in battle, they would have surely perished."
The Master then stood before the third apprentice and took his sword also. He then drew it from its sheath. The blade was smooth, brightly shined and there were also many characters and symbols beautifully engraved into the bottom.
The Master was in awe at the sight of the sword he held, but he being angry because of the first two swords, struck the tree with the blade again and again to see if the third had also neglected his council. Upon inspecting the blade the Master found it to still be very sharp and smooth.
The Master then struck the tree with the flat of the blade not once, but five times, each time harder than the others. The sword rang out loudly, but it did not break, bend or blemish in any way.
Humbled by what he had just seen, the Master held the sword out for all to see and said to the third apprentice:
"Come with me. For you have heeded my council and have endured the long hours of heat, pain and tempering and have produced a blade worthy of praise and because you have done this, I will show you even greater things. For you have now learned that through much time, heat, tempering and patience comes the finest metal and then it is ready to be used by the Master's hand."
We should ever be mindful that God is continually working with us in an effort to mold us into our greatest potential.
But we must be patient and endure the trials and temptations that he sees fit that we should endure.
Our lives are like metal which need proper tempering.