Where Personality Tests and Character Collide

Years ago I had two friends with almost opposite personalities and with almost identical approaches to life.

John (not his real name) was direct, and I mean really direct. You always knew his opinion. He spoke his mind without hesitation. On any topic and at every opportunity. You always knew where you stood with him.

He took a personality test which confirmed he was direct. He decided to “play to his strengths,” and he became ever more direct (and also a bit harsh and insensitive). He said, “God has given me a spirit of boldness.” And he boldly told everyone what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

Instead of a friend I had a drill sergeant.

Linda (also not her real name) was a servant. Always serving, whether you wanted her to or not. She’d grab you a cup of coffee, fluff your sofa pillow, and stare at you with big attentive eyes. Unlike John, you never knew what she thought. When she hinted at a problem, you weren’t sure if your shirt was unbuttoned or your house was on fire.

Her personality test affirmed her “servanthood,” and she became insufferable. Her creed was, “I just want to serve,” her mantra was “Let me help you with that”, and her affect was suffocation.

Instead of a friend I had a butler.

Personality tests, career, and character

Personality tests are great signposts for career guidance. If tests indicate you are an extreme introvert, don’t become a used car salesperson. If tests indicate you are an extreme extrovert, you probably shouldn’t sit in an isolated cubicle coding software.

As career guidance signposts, tests may be great, but as character guidance, they are terrible. We should treat them as warning signs, Danger Ahead.

Our natural directness may walk hand in hand with a blindness of when to shut our mouths. Our natural inclination for service may enslave us to sappy indirectness.

As C. S. Lewis said, “Our temperaments deceive us” (The Four Loves).

Supernatural character

Personality tests reveal natural tendencies. Christian character comes from supernatural heart change, a growth in the fruit of the Spirit, changes in our character that arise from something beyond our natural personality.

The “fruit” of the spirit indicates growth in all the traits, not just one. Our hearts are not a multi-tree orchard, where apples flourish even as pears rot. Instead, our heart grows one vine, and the supernatural “fruit” of that vine has all the attributes (perhaps all the flavors) of love, joy, peace, etc.

If our directness grows with more directness, it’s probably not fruit of the spirit. It’s simply an increase of our natural temperament. If, on the other hand, our natural directness is accompanied by a supernatural grace … well that is growing in the fruit of the spirit.

We may be supernaturally learning to shut our mouths.

How would Jesus would score on a personality test?

Jesus shows up for the funeral of Lazarus a few days late. Martha runs up to him and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Jesus responds with directness, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Moments later, Mary runs up to Jesus and says the exact same words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vs. 32). And Jesus weeps.

Jesus always offered precisely what was needed. With one person he gave a sermon, and with another he offered tears. You might say that with one he was direct and with one he was gracious. Scripture says Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He displayed this with Mary and Martha, offering what each person needed.

In some ways, we all need a spirit of boldness. By that, I mean we need the boldness of moving beyond our own natural comfort. To paraphrase Star Trek, “We need to boldly go where we’ve never gone before.”

Some of us need to grow in directness, and some in grace (as well as a whole heck of a lot of other traits!).

So, what are we to do?

There is a great spiritual principle in this verse: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The principle is that we are empowered to offer love, directness, grace, patience, etc. as we receive them from Christ. The key is receiving them.

The cross of Christ speaks the greatest directness—indeed the greatest insult—in all of human history. It says that humans are so evil and corrupt that our only cure was the death of the perfect Son of God. You can’t get more direct than that.

But he suffered the cross willingly, for joy, for us. And that is the greatest compliment we could ever imagine. You can’t get more gracious than that.

The cross is grace and truth.

With careers it’s good to play to our strengths. With character it’s good to examine our weaknesses, and those weaknesses are often closely related to our strengths. Let’s not fail to offer our gifted strengths, but let’s also not ignore our corresponding character weaknesses. His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

I’d love to say more, but I’m feeling a supernatural urge to shut my mouth.

Sam

What do you think?

  • Why do we so blindly ignore the ill effects of our strengths?
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24 Responses to Where Personality Tests and Character Collide

  1. Steph says:

    I think we forget that any strengths we have were given to us by God to be used for His glory. We hold onto those strengths tightly because they define who we are as individuals. The sin of pride keeps us from submitting that aspect of our personality to God for His use and whenever our strengths cause something good to happen to us or others, we take the glory for it instead of giving it to God. It’s a vicious cycle! Pride will turn our strengths into weaknesses (although we won’t see it) and humility will allow God to use our strengths for His glory and good.

    • Hi Steph,

      Really good comment. Yes, I think we hold onto our strengths instead of holding onto God (or accepting that He is holding onto us!). We’re trying to get something from our strengths that we can only get from God.

      Thanks,

      Sam

  2. Mark Wilby says:

    Nice reflection and all very true. Its nice to know we have limitations and that God doesn’t. In him, the impossible really does become possible. I have been thinking recently about the immeasurable power of God at work in us and why we don’t see it more clearly manifested in our lives. I think in part it may be because we tend to live out of our strengths and avoid living out of our weaknesses — so we rarely get to see his mighty power working in us. There are hidden treasures here if we dig a little deeper.

    • Hi Mark,

      I like your line, “In him, the impossible really does become possible.” I forget that all the time. (I wonder what my life would be like if I lived daily–moment by moment–in that realization.)

      I like your idea of “living out of our weaknesses.” Something to think about.

      Thanks,

      Sam

  3. Sam, I read this verse right after I read your blog. This, I believe, is what you did for us readers of your blog.

    Colossians 1:28, 29 NIV
    “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”

    • Gary,

      Thanks for that verse. Wow! I love the image of each of us being presented, “fully mature in Christ;” and I love the image of Paul, “strenuously contending with all energy” that Christ so powerfully works in Paul.

      May we all “strenuously contend with all energy” that Christ provides…contending for each other.

      Thanks,

      Sam

  4. A really great post (and you know I’m direct enough to say what I think!)

  5. Rachelle says:

    Maybe we think so highly of our own strengths that we forget a corresponding weakness even exists.

    • David Williamson says:

      I think you’re right, that’s just what I was going to say. Why would we want to bother looking into our weakness when we finally have something we can be proud of?

    • Right (to both of you),

      There is something inside of us that is looking for an affirmation, something that tells us we are okay, something that we can receive glory (or significance or splendor) from.

      So we cling to our “strengths.”

      But the real glory and splendor that will really and deeply satisfy is only in receiving it from Christ. Thus, in our weakness we are made strong.

      With REAL strength.

      Thanks,

      Sam

  6. Mark says:

    This is a great post Sam…..I nervously smirked throughout it, thinking of others that should probably read it. And then….yeah, it landed on me…..in a good way.

    I offer this thought……I was talking with a friend the other day that is in those years now of having lots of grandchildren. And so, he’s been pondering what he’d really like to say, or rather impart, to his grandchildren as the months and years go by. He had several thoughts, but this one stuck with me: “Tenderness is more powerful than strength.”

    And, as I get older myself, I can see the validity of that statement…..it takes SO much more internal fortitude to be kind…..tender……than to just plow ahead with overwhelming strength or power.

    Your post has reminded me of that. Thank you.

    • Hi Mark,

      First, I love your self-reflection on thinking of all “the others who should read this.” I do that same thing ever so often, ever TOO often. Yikes! God save me.

      I like your comment, “Tenderness is more powerful than strength.” In fact, I love it.

      That is really the whole message of the gospel and all scripture: God chose the unloved Leah not Rachael; God chose the second son Jacob not Esau; God chose the LAST son David not the older sons; God chose the tiny tribe of Israel not the mighty Egyptians or Babylonians or Romans; the mighty Son of God becomes a human baby; the Son of God bowed to human authority on the cross.

      And that has changed the world more than any philosophy or religion. That is why his strength is shown in our weakness.

      Great thoughts. Thanks,

      Sam

  7. Rachel says:

    Great post and great comments. Thanks for the blessing!

  8. Guy says:

    Hey Sam,

    You know, I have a different story when it comes to my strengths, which perhaps you may be able to shed some light on? When I was little my next door neighbor and best friend was slightly handicapped while I was scouted for the australian Olympic gymnastics squad. I used to sit down with him and pretend I had hand coordination problems too and do the exercises his mum gave him with him. I did not do this to feel like mother Teresa, I just did it cause I felt it was the right thing to do. The result of this has been a life long pattern of hiding my strengths in case they make anyone else feel bad about their weaknesses. It has caused me resentment over time and a feeling that I’m dishonoring what God has given me to bring to the world. Perhaps this is revealing an area of weakness beneath all this stuff that I can’t see?

    • Hi Guy,

      I think I see a good (noble in a good sense) element in your approach to your friend, that is empathy. I affirm your desire to make your friend see you taking on his problems.

      If you think about the incarnation of God (in Jesus), God was actually doing this. He took on human form. He experienced our life the way we live. He suffered hunger, rejection, temptation, pain and suffering. It was the ultimate empathy. He cared for us that much.

      But, there is a difference. In his coming among humans, he did not hide his strengths or his identity. He said, “I am the Son of God.”

      Your story and your question are great. My response is this: we need to build our empathy and identity with the poor, underprivileged, less gifted (etc.). It is right and good–and God did it! At the same time, we need to learn to live out of the gifting He has given us, not to hide it under a bushel or bury the talent in the ground.

      I don’t have a formula, and it would be great to talk about more. But I believe we need both: empathy and honesty, care without hiding.

      Really good question. Thanks,

      Sam

      • Henk van Veluw says:

        these are my thougts for the last two months. My hole life I thryed to prove everybody that I was strong, than I found out I dont need to prove myself.The slavedriver for 45 years is sillenced. Now I have to find balance between showing strenght and love wel, accept people for who they are .

        • Hello Henk,

          I agree with your final observation, we need “to find balance between ….”

          Yes, that is the new battle, showing strength, loving well, accepting people as they are.

          Thank you for these great thoughts.

          Sam

    • kenstewart says:

      Guy,

      I like the definition of true humility as “being what you were truly designed to be, in all its fullness.” For a mouse to try to act like a lion is presumptuous; for a lion to try to act like a mouse is false humility.
      I was married for 25 years to the most wonderful woman, who in most ways was fully all she was meant to be. She had been paralyzed from the waist down at 22 months, and we became best friends in college, transitioning straight into engagement (people thought we were dating, but we were just hanging out) and then into marriage. We had 2 beautiful children (a son, now 37, and a daughter now 34, with 3 beautiful granddaughters between them–the oldest now 17). My wife Iris (I loved her name–it meant “rainbow,” and I felt God had given me one in her) got to see the oldest, dying when that one was 3. It was 25 full years (+ a week and a day), and if she could have planned the timing of her death, it could not have been more appropriate–Dec. 31, finishing a tax year, and a taxed life–and she had done a business degree in college! Yet she told me twice in the last 3 weeks she spent in the hospital, “You’ve turned out pretty good, Ken Stewart!” She had told me multiple times throughout our marriage, “God gave you to me b/c I loved you the best!” She won the Girl Scouts’ highest volunteer award, was on the county school board for a 4-year term–the list of her accomplishments is quite full.
      I have now been married again 13 years, but I’ve really begun to come into my own certainty mostly in the last 5 years (some of it through interaction with the teachings and modelling of teachings by men like Gary Barkalow and John Eldredge), but I realized even while married to Iris that I felt as emotionally and socially handicapped as she was physically. Yet we made a good match.
      Somewhat of a long answer, and not directly addressed to your issue, simply my story. I am more whole than ever before–I just turned 60 last week, and feel I’m getting younger all the time! (Just don’t want a baby at 90 or 100 like Sarah or Abraham! LOL–though I must say, keeping our 14-month-old grandson by my 2nd wife through the week has brought phenomenal joy into my life!)…
      Blessings to you, Guy, in figuring all this out–and to you, Sam, for hosting a blog that makes this kind of interaction possible.
      Again, sorry if this is too long…it’s my heart showing…thanks for listening and letting me share.

  9. I really like your point about being aware of our weaknesses and working on those. God calls us to follow Jesus and be like Jesus, not find one trait that we’re good at and just emphasize that.

    Another aspect of this is when the church makes a big deal about what it means to be “feminine” or “masculine”. Men are supposed to be strong, and women are supposed to be nurturing. This is TOTALLY WRONG- the bible says all Christians should be gentle and compassionate- it doesn’t say “unless you’re a man”- and also to be strong and determined to use the abilities God has given us. (And it may be that men and women tend to end up in different sorts of roles- that’s fine, but it should be based on the individual person’s abilities, not rigid rules about gender.)

    I wrote more about this in my blog post “As a woman, I will read Esther on my own terms, thank you very much” http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/2012/06/as-woman-i-will-read-esther-on-my-own.html and I even suggested that Christian men can learn from the Proverbs 31 woman- not in the sense that “this is the kind of wife I should look for” but that men should actually follow her example and BE LIKE HER.

    • Hi Perfect Number,

      Jesus certainly embodied both tenderness and reckless courage. Scripture (I think Isaiah) said he wouldn’t bend a bruised reed or put out a barely flickering candle. And he was bold as a lion and fierce.

      And as believers we are all “sons” of God and the “bride” of Christ. (Talk about mixed metaphors.)

      I don’t have a problem with general observations about some gender tendencies (but, hey, I’m a man, so I’m kind of dumb–oops, that was a gender comment…though on the whole pretty true). But I agree with you that we ought not enforce these “stereotypes” on individual men and women.

      My wife is a woman (duh), and she is strong, hardy, courageous, and direct. She spends more time outside working than most farmers. And I mean working. Shoveling manure, digging up and planting large bushes, tilling and harvesting our large garden (hers really).

      And when my male friends come over, they talk with her as she swaps baseball and football statistics with them like women swapping recipes (oops, another stereotype, and like the others, it didn’t work). She really loves sports.

      I read your article (mentioned above) and liked it. I agree men can (should) learn a great deal from the “woman” passages, and these passages can be studied in mixed groups not just gender specific. Frankly, I absolutely love the book of Esther (although I have to admit that my favorite Esther commentary is by a woman, Karen Jobes–it’s really great).

      At the same time, I’ve found many times when I especially like studying with a group of men as men. There are times when I just want to be with men, to hang around just men, and to hear what men think of this or that.

      Anyway, to get back to the topic, I agree that we can’t live out of just one strength to the neglect of others (be it tenderness or courageousness directness). We need the supernatural fruit of the Spirit.

      Thanks,

      Sam

      (PS, I also box, fly airplanes, scuba dive, snow ski, sail, smoke a pipe, and occasionally spit. There! I had to say that to salve my male ego.)

  10. Guy says:

    Sam and Perfecf Number,

    Loved your interaction just there. I can honestly say I never thought of reading proverbs 31 woman to receive instruction as a man? Innovative idea.

    Guy

    P.s (I like to drink tea and do those foot massage bubble things…no masculine tereotype there, especially here in Australia!)

  11. kenstewart says:

    Sam,
    As to the concept of playing to our strengths, I think God has a sense of humor and irony relative to that. Think of Paul and Peter and how well each was equipped for their particular calling to Gentiles or Jews. Paul had far better training to have been sent to the Jews–he was a Pharisee, for crying out loud! Yet he was sent to the Gentiles. Peter, on the other hand, was from Galilee, about as close as a Jew could get to being a Gentile–they were hicks, rednecks, Appalachian backwoods morons compared to Jerusalem’s “high society”–how else did Peter get so readily identified by his accent while trying to sneak in to check on Jesus’ status after his arrest? Yet Peter was sent to those same Jews (even though he did get the honor of being the one to “break the ice” with the Gentiles, at Cornelius’s household’s inauguration into the Spirit realm).
    Also, the 2 Peter 1 speaks of adding character trait to character trait (“….add to your faith knowledge…” etc.) in order not to be lacking in anything and to be able to be most effective. So I totally agree–we have to grow particularly in those areas we tend to be weak in. (Peter kept caving into public opinion and even at one point had to be rebuked by Paul for shuttting himself off from the Gentiles and trying to be “kosher”!) Our weaknesses DO need to be channels for God’s strength being revealed, so he gets the glory.

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