Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.
About Adora Svitak:
A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora Svitak (now 12) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy.
The simplest definition of a disciple that I can think of is this: someone who is taking Jesus’ command to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength seriously. In order to do that we need to first identify our root type and nurture it. To experience and love God in the way we do is a gift and we should celebrate it! What I love about Jesus’ command, however, is that it pushes us beyond the borders of what comes naturally. One of the four loves will come naturally to us—that isn’t the problem. The problem comes when we become satisfied with living out of our root type and miss out on the adventure of discovering the greatness of God as we learn to love Him in more holistic ways.
It is difficult for Heart types to conduct a systematic study of the Bible, but at some point this type needs to take up this challenge so that they learn to love God with their mind as well as their heart. Likewise, it’s not easy for Strength types to participate in contemplative practices, but discipleship demands that such a challenge be attempted. After all, a root is supposed to nurture something greater than itself, and our root type is there to be the starting point from which our love for God can become more robust and expansive.
So how do we put all of this together into a plan for daily discipleship? Three steps are necessary:
1. Do one activity every day that strengthens your root type. Whatever your type, nurture it daily by doing an activity that strengthens your personal love language with God.
2. Do one activity every week that falls within a different type. For example, if you’re a Strength type choose one Heart, Soul, and Mind activity for the week. It doesn’t have to be something huge or radical, but you should set a goal to do one activity each week that stretches you beyond your comfort zone.
3. As you grow in loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, look for ways to extend that love into your relationships with others. Jesus said the second most important thing is to love your neighbour as yourself, and out of our experience and understanding of God’s love, our lives will overflow with compassion, care, and justice for others.
I use these steps on a weekly basis. At the beginning of each week I sit down and think about how I’d like to try to stretch myself in loving God heart, soul, mind, and strength. I take the time to set a goal for myself within each type. For example, last week I came up with the following plan:
Heart: Set aside some time to connect with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while. Really listen and try to discern God’s movements in his life. Offer encouragement and support.
Soul: Journal once this week on something God seems to be challenging me with.
Mind: Complete my study on Colossians this week and take notes on anything that stands out.
Strength: Help the set-up team on Sunday morning this week at church.
As you can see, in each area I’ve tried to identify one thing that I could do within the next week that would stretch me beyond my preferred love language. Some weeks I come up with more than one thing for each area, but I try not to worry about quantity; I just try to think about one way I can learn to grow in my love for God heart, soul, mind, and strength.
To love God with all of one’s strength is to find one’s faith energized as one uses their physical energy to serve and bless others in practical ways. Strength types focus on pragmatic acts of generosity and kindness and find these especially rewarding and meaningful. Strength types have a genuine understanding that the movement from being a “hearer” to “doer” (James 1:22) is critical for discipleship and faith. Strength types are often models to the other types in showing what living out one’s faith looks like in concrete ways.
Many Strength types have difficulty getting anything out of Scripture unless it is tied directly to a practical application. While other types (especially Mind types) are busy trying to understand what Scripture is teaching them, Strength types are asking, “What should we do about it?” From the conceptual to the concrete: that is always the movement for Strength types.
Within their churches Strength types are invaluable. They are often well known and deeply appreciated due to the fact that they are the doers of the church, the 20% that seems to accomplish 80% of the work. They are passionate servers that rarely seek recognition or reward. Serving others is the reward for a Strength type because they love to offer help in practical ways to those around them.
If growth in the other dimensions of loving God is not pursued by Strength types, the stereotype of the do-gooder can come true. This can lead to a discipleship that is divorced from depth at the theological, relational, and contemplative levels. Without these other dimensions being explored it can also become easy for Strength types to define their spiritual health with their level of activity and good works. This can cause Strength types to become workaholics that are fuelled by an unhealthy urge to constantly busy themselves with many godly things. That was Martha’s temptation in Luke 10:38-42. She was busy serving Jesus (strength), but needed to learn to be still before him (soul), learn from him (mind), and deepen her relationship with him (heart).
To love God with all of one’s mind is to find our love for God energized as we grow in biblical knowledge, insight and wisdom. Mind types are drawn to activities that increase their theological knowledge and expand their worldview. Their experience and engagement within churches is almost completely tied to the teaching ministries within the church, and they tend to evaluate their own growth through questions like “What have I learned lately? What new insights have I been given? Do I feel my biblical knowledge has deepened?”
Those who fall within this type are more aware than the other types that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It is very hard for Mind types to go more than a day or two without some form of mental stimulation and challenge. This can be a burden to those around them because the expression of such intellectual intensity can be experienced as unrelenting and exhausting.
Perhaps the most common stereotype for Mind types is that they are too conceptual and impractical—“too heavenly minded to be any earthly good” as the saying goes. While this criticism may be overstated, Mind types do validate this statement more than the other types. It is easy for Mind types to become absorbed with theological and philosophical issues while inadvertently ignoring the practical demands of their daily responsibilities.
Mind types face a challenging discipleship journey (I know because I’m a Mind type). If they simply stay in their root type and ignore the call to learn to love God with their heart, soul and strength, it can become all too easy for them to spend their lives thinking about God without living for and with God. They are at more risk than the other types to stay trapped in their head. They can become obsessed with ideas and orthodoxies (i.e., right teaching), but never move into the orthopraxis (i.e., right living) that they need for transformation.
Immature Mind types are argumentative and critical, and often see themselves as spiritually superior to others due to having “correct” theology. This can be especially true in evangelical churches, because these communities often hold up Mind types as the role models for what discipleship should look like. Those who know the Bible, know their theology and are skilled in articulating it are celebrated and revered. Because of this, it’s a difficult and ego-bruising journey for the Mind type to learn that their type is simply one of the types, and not number one of the types.
To love God with all of one’s soul means we’ll experience our love for God most acutely through times of reflection, meditation, solitude and contemplation. At their best, Soul types are deep, grounded, centred, reflective and wise. At their worst, they can become aloof, disconnected and relationally distant. In general, Soul types find it much easier to live within the rhythms of the moment, and are better than other types at not worrying about the past or the future. They are at home in the moment and experience God through this posture.
The Scripture that best expresses the natural state of the Soul type is Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” For Soul types the past is formative and the future is possibility, but the present is the arena of transformation. Therefore, Soul types have a much easier time than the other types recognizing God’s power and presence in the everyday moments that make up their lives. Enjoying a cup of tea, driving to work, reading a book, conversations with a friend, etc., are all activities that Soul types connect with God easily through.
Soul types are often more interested in loving God through hearing God and spending silent, reflective time in His presence. This lends itself to an attraction to contemplative practices ranging from journaling to silence retreats. While these practices are much more difficult for the other three types, the Soul type finds them to be stimulating and refreshing.
An interesting sidebar regarding the Soul type is that they often go unnoticed and unappreciated within many churches. This is because they often don’t show up on the leadership’s radar as “movers and shakers” and tend to make few demands on the community. They are often the antithesis of the classic Type A personality, so they are drawn to churches that give them space to live out their quiet (but not simple) faith in ways that allow them a certain level of anonymity. This means that many Soul types eventually leave energetic evangelical churches because these communities tend to emphasize a Christian spirituality that is grounded in one of the other three types.
Soul types must grow beyond their root or the desire to remove themselves from the rhythms of regular life may become a problem. The Soul type longs to immerse themselves in prayer and reflection. This immersion, however, can become a rationalization that promotes a privatized spirituality that moves them away from realities that should be faced. The core temptation for the Soul type is to extract themselves from the world so that they can pursue a deeper, “unpolluted” experience of God. But that movement is anti-Christ. We do not find God by detaching from His creation. We experience the richness of God as we embrace the struggles and challenges that are part of living in God’s good world.
Christians famously speak of aiming to be in the world, but not of the world, but if the Soul type doesn’t learn to love God with their heart, mind and strength as well, they may find themselves detached from the world and unable to impact it as a disciple.
To love God with all of one’s heart is to find ourselves and our faith energized as we passionately invest in relationships. Those who fall within this type have a root experience of God that is directly linked to their experience with people. Heart types are usually sensitive, empathetic, enthusiastic and compassionate. They tend to feel things very intensely and live and love out of a heightened sensitivity to the moods and emotions of others. They are often quick to involve themselves in activities that hold the promise of a substantial emotional or relational outcome.
Heart types look to Scripture primarily to deepen their sense of connection with God and to learn how to deepen their relationships with others. Jesus’ statement “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35) is an example of the kind of Scripture that a Heart type hears and says “Yes! That’s what it’s all about!” They know that if we don’t embed a love for God and others into everything we do we gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). When talking about their faith Heart types gravitate towards word pictures that strike a more relational chord. They talk about their “personal relationship with Jesus” and describe their church community as “my family”. They are often vulnerable and sensitive in relational contexts and this makes them valuable members to churches, where they are often appreciated for their relational gifts.
Heart types experience God most strongly during times of community and togetherness. From church socials to conversations before/after church, Heart types tend to find Sunday morning factors like the message or music far secondary to whether they feel connected to God and others during their time together. People and relationships make the difference for this root type. This is why many Heart types will stay at churches through all kinds of congregational dysfunction. The relationships that they have established are extremely valuable to them, and supersede whatever issues may be surfacing within their church context.
It’s so important for Heart types to grow beyond their root because the temptation to identify God’s presence and activity with their current emotional state is a strong one for them. For an immature Heart type, if they feel good, then God is good; if they feel depressed, God has abandoned them; if they feel they are growing, God must be at work in their lives. God does speak to us through our emotions, but our emotions are not a reliable foundation for spiritual growth and discernment. Heart types must seek to grow in the other dimensions or they risk developing a spirituality that can hardly be distinguished from emotionalism. Emotionalism is a condition characterized by being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there” (Ephesians 4:14) by the ups and downs of one’s emotional experiences.
Over the past several years I’ve explored Jesus’ command to love God heart, soul, mind and strength through a psychological window. I majored in psychology during my undergraduate training and my studies helped me develop a perspective from which to approach this command: the perspective of types. Typologies (classifying people based on patterns) are common within psychology, and I remember wondering if contained within this simple command were four ways—four typologies—that could help me better understand how to grow as a disciple.
Some of you reading this may be familiar with the idea of love languages. That’s the idea that within relationships each of us prefers to give and receive love in specific ways. For some, receiving gifts communicates love more deeply than words of praise. And for others, a word of praise communicates love much more powerfully than receiving a gift. One of the keys to healthy relationships is to understand your own love language and take the time to understand the love language of others within your life. That way you can express your love in ways that are deeply meaningful to them, while receiving meaningful expressions of love in return.
What holds true in human relationships also holds true in our relationship with God, and again and again I see this same love language principle playing itself out in people’s relationship with Jesus. While each of us is capable of expressing all of the love languages described below, I believe that one of the four serves as foundational for our experience of God. Our first task as disciples is to identify that root type. Once we’ve identified our root type we should spend time strengthening and developing it. But we shouldn’t stop there. After all, Jesus’ command is to love God “with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength”, not “with all of your heart, soul, mind or strength”. Our calling is to eventually branch out and learn to love God in ways that don’t come naturally to us. If we do we’ll experience God in successively deeper and profound ways, and transformation in Christ will go from being a pious platitude to lived experience.
I’m cleaning up the blog and Facebook fan page for a bit of a reboot. Watch for new stuff coming soon!
To become a fan on Facebook, just visit www.facebook.com/meredisciple. I’ll be updating my fans soon on some exciting news regarding the book and my next writing project!
Also, in case you are unaware, I’ve started a daily reflection on discipleship and Christian spirituality called the Mere Disciple Experiment (MDE). It’s run through Facebook, and goes directly into your Facebook inbox so it’s incredibly accessible and convenient. I’m hoping that some of you will contribute to it as well, and together we’ll build a community-driven devotional where we benefit from learning from each other’s insights and journies. To join the MDE and receive the daily reflections, just join the group at http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/group.php?gid=186016900438&ref=ts.