Knowing yourself: Understanding our divinely-created personality, gifts and constraints.
There was a stretch recently where every other message in a group text with some close friends was a Buzzfeed personality quizzes. Lots of people love these quizzes (or maybe just love wasting time.) Maybe they want to see how they are similar to their favorite characters, how they would fit into the storyline of a great movie or how their personality translates into an inanimate object. Whatever the reason may be, these quizzes are wildly popular.
But in my experience, few people in our generation seem to have a sound understanding of who they really are. They know which ninja turtle they are (Leonardo), which “Friday Night Lights” character they are (Tim Riggins) and which Avenger they are (Hawkeye), but have a limited grasp on how The Lord has wired them.
When I was in college, I learned who Jesus is. Since I graduated, He has taken me on this exciting journey of learning who I am. I observed some common threads that The Lord has woven through my life, paid attention to how he most effectively used me, walked in community with godly friends and took some productive tests along the way. In this process, I learned about my personality, gifts and constraints.
Merriam-Webster defines personality as “the set of emotional qualities, ways of behaving, etc., that makes a person different from other people.” Different personalities yield different patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. To be most effective for the Kingdom, we need to understand our personality.
The Myers and Briggs Foundation produced one of the most commonly used tests for determining personality types. According to their website, they focus on four different areas to determine personality type.
- Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).
- Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).
- Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).
- Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
This is a great starting point. By understanding our personality, we understand what scenarios we tend to thrive in, how we make decisions and how we process information.
For me, every time I take this test, I am high extraversion and high judging. Consequently, I thrive in social settings and love working with people, but I am also extremely task-oriented, structured and driven. Knowing this, I maximize my effectiveness when I can put myself in positions that cater to those traits. However, those tendencies aren’t without consequence. More on that later.
We have each been equipped with spiritual gifts that we are called to use to serve others and glorify God. How can we properly steward a gift if we don’t know we have it? Conventional wisdom would say that you can’t use a tool if you aren’t even aware that you own it. That is true with spiritual gifts, but only to a certain degree.
Fortunately for us, we are nothing more than tools in the hands of a perfect craftsman. As we go through the process of further understanding ourselves, we can find peace in the fact that The Lord knows exactly how to use us. We may not know how He gifted us or how He intends to use us, but this is not a prerequisite for us to bear good fruit by walking in the good works He prepared for us. Sometimes it’s in those moments of effective service that The Lord shows you how He has gifted you.
Spiritual gifts are, obviously, gifts. They are given as a product of grace and put to use by the Spirit that dwells within us. We still should put forth the effort to understand what the Lord has put within us in order to maximize our effectiveness.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul explains that there are many parts to the body and that all those parts need each other. We can’t all be eyes. I think it is safe to draw the conclusion that it is a godly endeavor to know that we aren’t all eyes. We need to know what part we are in order to maximize that gift.
You can tell when someone is walking in their gifting and operating within God’s will. You can also tell when someone isn’t. An awareness of our gifting can better enable us to determine The Lord’s will for us. The Christian walk is hard enough without perennially trying to cram your round self into a square hole of an opportunity.
Because Eve ate the apple and Adam stood there picking his nose, our world is wrought with sin. Since every last one of us is under sin, every last one of us has constraints. These constraints hinder us from effectively leveraging all the beautiful traits and gifts that The Lord has given us.
Constraints are often the result of extremes. I have learned that one of my constraints is that I am overly aggressive. Aggression, when channeled in the right direction, is a good thing. Jesus was aggressive. The apostles were aggressive. However, when I don’t pick my battles, it can be a major constraint in my service and leadership. It can even cover up other elements of my personality that are less pronounced to my detriment.
Some may have a low need for order. At best, they are adaptable, but a worst they overlook important tasks and information. Some may be highly nurturing (not me), so they can encourage effectively or they can be spineless and soft. We need to operate in appropriate middle grounds.
These constraints are often connected to personality traits and even spiritual gifts that get perverted. It is all intertwined. We need a comprehensive view of how The Lord wired us.
Andy Stanley encourages us to only do what only we can do. We should operate within our strengths, striving to develop skills that are sevens into tens rather than threes to fives. However, we have to be cognizant of what holds us back and keeps us from thriving.
How are we going to grow in our understanding of how we are wired? Here are some action steps.
- Pray and ask God to reveal to you the specific ways He has wired and gifted you.
- Take productive spiritual gifts tests and personality profiles.
- Ask friends and mentors to help identify personality traits, gifts and constraints.
- Get accountability and affirmation from those close to you as you try to maximize strengths and improve weaknesses.
- Be sensitive as you read Scripture to see how The Lord may be speaking to you specifically about your personality and gifting.
- Recall the passages the Lord has used powerfully in your life.
- Take an inventory of what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about.
- Take tests again as you mature and change.
There is no right or wrong.
No, I am not throwing in the towel on absolute truth in favor of relativism. When it comes to personality and gifts, there is no right or wrong. We can’t ignore the beautiful truth that God crafted each of us specifically, and He doesn’t make mistakes. Any gift or personality trait in you was put there by the same God who put the stars into place.
Don’t believe the lie that some gifts are better than others. I love my skill set, but I have said before that we would be royally screwed if everyone was like me. The body needs people with leadership and administrative skills like me, but it also needs pioneers like Brian Lee, dreamers like Blake Hankins and nurturers like Zach Van Meter. We all have our place in the body. We just have to find out where it is.