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Understanding Your Spiritual Temperament With Gary Thomas


Mandy: Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Alisa Grace: Hey, welcome back, everybody. We are so glad to have you join us here on the Art of Relationships Podcast. I'm Alisa Grace and I am here with my sweet husband.

Chris Grace: Yeah, Chris Grace. I'm here. And we have a special guest just for today that many of y'all know. You've heard a recent podcast of ours or, in the past, talk about Gary Thomas's Sacred Pathways. It's a great book, but Gary Thomas is an author, has done so many good things. Gary, thanks for joining us.

Gary Thomas: Well, thank you for having me. I love talking about pathways.

Chris Grace: Oh, man, I'm so glad. I'm sure you get that a lot. And, Gary, when we go out and we do conferences, and we're asked one of the two favorite topics that we like to bring and I think churches and others love, is, one, the idea of emotional intimacy and the other is the idea of spiritual intimacy. And for couples, I think both of those can help make transformative changes in the way they see themselves, in the way they see God, in the way they see their spouses.

Gary, as you wrote this many years ago, and I know that it is still something that is very relevant out there today, tell me about the things that you found about the nine spiritual temperaments that have most surprised you. And I'll just say this. We continued to use it and we hear feedback like this. We had one mom who came to Alisa and said, "Alisa, I struggled so hard with my daughter because she was always out there serving people and always out there on the streets taking lunches and all these things and she never came to church with me and I just thought she wasn't a Christian. She didn't want to go out and do anything and praise and worship with me." And it really brought her to a point... Alisa, and you remember talking to her about this.

Alisa Grace: I do. Yeah. We actually did it at our women's Bible study. In our leadership training, I had them go through the assessment so that they could learn their spiritual temperament, and her eyes were just open. She said, "This whole time, I really thought my daughter was not a Christian because she wasn't connecting to God the way I do." And she said, "Now, I can see that she absolutely connects with God. And now," she said, "this is going to transform our relationship."

Chris Grace: Yeah. So, Gary, tell me a little bit about the history of nine spiritual temperaments in brief, and then, where are you at with that today? And, just real quickly, any ideas or thoughts for couples or people out there that are like, "Man, I can connect with my wife differently or better, now that I know this"?

Gary Thomas: Well, I've experienced what you've experienced with other married couples. One woman thought her husband was a lukewarm Christian because he just didn't like to sing. And she said he doesn't like to worship, and yet, he was the first one there whenever there was Take Care of the Church Day or a widow's car needed to be fixed or a fence needed to be painted, the same kind of thing. He's just not that into music, but we equate worship with singing, and if you're not into singing, you might feel like, "Well, he's not really that into God." I was the least likely person to write Sacred Pathways. I had it all figured out in college, where you meet with God, how you meet with God, what you do. I think of the young men I was discipling. I just pray God has had mercy on them and I didn't wreck them.

And God began to open it up in some comical ways. The first way was falling in love with a woman who loved God very differently than I did. I've always been a morning person, really, to a fault. I wake up at some ridiculous hours. And my wife is very much not a morning person. And I would always say, "Well, Jesus got up early, the great giants of the faith did," but in college, she would roll out of bed. She had an 8:00 class which she would try not to take. She would roll out of bed at 7:40, brush her teeth, comb her air, go to classes, come back, and she loves to lay in the sun, so she'd go up on the roof of the dorm with her Bible at lunchtime and would call it a quiet time. And in the flirty way college students do, I'd say, "Oh, come on, Lisa. Who goes up onto the roof and lays in the sun at noon and calls that a quiet time?" She couldn't say anything.

Two weeks later, there's this knock on my dorm room door. I open it up and there's my future wife, didn't know it at the time. She smiles at me, goes to my desk, opens up my Bible to Acts 10:9, and I'm not making this up, points at the verse that says, "About noon the following day, Peter went up on the roof to pray." And I was like, "Did she put that in there? It was in another translation?" And it's like, "Okay."

Alisa Grace: Bam.

Gary Thomas: I knew that God was real in her life. I wouldn't have fallen in love with her if He wasn't, but I just began to see that there's more than one way to meet with God. And then I had three very different kids. People argue nature, nurture. I think anybody who's had kids, the nature part... I mean, they come out with a personality. There is nurturing involved, but we had... The oldest is very much an introvert, relational back in the day. Her favorite thing would be to listen to Dr. Laura on the radio and then go to a Starbucks and imagine what everybody is saying. Are they boyfriend, girlfriend? Are they angry? Are they a first date? Are they been married for a long time?

Chris Grace: That's right.

Gary Thomas: My son was very competitive. We would play sports together. We would watch sports. My youngest daughter was the extrovert, the life of the party, and we'd go out and do fun things. And I realized I cherished and treasured doing different things with each one of my kids. And nothing would've hurt me more if my extroverted daughter thought she had to be like my introverted daughter for me to enjoy spending time with her or that my son had to act like one of my daughters for me to really enjoy being with him.

I thought if that's true of me when I just received their personalities, how much more is it true for God who gave us our personalities and who delights in us the way we are, that He likes to have an individual relationship with every one of us? And it blew me away and it took years for God to get this through to me. Like I said, it was my marriage. It was having kids. And then just trying to write a book to help people get closer to God, these nine temperaments came out. I don't want to sound too mystical, but I've done over 20 books now, so I've been through this and most often I feel like an architect designing it. Where does the door go? Where are the windows? Is it two story? Here's a roof. Here's that. I felt like an archeologist here.

If you look at the proposal that Thomas Nelson purchased and the book that came out, they weren't anywhere near alike because when I was talking about enjoying your times with the Lord, these nine temperaments just came out. I found them in church history. I found characters in the Bible. In some of the spiritual writings where they would talk about spiritual direction, I did that. I think a lot of them are signaled by denominations, and so this list of nine different ways that people connect with God and it was revolution and it's been exciting now.

The book came out in '96, or 25 years at this point, and just seeing the way that it has given people so much freedom, they don't have to be like their parent or their spouse or the person who led them to the Lord. And then understanding, now small groups understand why somebody is saying, "Can we just skip the music and get to the Bible study? After all, that's all that really matters." Well, somebody says, "Why don't we skip the Bible study and just worship the whole time?" And then somebody, like another woman's said, "Actually, why don't we just go and wash the neighbor's car and watch their kid?" It's just different ways that people feel connected to God and so that's what they're all about. It's always through Jesus, but through Jesus there are different ways. And maybe we should mention some. Do we have time to do that?

Chris Grace: I'd love to, yeah.

Alisa Grace: Oh, yeah.

Gary Thomas: Okay. The first one, and I probably would put it first because this is big for me and I'm really enjoying it now that we moved to Colorado.

Chris Grace: It's the naturalist, isn't it?

Gary Thomas: I loved my time in Houston, I love the people of Texas, but my wife fairly called it cement city. Now we're surrounded by mountain and they have a fall here.

Chris Grace: That's right.

Gary Thomas: They have a fall.

Chris Grace: And they have rocks you can fall off of. You have mountains that you can fall off of.

Gary Thomas: And Houston leaves would turn early December so you have all the Christmas lights out. It just didn't quite feel like fall. So the naturalists are those that when they get out of doors and they're surrounded by all that God has made, that's when God becomes so real to them and scriptures attest to this. Psalm 19:1, "The heavens declare the glory of God." And I talk about in the book Sacred Pathways. One time where when my oldest daughter went away to college, how you really miss them when the first one goes away. But if I would go in a room where I'm surrounded by how she organized everything, her personality was all over it. She wasn't in the room, but the way she ordered the room just made me feel close to her. It's like that for a naturalist. If you're a naturalist, if you get outdoors, whether you're into deserts or mountains or forests or streams, trying to stay in a room and close your eyes and pray with your head bowed, maybe one of the worst ways to pray. You want to get outside and have your heart opened up.

The sensates, it's more of an Eastern Orthodox style of worship. It's your five senses, taste matters, touch, sight, sound. You might like majestic music and architecture. It explains some of the incense for some traditions that use that.

Chris Grace: The artistic types.

Gary Thomas: Yeah, but that's again, where thinking to pray is to close your eyes and bow your head and have it be silent is the worst way for a sensate to pray. The traditionalists are those that like rituals. See, some people, rituals are boring. Traditionalists, if they're praying prayers that were written 1,500 years ago, living by the church calendar, using religious symbols that have had a history in the church, that's very meaningful to a traditionalist. It's not deadly, although it can be to some. The aesthetic, my publisher begged me to come up with another title. I'm not very good about that.

Chris Grace: The simplistic, maybe.

Gary Thomas: Well, you think of a monk or a nun. They're the opposite of a sensate in that they want to get away. If it's a true aesthetic, they don't have a clock that ticks every second. I mean, that would get in the way of their praying because they have an interior world. They tend to be stricter. They want it quiet. They need to get alone. If you're married to an aesthetic, don't take it personally. They'll pray with you occasionally but their best times of prayer, there's going to be no one around to distract them.

Then the activists, they're there to fight God's battles. Church is a pit stop. You get volunteers, you get the tank filled up, but the real battle is confronting. It could be evangelism, it could be social issues, maybe political causes they believe are informed by their faith, but for them, God feels most real when they're fighting battles in God's name.

And then the caregiver might seem like the opposite, but we're going to talk about how they go together. Caregiver loves to feel close to God when they meet needs in God's name. Mother Teresa talked about how when she was caring for the lepers, she felt like she was caring for Jesus and I don't think that was just a metaphor. I think Jesus presented himself to her in such a way. I recount the famous story when Franklin Graham and the head of World Vision was visiting Mother Teresa and she had them wait until the man she was caring for died. Now, if you're looking for financial help as Mother Teresa needed, Bob Pierce, the head of World Vision, Franklin Graham with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, two huge sources. But in her mind, they weren't as big as Jesus and if she meets Jesus in the death of a nameless, faceless leper, she's not going to leave that person until he is gone.

Now, activists and caregivers, this is where I think it's brilliant, where we can accept God's just incredible design and making us different. Activists are dealing with the macro evil. They want the system to be changed. But while the system is being changed, you want the caregivers that focus on the individual victims. The church is wealthier for having people that feel close to God when they're taking care of the victims of evil, while it's also wealthier having people who are trying to stop the systemic evil. I don't want to turn activists into caregivers and I don't want to guilt caregivers for not being activists. I think with God as the general or the head coach or whatever analogy you want to use, we're a broader, stronger church because of it.

Three more real quick, you've got the enthusiasts. They tend to be the celebrators, the worshipers. They live in the mystery, often more charismatic, whereas the traditionalists is comforted that it's 10:34 and the offering's coming around. The church is right on schedule. The enthusiast might pray, "God, I pray you would come in such a wild way in your spirit that they won't even get to offering, that things will be thrown almost into this holy chaos." They like to take spiritual risk. "Lord, let me meet somebody today that I can give a gift to or an encouragement to or a handout to and I know it was a miracle that only you could make it happen." They like to celebrate and whatnot.

Then you have the contemplative. That's a very relational one. They might view their relationship with God almost more as a lover. One template would talk about sitting and holding hands with God. Now of course, the intellectual that [inaudible] you next will say, "Well, how do you apply that?" "Well, I don't know, but I feel closer to God when I spend time with him." And this is a little bit of difference between East and West. You look at the Eastern Orthodox faith, things like the Jesus prayer and whatnot. It was all about staying in God's presence. And a lot of their worship, like icons and whatnot, are tools to stay fixed in the presence of God. And people in the West would say, "Well, what's the point?" And then the East, those Christians would say, "That is the point, to spend time with God."

And then you have the intellectual, which could mislead. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to be particularly intelligent. With a naturalist, I'm also a bit of a intellectual. It means conceptually. Your heart is awakened to God when your mind understands new things about him. When you meditate on his loveliness, you meditate on his power, you meditate on his sovereignty, all of those things, it's not head knowledge to an intellectual. It awakens their heart. It gives them more affection. He really is an amazing God. I can never understand enough about him. And the more I learn about him, the more I want to worship him. It's really about learning from your spouse, appreciating your spouse, because no one person on their own can fully experience the worship of the church over the past 2,000 years.

Chris Grace: Gosh, Gary, what a great summary of these nine temperaments. The last one is so me. Both Alisa and I, we love nature and intellectual. I guess we lean that way, but I love how you talk about when you learn something new. I remember thinking when I read in a passage in Colossians that stood out to me or I talked about that He rescues us from the domain of darkness and transfers us to the kingdom of light, the kingdom of His son. And I remember thinking, "That's the greatest thing ever." You know, thinking about Lord of the Rings and how he comes in and I love that, so it's that idea. And I love what your wife told you as well about Acts 19, because at night, Peter, he was in prison and when did the angel appear to him and let him out? It was at night. And when did the magi appear in the dream not to return to Herod after they had seen Jesus? It was at night. And when did the angels appear to the shepherds at Bethlehem? It's at night. And when did Gabriel appear to Joseph in a dream and told her, "Mary, Mary?" It was at night.

Alisa Grace: Are you trying to justify being a night owl? Is that what you're doing?

Chris Grace: And when God appeared to-

Gary Thomas: What I'm saying to Alisa, I'm saying to Christopher. You can follow the angels. I'm going to follow Jesus and get up early in the morning.

Chris Grace: Okay. Well, Jacob, remember the ladder [inaudible] and the angels? God made Abram ... Okay, whatever.

Alisa Grace: Okay, so what does it mean, Gary, when I'm listening, as you describe them and every time you start describing one, I'm thinking, "Ooh, that's me. Oh, that's me"? And then you get to the next, "Oh, no, that one's me. No, no. That one's me."

Gary Thomas: Okay. How long have you been a Christian, Alisa?

Alisa Grace: Oh, gosh. I was born in First Baptist Church nursery, but I really started following the Lord when I was about 15.

Gary Thomas: Okay. See, this is where this could be a perilous analogy, but you both are ... I feel like I've gotten to know you and I know you're solid people. So when a couple is learning to make love in marriage, sometimes you have to figure out what works and what doesn't. You're understanding each other's bodies, but if you're generous and sensitive and thoughtful, over the years, because you have all the memories of those touches, you just know right where to go and awaken them up. I mean, there are a hundred ways, I know, to seduce my wife.

Alisa Grace: You suddenly got Chris's attention over there.

Gary Thomas: Well, and seduce, it sounds too strong. I know that she really likes it because I just, she's learned, "If I surrender to this presence, it's going to be a nice time." And I think when we learn to enjoy God's presence, the longer somebody's been a Christian, God has met them in this way, and they start to become familiar with his touch and his voice and his fulfillment. And all of a sudden you learn to see him here and so you see him there and you see him there. You see all nine in Jesus. I believe you see four or five in David, two or three in Moses. I'm telling people I think you can be blends. And I think the longer you walk with the Lord, the more open you are to God's presence. Your spirit just becomes primed to see God, to hear God, to experience God, to love God, to celebrate God. But early on, it can be really helpful. Like I say, if somebody's really struggling with prayer, if I would point him towards a traditionalist, where sometimes reading prayers that were written in times of old and they were written down because they're really good, are wonderful ways.

When I'm tired and it's hard for me to honestly pray, I'm afraid I'm going to fall asleep, if I read from a prayer book, it awakens my soul. I think it's helpful to know there are some that these really work for me. If I'm really spiritually hungry, if I really need to hear from the Lord, here's where I can go. But I do think if you've been a Christian a long time and you've been an earnest worshiper and a lover of God, your soul has been wooed and seduced, if I could use that language in a holy way, and you're more likely to just surrender, saying, "Oh, it's you. Wonderful."

Alisa Grace: Oh, love that.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I do, too.

Alisa Grace: Beautiful analogy.

Chris Grace: It is. And Gary, just so you know, we use this in a lot of different ways. This idea of the temperaments, very, very helpful. There's in psychology, there's one personality, simple theory or test of different personality types that a lot of psychologists will go to and that's this thing called the Big Five personality traits. And it's something like an extrovert introvert, for example. But all that to say, whenever I teach intro to psychology or the psychology personality, one of the things I do pull up is, "Hey, sometimes we're attracted to people and it's good to know who we're attracted to, what their personality traits are. If you're an introvert and you like to be pulled out a little bit, you might be attracted to an extrovert." And we weave in, or I do, anyway, the spiritual temperaments, because it really does help couples and people who are in relationships to get a better idea and make sure there's some ... At least if it's not compatibility, then there's someone who can pull out some of the things that they're not good at and I love that.

And Gary, as we end here, I just want to say thanks for opening up a lot of people's eyes to the way in which we respond and hear God. What it does is it makes us more sensitive and hopefully more humble in recognizing that just my way isn't the only way to reach God and that humility can go a long way. Thank you for opening up our eyes to doing that, especially with this temperaments you found.

Gary Thomas: Yeah. It's a new marriage when we decide to learn from our spouse instead of judge our spouse. It was not an easy lesson for me to learn, but it's been a precious lesson.

Chris Grace: It's awesome. Well, thank you for just the brief lesson.

Alisa Grace: Yeah. And again, that book is called Sacred Pathways. It also has a video Bible study with it, is that right, and some accompanying exercises. You can find it on Amazon, I'm sure, but Gary, it's been just a delight to visit with you today. Oh, we would love to have you back on another day to talk about one of your other books that I'm particularly interested in visiting with you about, Cherish.

Gary Thomas: I would love to do that. I'd love to talk about that. Happy to do that.

Chris Grace: That sounds awesome, Gary. Thank you for taking the time for being with us and what a blessing.

Alisa Grace: Yeah. And we want to thank the listeners, for joining us again on The Art of Relationships. It's brought to you by the Center for Marriage and Relationships at Biola University. We invite you to check out our website at And whatever platform you're listening to this on, we would love for you to give us five stars, leave a review, because that really does help us, bumps us up in the search, however those things work on the platforms, but we really would appreciate your review. And send us a note if there's something that you would love for us to discuss here on the podcast, but we'll wrap it up for today and we'll see you next time on The Art of Relationships.

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