Being Phlegmatic (and Learning from Moses)

I was really into the Myers-Briggs personality test in college.

(To me, trying to understand people is one of the most fascinating pursuits in life.) But recently I’ve become obsessed with the Four Temperaments test. Even though everyone at my church constantly talked about it, I wasn’t convinced until I took the test, got surprising results, and subsequently learned a TON about myself.

I used to think I was a melancholy (introverted, introspective, moody, perfectionistic creative). Then I thought my “true” personality was a sanguine (out-going, bubbly, funny, excited talker). But turns out, my primary disposition is actually phlegmatic (chill, relaxed, patient peace-maker)!*

I have a lot of traits from the other temperaments in me, too, but when I read descriptions about phlegmatics, I gained so much insight about myself!

I thought I was the only person in the world who struggled with having such low energy! And now I understand my conflict-avoidant/passive aggressive tendencies better and have a better idea how to deal with those issues. I also appreciate my calmness during calamity more and feel less judgmental of others who have different strengths (like being passionate to change the world).

As I’ve been analyzing all my relationships through this lens, I’ve realized that even more important than a person’s disposition is their maturity. Any personality has strengths and weaknesses. The question is how you use your strengths and how you handle your weaknesses.

As one friend recently put it, In the hands of God, all temperaments shine.

I see this clearly when I look at the life of Moses.

He started out as an insecure phlegmatic, but God transformed him into one of the most powerful leaders in the Bible.

When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, he displayed one of the classic phlegmatic weaknesses: apathy. He was also chock-full of insecurities. He kept asking God questions and making excuses.

“Why send me? I’m not good with words. Why would anyone listen to me? I’m a nobody. What if I don’t know what to say? What if no one believes me? Why can’t you just send someone else?”

He was so unwilling that God’s anger “burned against him.”

But God persisted in using Moses. He refused to choose anyone else to lead His people. He provided Aaron to help him talk to Pharaoh, but eventually Moses began to speak for himself––he was the chosen leader of the Israelites.

canstockphoto7028216The picture of “Moses the leader” that sticks out in my mind is when he came down from Mount Sinai and found the Israelites worshipping the golden calf. There was no hesitation or fumbling this time. He immediately smashed the stone tablets he had carried down from the mountain (on which the finger of God had inscribed the 10 commandments), and he harshly rebuked the people for their betrayal.

Moses became a man of great strength, wisdom, and passion. He established God’s law and laid the foundations of the entire nation. He is also the only man of whom it is said, “He met with God face to face.” Whenever he came out from meeting with God, his face glowed with the radiance of God’s glory.

Lately, God has been using Moses’ story to encourage me. He has shown me that like Moses, I can devalue myself and doubt my abilities. I can make excuses and sink into apathy and laziness. But these weaknesses aren’t going to make God change His mind about using me.

Even when I am faithless, He remains faithful.

That’s how I know that I, too, am going to rise up to be a mighty person of authority and influence who knows God intimately and shines with the radiance of His glory. (I’m actually already becoming this person, though sometimes, like Moses, I refuse to see it.)

My hope of becoming who God made me to be isn’t founded in myself, in my temperament, talents, life experiences, or maturity. It’s founded in Him.

He is going to make His glory known through me. Because He wants to. And I am delighted to let Him do it.



*Note: Since writing this post, I have come to terms with the fact that I am a melancholy first, phlegmatic second. Let that minor detail not detract from the insights shared here.



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Elizabeth holds to simple faith in a complex world. She values the beauty of the everyday and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is currently pursuing her MDiv at Fuller Theological Seminary, so when she isn't busy writing academic papers, she is usually out enjoying the LA sunshine. She is constantly learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

9 thoughts on “Being Phlegmatic (and Learning from Moses)

    1. oh really? not surprised, haha.
      and really?? only the descriptions on that one online test we all took––the insult test or whatever.. i tried to keep my descriptions in this post pretty positive! (besides all the talk about phlegmatic weaknesses..) we shall have to discuss more when we chat~~ :D

    1. thank you! :) just read the “phlegsang” description on the website you gave me and apparently “unrealistic feelings of insecurity” are a typical weakness of my temperament.. interesting.

  1. This is the first time I’ve taken this quiz. I’m pretty strong on both melancholy and choleric… I will have to think about how God wants to use this! Thanks for always challenging me in my faith journey :)

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