What is prayer? My dictionary defines it as a devout petition or “...spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving or adoration.” It is a many-faceted spiritual practice expressed in a diversity of ways such as asking, talking and listening.
Is the Beauty of Prayer in the Eye of the Beholder?
Perhaps the aspects of prayer which most attract and interest us are, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. As our physical sense of sight influences what we perceive as beautiful, could the perceiving functions of our personality, Sensing and Intuition, affect what we consider to be the most important and desirable aspects of prayer? Sensing and Intuition are opposite ways of perceiving, or taking in information.
Sensing types rely on their five senses to guide them toward details which are the individual trees in the forest of life. Intuitive types, on the other hand, prefer to use hunches or a sixth sense to focus on the big picture, the forest, itself. So wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that Sensing types pray more as a way to influence individual lives and situations, while Intuitives pray to influence the world and life as a whole?
To help me gain insight into this question, and other questions about the relationship between personality type and prayer, many of you filled out a survey covering such aspects of prayer as what you believe it is and why you pray. Thank you!
“Conversing,” “Connecting,” and “Communicating” are Common Definitions of Prayer
Before looking at possible differences in the way Sensing and Intuitive types define prayer, let’s examine ways in which their definitions might be similar. The most common responses that I see across all personality types to my survey question “What is prayer?” are that prayer is talking to, or conversing or connecting with, God. The term “communication” is also common.
For example, ESFP and INFP are very different personality types. But a Catholic with ESFP preferences who filled out our survey called prayer “Communication with God through petition, adoration and worship,” while a religiously independent INFP said it is “Communication. It is conversation with someone you love. In this case, God.” A non-denominational ESFJ wrote, similarly to the ESFP, that “Prayer is a way of communication with God.”
A group which provided us with many interesting and thought-provoking responses using the terms “connect” or “connection” were the INFJs. With roughly 263 out of 1,112 respondents, this was the type with the highest numerical representation in our survey.
A Lutheran with INFJ preferences defined prayer as “...the direct connection to the Father, using the Son as a soul and sin cleaner, and the Holy Spirit as the translator.” An INFJ Catholic saw prayer as “Feeling connected to my real home as this place is just temporary.”
But other types, besides INFJs, seemed to gravitate toward the words 'connect' and 'connection,' too. A Christian with ESTJ preferences, almost the complete opposite of INFJ preferences, described prayer as an “Opportunity to connect with God.”
The word “conversation” is also often used as a description of prayer. “Conversation with God as my father, my brother, and my friend,” is the definition of prayer written by one Christian with preferences for INFJ. A non-denominational ENFP described prayer as “An open conversation between friends.”
“Prayer is a way for me to have a conversation and personal relationship with God,” said a Lutheran with ISFP preferences, “To bring him my concerns, thanks, and desires.” A woman with INTP preferences who considers herself a Baptist told us that “Prayer to me is having a conversation with God. It’s telling Him why your [sic] grateful and what you love about Him. It’s telling Him what you’re guilty of, what’s bothering you, what you need help with. It’s asking for forgiveness and for help to make a change so the relationship can be stronger than ever.”
“Talking to God” is Perhaps the Simplest and Most Universal Definition of Prayer
A shorter word, “talking,” is among the most common of those used to describe prayer by our survey participants. Prayer is “Talking to God” wrote one Christian ESFJ, while another Christian ESFJ said “Talking with God” (my emphasis). A Catholic woman with ISTJ preferences expressed it this way. “Talking to God. Trying to listen to God. Trying to be present to God.” Being present, in the moment, sounds like something that would be very important to a here-and-now Sensing type.
An Evangelical Christian with INFJ preferences wrote us that she experiences prayer as “...talking with God and in the process, allowing God to change your heart.” While this Intuitive used the same word, talking, to describe prayer that the above-mentioned Catholic ISTJ did, there seems to be a difference in the outcome hoped for. Being present to God, an outcome sought by the ISTJ, deals with the here and now, while the INFJ’s goal of allowing God to change her heart is an ongoing process that becomes more evident as the future unfolds.
But Do Certain Type Preferences Prefer Certain Definitions of Prayer?
While these words describing prayer seem to appear across a range of personality preferences and types, others seem to be associated with certain specific combinations of preferences. One facet of prayer that jumps out at me through these surveys is gratitude, or thankfulness. These attitudes seem to be linked to preferences for INFJ, regardless of religious persuasion. Of course, we cannot know for sure whether there is really a link or we are just seeing the magnifying effect of the sheer volume of INFJs who took this survey.
INFJs Seem to Have an Attitude of Gratitude
While scientific accuracy is impossible in a study like this, I nonetheless find it fascinating to consider these responses and their possible significance. “Prayer is also for expressing how thankful I am…” wrote one Christian woman with INFJ preferences, while another Christian INFJ wrote that prayer is “Giving thanks to my Living God…” Someone else with these preferences feels that prayer is “...thanking Him for everything He has done for us.”
The significance of prayer for yet another INFJ is that it “is a way for me to communicate with my God. I can give thanks and appreciation in a meaningful way.” A non-denominational person with preferences for INFJ called prayer “...a time of gratefulness.”
Apparently INFJs without a definite religious orientation also see the importance of gratitude. An INFJ who does not believe in organized religion, but does believe in a higher power, responded to our survey by saying that prayer is a way to be grateful. A non-religious individual with INFJ preferences wrote that prayer is “A means of gratitude, especially after handling a difficult situation more graciously than anticipated.” Yet another respondent with INFJ preferences and without a definite religious preference has used prayer to “express gratitude for being alive or sending blessing for all.”
Since Sensing Types are Grateful as Well, Perhaps We All Are!
While the number of people with INFJ preferences responding to our survey with the word gratitude jumps out at me, INFJs are by no means the only type who said they give priority to gratitude when they pray. A number of Sensing types did as well.
For example, while a Christian with preferences for ISFJ defined prayer as a “Sense of gratitude”, someone with ISFP preferences who believes in a higher power defined it as “...being thankful for what is wonderful.” I like that!
“A way to express gratitude to God and also to voice what we feel at the moment” is how it is defined by a Christian ISFP. As in the above quote about being present to God, this emphasis on the moment reflects the Sensing type’s here-and-now approach to life and faith.
A non-denominational Christian with ESTJ preferences expressed the similar view that prayer is “An expression of gratitude and appreciation to our creator for this life that we’ve been given.” Even an INTP atheist wrote to us that “I just say thank you to remind myself to live in gratitude.”
Maybe my original supposition was wrong. Perhaps the use of gratitude as a definition or key component of prayer is more of a universal concept imprinted within all of us, perhaps by God Himself, than something specific to a certain personality preference or type as I supposed at first. I may have gotten the impression that more INFJs described prayer as gratitude than did other types simply because so many of our survey respondents had INFJ preferences.
Buddhists, Sensing Types (Plus a Few Christians and Intuitives) and Meditation
A few people who took our survey and seem to be mostly Sensing types used the word meditation as a definition of prayer. A Buddhist with ESFP preferences described it this way, as did a Buddhist ISFJ who defined prayer as “Meditation, quiet reflection and compassion meditation.” A Buddhist INTP defined prayer as “Meditation, and thanking.”
But Buddhists weren’t the only ones using the word meditation on our survey. A Catholic with ISFJ preferences told us that prayer is “Meditation...communication to god.” Another ISFJ Catholic defined it as just meditation, and a Christian ISTP believes it is meditation or contemplation. An INFJ with no religious identification defined prayer as both gratitude and meditation.
While one Tibetan Buddhist INTJ wrote that prayer is “Meditation and understanding of karma and mind,” another defined it as “Meditation, chanting.” Though it seems that most of the Intuitives who described prayer as meditation are Buddhists, I noticed that in addition to the INFJ mentioned above, we had a non-denominational person with INTJ preferences who said that prayer is “Focusing on a higher power and taking time to reflect - meditation in a sense.”
A non-denominational individual with preferences for INTP defined prayer as a “form of meditation and connecting with a greater life force.” We also had a respondent with INTP preferences who identifies as Jewish leaning toward agnostic, and sees prayer as “A form of meditation.”
ENTJ and ENTP Take to Heart Matthew 7:7 in the New Testament: Ask and it Will Be Given You
Besides using the word “meditation,” INTJs and INTPs also used the concepts of “asking” and “inviting” to illustrate what prayer is to them. But asking and inviting stand out to me as being mostly representative of two particular types — ENTJ and ENTP. The ENTJs who participated in our survey gave definitions of prayer such as “Asking for forgiveness and God’s help for others and myself”, “Speaking to god and asking for forgiveness”, “...Thanking God and asking for guidance to do His will” and “It’s a time to invite divine power to have its way in my life.” ENTPs gave responses such as “Asking for divine guidance” and “I ask for forgiveness for sins...for help in areas I’m struggling in.”
I see few Sensing types using the words asking, or ask, to describe prayer. Could this be a reflection of the relative scarcity of Sensing types who responded to our survey? An example of one who did use the word “ask” was a Catholic with ISFJ preferences who had the desire to “...ask Him to influence events, help solve problems, take care of people (and my pets), etc.”
May We Conclude That Meditation and Gratitude are Manifestations of the Sensor’s “Here-and-Now” Focus and the Intuitive’s “Big Picture” Focus?
So it appears that, at least among readers of this blog, Sensing types gravitate more toward portraying prayer as meditation, while Intuitives seem to visualize it more as a way of expressing gratitude. Of course, religious persuasion and how one was raised play a role, perhaps a crucial one, in our attitudes toward prayer.
But is it possible that the seeming Intuitive focus on gratitude is a part of the big picture and recognizing what God has been doing in our lives all along? Could the apparent Sensing focus on meditation be more in tune with the Sensing type’s interest in the here-and-now, manifested in the present needs and current relationship with God of oneself and one’s loved ones?
You Tell Us!
What do you think? Does your preference for Sensing or Intuition influence your perception and definition of prayer? If so, how?
We’d love to know!