What Can’t Be Faked

You can fake wisdom, in some settings. It’s relatively easy for a smart young adult to memorize the doctrinal reflections of their elders in the tradition. Memorize the system, and you have an answer for more or less everything. To the uninitiated, this looks pretty good.

A more discerning audience quickly sees through it. Book-smarts without experience has a brittle quality to it that’s easy to recognize once you have a bit of life under your belt. Memorizing a couple fat books worth of content is nothing to sneeze at; it takes a ready mind and is an achievement in its own right…but it’s not wisdom. It took wisdom to write the books in the first place; memorizing them takes a lot less than that. Memorizing other people’s wisdom is not the same thing as having some yourself.

The young’un in question is usually not trying to fake anything; there’s no intent to deceive. It’s just that he (or she) really, honestly believes that the book-smarts are more useful than they really are. How do I know? I was that kid.

When you managed to make it a decent way into your education as the smartest person in the room, you want to believe that being smart will carry you the rest of the way. But it isn’t true. Outside the artificial world of the classroom, nobody cares how smart you are; they care what you can do. If the smarts don’t translate into service, they don’t matter. In ministry, that means that your mastery of a system of doctrine only matters to the extent that you can cash it out in practice, and that takes, well, practice.

These are the things you can’t fake, the things where reading fat books won’t help you much. You either actually show up and love actual humans over the long term or you don’t. You move the dead washing machine, rock the screaming baby so mom can get a shower, bring food and medicine when they’re sick, take the 2 am call when they’re 7 days sober and maybe not gonna make it. Sometimes they don’t, and you show up for the funeral. Sometimes they make it, and you celebrate. Sometimes they make it, but their brother, or sister, or kid doesn’t, and you hold them while they sob til they puke. You show up because Jesus called you to. You show up because Jesus is already there, and He wants you to be His hands and feet and voice.

In those moments, your ability to win a classroom debate is nothing. You either bring Jesus or you bring nothing at all.

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