As part of orientation on my first day as a seminary student, we took the Myers Briggs personality assessment. Definitely not something I expected to do day one of seminary! And in my spiritual formations class that semester, a consultant came and debriefed our results with us. You might wonder how a personality assessment jives with a class on spiritual formation, but the two connect more than you probably realize.
Our personality type naturally inclines us to some disciplines more than others. You might find studying the Bible something you naturally gravitate towards while you can go a whole day and forget to talk to God. And fasting? You may have never fasted or even done some of the other disciplines like silence, solitude, simplicity, or journaling.
Because of our personalities, we have preferences, and our preferences relate to how we see and process the world. The danger with preferences when it comes to spiritual disciplines are that we practice what is easy or comfortable to us and rarely, if ever, engage in the disciplines that actually take, well, discipline!
I’m not necessarily advocating that you take a personality assessment, but as we start this series on spiritual disciplines, consider what you know about yourself and how that drives your life. For example, are you an extrovert (a “people person” who gets energy from being with people and who understands things better when able to talk out loud and hear what others have to say) or an introvert (favors solitude over crowds, prefers working alone or with one or two people who are close friends, and is often viewed as “reflective” or “reserved”)?
Those who are introverted might easily engage in the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude since they more naturally fit with an introvert’s personality, but an extrovert might need to be convinced of the importance of these disciplines and need to plan in order to engage in them. In contrast, extraverts might have more of a proclivity to community, worship, or celebration than an introvert would because such disciplines are corporately performed.
In his book An Invitation to a Journey, Robert Mulholland notes, “Left to ourselves in the development of our spiritual practices, we will generally gravitate to those spiritual activities that nurture our preferred pattern of being and doing. The shadow side of our preference will languish unattended and unnurtured...The results of such one-sided spirituality can be devastating to our spiritual pilgrimage.”
This “shadow side of our preferences” needs to be developed and strengthened. Just because we are not inclined or “good” at doing something does not excuse us from action, particularly when that action is commanded by Scripture! So you may not like or be good at simplicity, but there is a reason why the Bible warns us about a love of money and possessions. You may not feel like memorizing Scripture, but God’s commands to hide His Word in our hearts is for our good. He uses the time spent on meditating and memorizing Scripture to transform our thinking, affections, and will.
These tendencies that result in a “shadow side” demonstrate why we need each other as Christ-followers. You and I are not designed to live or work alone. As Paul told the church in Corinth, we all form one body - the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-14). As our body has many different parts that vary in their function, so Christ-followers differ in how they are wired and gifted. Our individuality, which involves our different personalities and preferences, are used by God to strengthen each other, to glorify Him, and to advance His kingdom on earth.
As I have discipled college girls these past six years - including girls who are drastically different in personality than me - I have learned many things from them with regards to spiritual disciplines.
- I have one girl who is a whiz at memorizing Scripture, and I picked up a few tips from her that have helped me to memorize Bible verses.
- Another of my small group girls is extremely organized in praying for people and has a system with categories and people assigned to each day of the week in order to help her pray for personal needs, friends, and people groups and missionaries around the world.
- God has also used two older believers in my life to teach me what it looks to praise God both privately and corporately and to help grow me in this discipline.
Personally, I gravitate towards the discipline of studying Scripture, and because this is a strength for me, I take time with each of my small group girls to walk through how to study the Bible and to equip them in doing this on their own. Likewise, we can all learn from each other and sharpen each other as we grow in Christ.
Mulholland defines spiritual formation as “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others,” and part of this conforming process requires biblical community. If you do not have a community of Christ-followers to walk alongside, I encourage you to join a small group (click here for info on small groups at Brook Hills)! I cannot adequately describe how God has used the college girls in my small group to challenge and grow me over the past couple of years, and we have definitely learned from each other and helped each other to grow more and more Christlike.