Bryan Williamson and his wife, Marcie, are longtime members of SEND International. They served in Japan and now serve in Michigan, at SEND’s US headquarters. This fifth article in our Flourish series is drawn from Bryan’s pre-field training session on Sacred Pathways, based on the book by the same name.
“Expecting all Christians to have a certain type of quiet time can wreak havoc in a church or small group. Excited about meaningful (to us) approaches to the Christian life, we sometimes assume that if others do not experience the same thing, something must be wrong with their faith. Please don’t be intimidated by others’ expectations. God wants to know the real you, not a caricature of what somebody else wants you to be. He created you with a certain personality and a certain spiritual temperament. God wants your worship, according to the way he made you.”
― Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God. Click here to read the first chapter.
As missionaries prepare to leave their comfortable church communities and head to places where they likely will feel much more alone in their faith, it can be helpful to pinpoint how they most naturally draw near to God. Gary Thomas identifies nine spiritual temperaments — naturalists, sensates, traditionalists, ascetics, activists, caregivers, enthusiasts, contemplatives and intellectuals — and the internet abounds with tests to help you determine your temperament. (This one conveniently calculates your score for you.)
Recognizing, accepting and even celebrating that different people draw near to God in different ways can be particularly useful for people in cross-cultural service. If we aren’t aware of this reality, we can fall into thinking that other people should be connecting with the Lord in the same way we do. We can even be tempted to consider others as less spiritual if they take a different approach. Understanding the spiritual temperaments can help us guard against judging others.
But the temperaments can also add life to our personal spiritual journeys. Are you spiritually hungry? Is your method of connecting with the Lord feeling lifeless or rote? Perhaps there are different ways that you aren’t aware of or haven’t been doing that would help you draw near to God — things that fit your personality and your soul.
I wish I had known my natural spiritual temperaments while we were serving in Japan. After we moved, I did language study all week, then I’d block out three hours on Friday afternoon for dedicated time with the Lord. I’d sit at the same desk that I’d sat at all week for my language study and focus on the intellectual part of my connection to the Lord. And that does appeal to me. Finding new things in the Word, getting into the commentaries, reading and discovering are very important to me.
I also rank very high on the ascetic and natural pathways, and I pretty much ignored those while we were in Japan. In hindsight, I realize that during some of those Friday afternoons, it would have been much better for me to spend an hour getting out of Tokyo; enjoy an hour out in nature, reading my Bible and being in solitude away from the noise of the streets; and then spend another hour coming back home. Without understanding my spiritual temperaments, a two-hour commute to spend one hour outside of the city felt like a waste — but it wouldn’t have been, because that one hour would have brought me to a space that was really important to my heart.
Knowing my spiritual temperaments would have helped me take intentional steps to spend time with the Lord in a way that most suited the way that he made me.
A few warnings
- The spiritual pathways help us recognize how we worship, connect with God, and hear his voice more naturally, but they don’t supersede being in the Word and being in prayer. Those are core elements – but when we do those things, how we do them, that’s where the flexibility comes in.
- Knowing your spiritual temperament may give you freedom to diverge from some common approaches to drawing near to the Lord, but whatever we do must not violate Scripture.
- Spiritual temperaments aren’t the end; they are the means to the end. The goal isn’t to worship the format — to worship nature, or caregiving, or activism, or the intellect. Each of these pathways are meant to facilitate our worship of the Lord. Pursuing a predominate tendency for the sake of comfort or dogma can lead to idolatry. The reason to pursue a pathway is to relate intimately with God, not to find happiness in the form. “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” — Hosea 6:6
A few questions
After you’ve identified your spiritual temperament(s), ask yourself:
- Do you feel surprised by the results of the temperament quiz? Or do they make sense to you?
- How can you apply this to your personal strategy for building intimacy with Christ?
- What do you think about your preferences in light of the culture in which you plan to serve?
More in the Flourish series
- Step 1: Honest evaluation — Spiritual self-assessment isn’t about guilt. It’s a starting point for growing in intimacy with God.
- Developing a prayer life that goes beyond ‘popcorn prayers’ — On the field, a missionary learns the value of boldly praying God’s Word for confession, spiritual growth, protection and salvation.
- Sabbath: A gift that helps us set boundaries on our busyness and adds rhythm to our weeks — ‘Setting boundaries can be particularly hard for missionaries, because we’re also called to sacrifice. Sabbath helps us regain perspective.’
- A menu plan for staying spiritually fed — Ways to keep your devotional life fresh and consistent — especially when you can’t be part of a thriving church community.
- Your body, your soul: The health of one affects the other — Seeing health as something that includes the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical helps us correctly prioritize caring for our bodies so that we can serve.
- Why it’s better to store God’s Word in your mind, not just on your iPhone — Even in this digital age, Scripture has more potential to transform, guide and encourage when it’s committed to memory.