What to do with personalities?

Yesterday I continued my slow sermon series through the Beattitudes, landing on “Blessed are the peacemakers….”

I mentioned the ways our personalities tend to get in the way of real peacemaking, primarily because our personalities more often than not, become our starting point for peacemaking. We tend to either be peacefakers (ignore the truth) or peacebreakers (ignore the love). Sometimes I find myself fluctuating between the two, and I think that might be common as well.

I call this personality-based peacemaking, which is often not real peacemaking. 

But then two questions may arise (at least in my mind): 1.) What role should our personalities play in peacemaking2.) To what extent CAN or SHOULD our personalities change?

1.) What role should personalities play? Whether you tend to fall into one of these two camps, or fluctuate back and forth, it is necessary to honestly examine your own tendencies. We naturally run from conflict or run over “conflicters.” So self awareness is key.

Here’s a practical difference it can make in your relationships. 

Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker encourages folks at times to “look over” an offense. Because the gospel is the motivation, you can now do so. How do you know when to do so? Consider your personality. If you are naturally someone who enters into the fray, often times with your “truth guns” blazing, it’s probably wise to not voice every concern you have. Even if you’re right. Why not overlook or keep quiet at times? Like George Costanza, who chose to do the opposite of what he naturally thought (he realized he was always wrong) why not consider doing the opposite of your natural reaction? There’s a good chance you could be mistaking the Holy Spirit for your personality. If you tend toward peacefaking, then it might be wise to pull the trigger a bit quicker, because you know you’re tendency is to say nothing.

2.) What extent CAN or SHOULD your personality change? Unlike Lady Gaga or Oprah, Christians never make “just being ourselves” our highest aim or standard since we are now honest about ourselves: the thoughts of the natural man/woman are “only evil continually (Gen 6:5).” Now of course Christians have had hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh (Ezek 36:26), but we still have left-over sinful residue. So just being yourself is never the goal. 

However, personalities that are tainted with sinful residue still bear the image of God and so some parts should not change. Only you can be you and only you can image God in a unique way. So when the gospel is applied to a personality, the sinful parts experiences tweaking. For instance someone very timid may tend to overlook all offenses (because of fear), but that same person can and will speak up when necessary (now having a Spirit of power). And it’s beautiful when that happens. The gospel has now freed that person from their personality constraints (always peace-faking) and enabled them to speak truth humbly and gently. And yet its that person’s personality, now freed and highlighted by the gospel, which makes them a great truth teller when they need to be.

So personalities can provide limits on what we naturally do, but when the gospel gets a hold of them, individuals can then uniquely image God.

How much can personalities change? For some folks, personalities are changed by the gospel in the same way a sprinter improves from race to race. Allyson Felix is fast. Allyson Felix has always been fast. But in the last two Olympics, she has only landed the silver. Through much training, she is now the fastest lady at 200 meters in the world. Sometimes personality changes but a “hundredth of a second.”

For other folks, who may have sinfully dominated personalities, the opportunity for change may look more like a distance runner. With much training, a 1500 meter runner, can improve by 5 seconds, whereas a sprinter may not change more than 5 hundredths of a second. Sometimes personalities can change a lot. 

Regardless, the gospel can redeem the sinful parts of our personalities and highlight those which best image God’s glory. And when it comes to peacemaking, a careful look at Jesus, then an honest look at oneself, can make a big difference than if you simply start with “that guy” who needs to change.

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