Lesson 3 – Your Prayer Personality
Psalm 139:13 (ERV)
You formed the way I think and feel.
Tell us about your best friend.
- My friend makes me laugh
- I’m the thinker, my friend is the doer
- Together we have half the sense of either alone
- We never run out of things to say
You and your friend—each a unique personality, better together.
You and God—your unique personality, better with God.
Think of Christ’s conversations as told in the New Testament. Notice how Jesus connects differently with different personalities.
To the woman at the well, with her history of five husbands:
Please give me a drink.
To Nicodemus, the deep thinker who comes to Jesus in the dark of night:
Don’t be surprised that I told you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it wants to. You hear it, but you don’t know where it is coming from or where it is going. It is the same with everyone who is born from the Spirit.
To the man who has been sick for 38 years and gives up on the healing waters:
Do you want to be well?
To Thomas, who can’t wrap his brain around the idea of a risen Savior:
Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand here in my side. Stop doubting and believe.
Impulsive, inquiring, discouraged, doubtful. Jesus matches his words to their needs.
Let’s talk about personality types. You won’t find them listed in Scripture. They are constructs of our culture, the human desire to plug people into categories. But in the pages of your Bible, you meet people who fall into these categories.
God is the Creator of our personalities. He’s not surprised when we try to sort personalities like we do plants and animals. God knows us better than we know ourselves.
God knows how to connect with us. We don’t have to change our personalities to connect with him. We can be ourselves:
Type A and Type B: Type A’s are impatient, competitive, quick to take action. Type B’s are relaxed, focused on feelings and take things one at a time. Type A’s favor action prayers, quick and to the point. Type B’s tell God how they feel. They are happy to sit in silence and feel the presence of God.
Extroverts and Introverts: Extroverts are energized by a crowd, being alone bores them. Introverts are most comfortable alone. Guess which type you’ll find at a big prayer rally.
400 years before Christ, Hippocrates described four personality types and named them after body fluids: Choleric (yellow bile from the liver) – Sanguine (blood from the heart) – Phlegmatic (phlegm from the lungs) – Melancholy. (black bile from the kidneys). In the 1900’s, Carl Jung named four operating functions: Sensation – Intuition – Feeling – Thinking. Later, Briggs-Myers and Kiersey-Bates paired off personality traits (Extraversion-Introversion / Sensing-Intuition / Thinking – Feeling / Judging – Perceiving) and defined 16 personality types.
For this study, we’ll stick with just four. It’s easier.
Choleric – Intuitive/Feeling: These folks care for people, search for meaning, look for personal growth. They see prayer as a relationship with God. They pray about other people’s relationship with God. Paul was probably one of them.
Sanguine – Sensing/Perceiving: these free spirits live in the present and don’t get hung up on tradition and routine. They put art and music into their prayers. Images and symbolism are important. Peter may have been a Sanguine.
Phlegmatic – Intuitive/Thinking: These are the intellectuals who enjoy a lively debate. They focus on cause and effect. Their prayers are thoughtful, applying Scriptural principles to today’s problems. They can spend hours in prayer and contemplation. The disciple John might fall in this category.
Melancholy – Sensing/Judging: These people are self-disciplined and organized. They love history and tradition. They appreciate the beauty of liturgy and memorized prayers. They have consistent quiet times. Matthew and James might have been Melancholic.
[Information adapted from “Prayer-A Way of Life” from Prayer Explosion and Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types by Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey]
This isn’t meant to be a perfect list of personality types (I don’t think God works off a checklist). They are examples to help you understand yourself. Think for a moment: Did you see yourself in any of these personalities?
What prayer style fits you best? Think how you relate to your friends—it will carry over to your relationship with God.
Sometimes we wish we were more like someone else. Sometimes we try to copy someone else’s style. When it comes to prayer, work on your own conversation with God. There isn’t one best way to pray. Your best way will match up to the personality God gave you.
Let’s look at prayer personalities based on a Biblical image: the four faces of Ezekiel’s living creatures (John describes the same four faces in Revelation 4:7).
Ezekiel 1:10, 20
Each living being had four faces. In the front they each had a man’s face. There was a lion’s face on the right side and a bull’s face on the left side. There was an eagle’s face on the back . . . They went wherever the spirit wanted them to go.
These faces can represent personalities: the man feels great compassion, the lion is the protector, the bull is the hard worker and the eagle sees beyond the horizon.
Imagine the prayers of these four personalities as they focus on the ministry of a single congregation:
The man-face prays about individual needs:
Lord, he’s homeless and hungry. Open the door to a safe place to sleep. Provide a hot meal. Restore his relationship with his family.
The lion-face prays for protection:
Lord, keep our property safe. May your angels encamp round about our building. Grant us journey mercies as we travel.
The bull-face carries the daily burdens:
Lord, give our pastor strength and wisdom. Bring healing to the one with cancer. Provide the money we need to pay the bills.
The eagle-face looks to the future:
Lord, expand our boundaries. Show us new ways to minister to our community. Show us how to help in far-off places.
Four unique personalities, led by one Spirit. Do you see how the different faces cover the ministry better together than any one face alone? Unique, joined in unity.
Which face (or faces) best fit you? Which prayer styles come most naturally to you?
“Always remember that you are absolutely unique,
just like everyone else.”
Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
Anthropologist Mead wasn’t a student of Scripture, but she was a student of human nature. I hope that somewhere in her studies she gained an appreciation for God’s endless creativity.
You are unique. You have your own prayer personality. And yet, as you mature spiritually and become more like the Master, you will find your prayer style expanding. You’ll discover new ways to talk with God.
God may send you a prayer partner with a different prayer face. As the two of you pray together, her style may rub off on you.
Perhaps you come across a hymn or a prayer that sings to your soul. You decide to make it part of your prayer routine. Over time, your heart opens to that style.
Maybe God will put his “thumb in your back” (Lesson 2), so you can’t get comfortable until you change your prayer pattern. Or God tweaks his side of the conversation, just enough to make you change yours.
God will expand your prayer style. It’s not squeezing you into someone else’s prayer face. Stretch into it. Let it grow on you, as you grow into it.
Too often, the Church teaches prayer as one-size-fits-all. And if that isn’t your size, you may find it hard to pray. Did one of these prayer personalities remind you of yourself? Just be yourself when you talk to God.