Each of us is born with a personality that’s uniquely tailored to what God created us to do with our lives.
Understanding God’s calling and the associated personality He’s gifted us with is not difficult: Our passions correspond to our gifts, and we are gifted in what we are called to do. Furthermore, when we use our gifts and fulfill our calling according to God’s will, we feel His pleasure – in addition to our own.
There’s a problem, however, when our validation comes from using our gifts or pursing our calling, instead of pleasing God. Rather than being content with God saying “well done, thou good and faithful servant,” we seek legitimacy in who we are, what we do, how others react to us, or in the results of our actions. Such validation comes from and is focused on us, rather than God.
If you look at Romans 12, there are seven “gifts” that tend to correspond to seven very different personality types: The prophetic, the teacher, the helper, the giver, the exhorter, the ruler and the merciful. Through hundreds of pastoral counseling sessions over the years, I’ve begun to understand how each of those personality “giftings” have their own unique abilities, motivations and validation issues.
The Most Visionary: One who has the gift of a “prophetic” type of personality will often be motivated, and have the ability and temperament, to stand for truth and justice. They are very good at intuitively seeing problems and their solutions, although management and administration typically are not their strengths. They often are the first see truth, the first to understand what to do with it, are the first to move forward in it – and have amazing faith. They are fearless, and tend to be the “big picture” visionaries who love principles and concepts, rather than details.
The prophetic personality’s primary motivation, above all, is transparency. They want to strip away everything that clutters up what is true, what is just and what is real – in themselves, in others and in society. They typically find validation in quickly perceiving and then proclaiming what is true, just or real – or in the ability to quickly see solutions for what’s wrong.
The Most Particular: A “teacher” personality is focused on gaining comprehensive understanding and knowledge. They are good listeners because they are not judgmental. They are motivated to pursue detailed facts, insight and precedent. However, they typically find it hard to act unless they feel they have perfect knowledge of a situation. Often, they are not always good communicators – especially before groups – because they can get bogged down in minutia or lack confidence because they feel they don’t have total understanding. When mature in their gift, however, they can become engaging teachers, both publicly and one-on-one, who impart wonderful depth and understanding. They are not quick to speak, but when they do they show great wisdom and insight.
The teacher’s primary motivation is wisdom. They typically find validation in exhaustively understanding a particular issue, situation or problem, and how it is connected to other issues – and in others then listening to and listening to what they have to say about it.
The Most Selfless: The “helper” or “server” has a personality that is motivated to take on and accomplish whatever specific tasks will bless an individual or advance the objectives of a team or organization. They tend to be detailed oriented, loyal, organized, task driven and self-motivated. They often are abused by those who take advantage of their eagerness to help, and easily become overwhelmed by over-committing to things.
A helper’s primary motivation is to be useful. Their validation typically comes from a job well done, being competent or being needed.
The Most Relational: The “exhorter” personality is great at encouraging others and fostering close, personal relationships with and between others. They are the most relational of all the gifts and are classic “people persons”. Exhorters are very good at intuitively “sensing” tension between people, creating social cohesion within a group, and being peacemakers.
An exhorter’s primary motivation is peace, and will achieve it by facilitating relationships. They often find validation in being liked or in maintaining friendships – even if it means covering over or ignoring abuse or untruth.
The Most Creative: A “giver” personality has unique abilities to create, marshal and release resources needed to produce life and vitality in others. They are often very entrepreneurial, innovative and are great at creatively seeing and then seizing opportunities – both in business and in the Kingdom of God. Their strength, and weakness, is their willingness to take risks and also being self-sufficient. Givers tend to be discerning about where and how to provide resources for maximum benefit (whether money, their own abilities or the abilities of others, assets, creative solutions, networking and building teams). Unlike helpers, they give for effect and want to see practical results from their giving, etc.
A giver’s primary motivation is to produce vitality (e.g., energy and life), which they facilitate by creating and giving. They love dynamic environments and often find validation in business success and having something to contribute – be it their time, finances, skills or whatever – and in others appreciating what they give. Often, however, they can be so goal oriented that they lose sight of the people around them. They also run the risk of people relating to them for what they can get from them.
The Most Pragmatic: The “ruler” personality has the strength of will to create structure and bring order into the lives of others, a situation or organization. They don’t tend to be the creative spark in an organization, except in creating structure and furthering the overall mission, and so they typically are excellent executive-level administrators. They will do what’s necessary to get the job done, and demand personal loyalty. While they can be charming and friendly, they typically lack close interpersonal relationships outside their own immediate family (they are the least intimate and transparent of all the personalities). They excel at bringing structure to, and implementing, vision developed by others (often the prophetic or the giver). They can develop and oversee the personnel, structures, policies and procedures needed to establish or maintain a cause or an organization.
A ruler’s primary motivations are practicality and order (which sometimes are different than what is true, just or real!). They often find validation in having some combination of control, power, status or privilege – for good or for bad – or with imposing and maintaining order.
The Most Intimate: One who’s primary gift is “mercy” has a tremendous capacity for kindness, compassion and intimacy. They are good at bringing peace, calm and hospitality into their surroundings. They are wonderful, when emotionally healthy, at invoking and affirming God’s presence among us because their relationship with the Lord is more intimate than is typical with any of the other personality gifts. They are very intuitive when it comes to people who are hurting – but don’t like change (see my blog, The Gift of Mercy). Many of them carry emotional wounds from those who abused their trusting natures and desire for intimacy, but when they find health, they often facilitate a variety of gifts in others. Again, see my blog, The Gift of Mercy.
A mercy’s primary motivation is intimacy – with God, in their other relationships (which tend to be with only a few very close friends) and among others. They often find validation in the affirmation of being loved, in the familiar, or in past or current relationships.
Understanding these differences can be liberating. A common struggle for Christians is failing to understand that God didn’t create us to all be the same, or necessarily to be like some “godly” person whom we admire. We also misinterpret or devalue differences in others – often thinking they are deficient or even flawed because they don’t share our own outlook and perspective on things.
Many times we don’t find purpose and freedom in our lives until we learn about our unique personality and its associated attributes, strengths and weaknesses – and that it’s OK to be different and that we don’t need to be good at everything!
My personality giftings are fairly equally divided between the prophetic (that doesn’t make me a “prophet”; it just means that God has cursed – oops, I meant gifted! – me with the motivations and attributes needed to speak and fight for truth and justice) and the giver. (For those who study these things, that’s an interesting combination because usually the prophetic and the giver personalities don’t get along with each other – which I guess explains a lot about me!)
Here’s the subtle point, however: Each of our personality attributes are legitimate because they are part of who God made us to be, and God is able to accomplish lots of good things through us when we are willing to maturely use those gifts in His service. What is not legitimate, however, is finding our validation in our gifts or calling.
During much of my life, I took quiet pride in being basically a fairly secure guy. I never really needed or sought validation from others, or circumstances, or success, or wealth, or a myriad of other things that many others crave. I never had much problem with needing to find validation in my instinctive ability to see what is true and just; finding validation in whether others agreed with any truth I might be speaking or any just cause I might be fighting (which sometimes comes across to those with other personality gifts as arrogance); finding validation in the resources I produced to create life in others; or finding validation in whether others even appreciated those resources.
Fortunately, those validation issues were resolved long ago in my life and I’ve been blessed with friends who told me when I was blowing it or getting too full of myself. As a result, I’ve had no problem with being wrong or taking a chance on making a mistake, and I have learned to quickly deal with any issue (which is often!) that pops up in my own life — while also acknowledging and making amends for any offense I might cause others.
Even so, I discovered that I was finding validation – inappropriately so – in the fact that I possessed the courage to speak truth, fight for justice and make a difference. I was valuing and relishing my courage above all else, rather than finding validation in simply pleasing God by seeking to do things His way to achieve His purposes.
The issue, I’ve been learning, is not whether we are using the gifts God gives us, but whether we’ve lost sight of pleasing God. Are we using those gifts according to His will and to serve Him, rather than feeding our own egos?
If we find validation in our gifts or calling – no matter how legitimate they otherwise might be – we are limiting our ability to be used by God. Finding self-validation in who we are, or what we do, or what we achieve, or how people react – even though we legitimately may be heeding God’s call – can become a disqualifying sin that prevents us from fully serving the Lord.
To be mature in our gifts and how we use them, our validation must come from being solely motivated to please God by doing His will as sons and daughters who only want to advance our Father’s interests.
As Jesus showed us in the Lord’s Prayer, the Kingdom of God comes as the Father’s “will [is] done on earth as it is in heaven.” That must be our motive. The fruit of participating in the Kingdom of God, as we do the Father’s will, is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. That must be our validation, and it must come from God himself.
Having said all this, however, I’m not yet where I need to be in finding my validation in the Lord. But at least I’m now beginning to recognize the problem, and I’m starting to watch my motives and also watch where I find my validation much more carefully.
- Myopic Ekklesia (crossroadjunction.com)