Spiritual Temperaments

Back at the end of October, I started a weekly series on spiritual disciplines. After these many weeks, I am going to bring this series to an end for the time being and shift to a different theme for these weekly more practically-minded posts. If you missed any of the spiritual disciplines series, you can find all of the posts under Tools and Resources.

Have you ever felt guilty or discouraged because your spiritual life didn't fit the mold of what you perceived to be the "perfect Christian life"? Maybe you felt you could pray more freely while hiking in the woods than in an early-morning corner of your house. Maybe your heart is stirred and convicted when you hear a dramatic reading of Scripture but not when you sit down to study it with a commentary and concordance. Maybe you've desired more embodied worship, or more traditional worship, or more silence but found yourself in a church tradition that did not value these things. 

Many of us have a mental picture of what we perceive as “best” kind of Christian spirituality, what a relationship pursued with the Lord is supposed to look like. While we should be focusing on the fruit of such a life-the fruit of the Spirit, love of God and neighbor, humility, etc.-I find it easy to give way to a particular lifestyle expression. We can easily become self-assured when we measure up to this image, dissatisfied and disillusioned trying to live up to it, or guilty that we aren't pursing it. 

But what if a personal relationship with the Lord looks different from person to person? What if we each have a way we tend to be able to commune with Him better, worship Him more freely, and so forth? 

I’m sure most of you have at some point during your life taken a personality test. There are many of them to choose from. You answer the questions about your preferences and behavior, and at the end, your answers are tallied to tell you which category you fit best. 

The resource I want to share with you today, as we conclude the series on spiritual disciplines, is similar to a personality test. As with these tests, it is merely a tool, not set in stone. If it is helpful, wonderful. If not, it is not divine, authoritative, or directive by any means. This test is for your “spiritual temperament.”

As we are all uniquely created, with our own personalities, life experiences, and gifts, it makes sense that how we best relate to God will vary. This variation is our spiritual temperament, and it describes our tendencies in how we worship, relate to, and pursue intimacy with God. 

I want to be clear that regardless of the variations of our temperaments, we cannot neglect the basic building blocks of our Christian spirituality-the Scriptures, communication with God in prayer, meeting with other Christians for encouragement and fellowship, etc. But what a concept like spiritual temperaments suggests is that how these basic building blocks are expressed can vary. The types of churches we best worship in can be different. Our devotional times will take on different forms.

The basic spiritual temperaments, as expressed in the inventory below, come from Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Pathways. If you are interested, take the inventory test at the link below. I have listed longer descriptions of the temperaments at the end of this post. 

As I said earlier, the results of this inventory test are not definitive, but they can give you an idea of your own tendencies. What should you do with the results? Perhaps find ways to engage with the Lord in one of your predominate temperaments. Consider incorporating spiritual disciplines which correlate to your dominate spiritual temperament(s). Or try to stretch yourself by learning to appreciate the benefits and offerings of a temperament you don’t identify with as strongly. Ultimately, remember that we are created to commune with the Lord, and the expression of that will vary. I pray that this brief introduction to spiritual temperaments and to the various spiritual disciplines over the last few months gives you a sense of freedom to explore your relationship with the Lord as He has made you.

Take the Spiritual Temperament Inventory here.

The Spiritual Temperaments

Naturalist: “Loving God through experiencing Him outdoors.” Naturalists embrace verses such as Psalm 19:1-2, “The Heavens declare the glory of god…” They draw near to God as they are surrounded by His creation in nature. 

Sensate: “Loving God through the senses.” Sensates draw near to God when all their senses are engaged (taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight). They are often drawn to church traditions which incorporate intricate architecture, classical music, incense, stained glass, icons and paintings, and formal language. They are lost in the splendor and awe of God as they experience beauty with their whole bodies. 

Traditionalist: “Loving God through ritual and symbol.” Traditionalists value faith practices in familiar ways, as these practices connect them with the history of faith. They embrace ceremony and the well-established practices of the Christian tradition.

Ascetic: “Loving God through solitude and simplicity.” Ascetics are typically more concerned with the inner life and value silence, stillness, and simplicity. Hardship and self-denial, particularly in the name of obedience, are seen as means of loving God.

Activist: “Loving God through confrontation with evil”. Activists draw near to God through bringing about social change. They live out God’s concern for justice and righteousness.

Caregiver: “Loving God through serving others.” Caregivers feel most alive and close to God when they engage in service for others in practical hands-on ways. They display God’s compassion and kindness to the world.

Enthusiast: “Loving God through mystery and celebration.” Enthusiasts are the “cheerleaders” of the faith, and are bold in expressing their love of God publicly. They feel close to God when they sing and worship. They add fun, optimism, and zest as they live out the joy of the Lord and celebrate Him.

Contemplative: “Loving God through adoration.” Contemplatives love to spend time simply delighting in God’s presence and love. They value intimacy with Jesus and heartfelt devotion. They are comfortable with spiritual mystery. They emphasize God’s affection and nearness.

Intellectual: “Loving God through the mind.” Intellectuals feel closest to God when they think deeply and study the Bible and the faith. They love learning new things about God and see faith as something to be understood. They love Truth.