Jonny and the Pencil: An Object Lesson on Letting Jesus Help


The most memorable object lesson I heard as a child was told to me by an old preacher with a gray beard. I don’t remember the preacher’s name, but I remember his story. It went something like this:

Once, a long time ago, lived a little boy named Jonny. Now Jonny was six years old and ready to go to school for the very first time, and he was excited about it. His mama bought him a brand new shirt, and a brand new lunch box, and a brand new yellow pencil. Preacher pulls pencil from his pocket. Jonny liked the pencil best of all.

Well, on the first day of school, Jonny arrived in his classroom with his brand new pencil, and the teacher told him where to sit, right at the front of the classroom with all the other first graders. Then the teacher saw his pencil and asked, “Jonny, would you like me to sharpen that for you?”

“No,” said Jonny. “I want to do it all by myself, and I’ll do it right now.”

Then Jonny reached into his pocket and pulled out his pocket knife. Preacher reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pocket knife. See, back then, people didn’t use pencil sharpeners; they used a knife to sharpen their pencils. So Jonny took his knife and started to sharpen his pencil. He took a hunk off one side of the pencil, and then he took a hunk off the other side. Preacher demonstrates.

The teacher was watching, and he said, “Jonny, let me help you with that.”

But Jonny said, “No! I want to do it all by myself.”

So he took another hunk off his pencil on this side and another hunk on that side. Preacher demonstrates as he speaks. But the pencil still wasn’t sharp. So he took off a little more and a little more and a little more. Preacher demonstrates. And after a while the teacher said, “Jonny, are you sure you don’t want me to help?”

But Jonny said, “NO! I want to do it all by myself.”

So he took off a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more until the pencil was quite a lot shorter. Preacher holds up the pencil, now half its size. When the teacher saw how short his pencil was getting, he asked, “Jonny, are you SURE you don’t want help?”

This time Jonny didn’t sound quite as sure of himself, but his face looked just as grim and just as determined when he shook his head. “No,” he said. “I want to do it all by myself.”

And he kept trying. He took off another hunk on one side and another hunk on another side, and a little more here and a little more there, and his pencil kept getting shorter and shorter and shorter, until all of a sudden Jonny realized he only had a little tiny pencil left. Preacher holds out the short pencil. Jonny just sat and looked at his short pencil, and two big tears rolled down his cheeks.

The teacher didn’t say anything. He just came up behind Jonny and took Jonny’s hand in his and, very carefully, he whittled a little bit here and a little bit there until that pencil was sharp. Preacher sharpens the tiny pencil and holds it up.

The message was clear, wrapped tight in the words of the old preacher’s story and in the vivid image of a pencil held in a man’s strong hand, attacked by the blade of a knife, growing shorter and shorter until there was only a tiny stub left.

God has given each of us a life: a brand new life, like Jonny’s pencil. Each of us gets to decide what we want to do with our life. Some people don’t want to let Jesus direct their lives. Instead they say, “No! I want to do it all by myself!” And they whittle away and whittle away and make a big mess of things, and finally, when they get almost to the end of their life, they realize they can’t do it by themselves. Finally, they ask Jesus for help… but by that time their pencil is almost gone. They’ve wasted all those years.

Ask Jesus to help you right away, so He can make you useful while you’re young.

“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” Ecclesiastes 12:1


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