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).
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.
What do you think?
- Why do we so blindly ignore the ill effects of our strengths?