Just Me Being Clever

Mr. L. was a member of a church I once pastored in Southeast Asia. He was small, excitable, and in some ways, eccentric. Sometimes I wondered if he was “playing with a full deck,” but he seemed harmless enough.

One day, one of the members asked me, “Do you know that Mr. L. is a qualified graphologist?”

“A what?” I asked.

“He’s a graphologist. He looks at your handwriting and tells you things about yourself from it.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. It seemed spooky. And anyway, telling people about themselves was my job as pastor, not Mr. L’s.

“Yes, yes. I do that,” Mr. L. admitted cheerfully, when I asked him. “Do you want me to look at your handwriting?”

Well, why not? It might be a good way to assert my authority and expose Mr. L’s nonsense. So, as the members gathered around, I wrote a short sentence for Mr. L.

He looked at my sentence for a few moments, and then said, “Very interesting. It is clear that you are a very clever man, Mr. John.”

Okay. Maybe there was something in this graphology thing after all.

He continued, “You have many ideas, and you are very good with words.” (Yes. True enough.) “In fact,” said Mr. L., studying my handwriting writing closely, “You are so clever that some people may think you are brilliant.” Then he looked directly at me, and said, “But you are not brilliant. You are only clever. So do not believe it if people say you are brilliant.  Stay clever and you will be successful. If you start to think you are brilliant, you will fail.”

Hmm. Everyone looked a bit embarrassed. You didn’t talk to the pastor like that, not in those days, but Mr. L. didn’t know any better. I decided to just smile and thank him.  But I have never forgotten his advice. He was right.

It is true that ideas come to me easily. I am adequate at what I do, but I am not brilliant at it. I can easily get out of my depth academically and intellectually. Thankfully I have friends who have the education and expertise to support and supplement my “clever but not brilliant” efforts.

What a blessing it is to know and accept your limitations. I think Paul the apostle was brilliant, but he recognized that he was inadequate, calling himself the “least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9). He wrote to the self-confident Corinthians, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential…but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).

As I look over this issue of Christian Odyssey, I see the work of many people. Most are clever; a few are brilliant in their fields of expertise. As long as we work together, each doing our best work while accepting our limitations, we know that the magazine we send you will be greater than the sum of its parts. We hope that means it will be well worth your read.

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