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A Warning To Those Who Work With Words

There isn’t much I know that wasn’t taught to me by someone else. There isn’t much I count as wisdom that didn’t come to me by way of someone older and wiser than myself. The wisdom I am about to share is of exactly that kind. I won’t reveal the source, but will say it was a man known for that rare but beautiful combination of a gentle spirit and a wise mind.

This man works with words. Words are the material he draws upon, the material he shapes, and the material he eventually presents to others. If an artist begins with a vision, a blank canvas, and a palette of colors, this man begins with an idea, a blank page, and a pen. At the beginning of the week he immerses himself in other people’s words, by the middle of the week he is writing words of his own, and at the end of the week he presents these words to others. He has necessarily become a master of words.

As a master of words, he is a master at self-expression. His long labor in words has given him a heightened ability to think, to reason, and to express himself. His unique vocation has allowed him the opportunity to encounter an unusual number of ideas and the freedom to explore them in depth. This has made him especially proficient at what he does. But he has come to realize it has also provided him an unfair advantage in some contexts. His great strength is not far removed from his great weakness. And this was the wisdom he wished to share with me as a fellow-worker in words.

There are inevitably times in life where those who work with words have to interact with those who do not. They have to discuss matters of utmost importance. They have to debate crucial decisions. They have to arrive at shared vision and direction. And sometimes, in such situations, the masters of words have the ability to get their way simply because of their mastery. When words matter, they have more of them to work with. When self-expression carries the day, they have the training and experience that gives them an advantage. And so they get their way, even when it’s not the best way.

Our minds and our muscles grow through use.

This is nothing to do with their intellectual capabilities but everything to do with their way with words. The man who swings a hammer all day is likely to have a physical advantage over the man who reads and writes; the man who reads and writes is likely to have an expressive ability over the man who swings a hammer. Our minds and our muscles grow through use.

This is wisdom for a pastor with his elders. You work in words but many of your elders do not. They have skills of their own, but not ones that necessarily result in the ability to express themselves. To extend grace to them and to benefit from the full extent of their wisdom, you may need to slow the pace of your debates or increase the time you provide for discussion and reflection. This honors them and honors the God who works in and through them.

This is wisdom for a husband with his wife (or wife with her husband). You work in words, but your spouse does not. So when there are decisions to be made or arguments to be had, say your bit, but then step away and allow him or her to catch up, to form those thoughts, to make that full reply. Be sure you aren’t carrying the day because of the freedom with which your words flow rather than the conformity they display to the will of God.

This is a warning to those who work with words. It is wisdom for anyone whose raw material and finished product is words. It is wisdom for any of us who love words and who wish to use them for the good of others and the glory of God.

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