Do Sensing and Intuitive Types Differ in Their Perceptions of Prayer?

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!

Gayle Weinraub

A native of New England, Gayle Weinraub has worked in the educational assessment industry in San Antonio, TX since 1995. She first learned about personality type in 1989, became certified to use the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator® assessment in 1998, and has maintained a Web site and blog about personality type since February 2013. When not writing blogs about personality type or searching for what she calls blog food (the ideas and observations which will hopefully eventually turn into blogs), she can usually be found enjoying Volksmarches (a sport involving 10K walks), music, art, reading, movies, stamp collecting, photography, cross–stitch, and her Orange Tabby, Periwinkle. Her type preferences are INFJ.

Comments

Ayman Salem (not verified) says...

As Intp or j . Also sunnu muslim. I  see myself very attracted to prayer and connection to God. As i don't socialize alot. I see my connection with God more longer and important than connection with people. I dont know if this makes me a looner or a loof. 

Gayle Weinraub says...

Hello Ayman, thanks for your comment! I agree with you that our connection with God will last longer and is more important than that with people.

Jara (not verified) says...

This is great! I participated in the prayer study and was curious about others' responses, so thank you for summarizing them with a focus on intuitive vs. sensing perceptions. At the time that the study arrived in my inbox, I was reading a book about personality type and prayer. God has been highlighting sensor vs. intuitive differences to me to prepare for marriage to a sensor.

My senior pastors are sensors (ISTJ, ESTJ). The way that they teach us to pray doesn't really move me, but I can tell that others receive the teachings as beneficial. I prefer how an ENTP spontaneously set the mood for a prayer session during service with a vocalist and his occasional prophetic utterances and guidance instead of preaching a sermon.

Anyway, could you also share the similarities and differences between how thinkers and feelers approach prayer?

Gayle Weinraub says...

Hello Jara, thank you for your comment! If I'm not mistaken you've commented before on at least one of my other articles. If so, thanks so much for sticking with me! Would you mind sharing the title of the book you read, if you liked it? I'm always looking for good material.

Thanks for the suggestion. I definitely foresaw all the material we gathered as leading to other articles at some point. I already had an idea for my next one so I'll have to see which I am going to do when, but your idea is definitely a good one!

Gayle Weinraub says...

Are you the same Jara who recommended a book on Introverts in the Church? I bought it but haven't read it yet!

Jara (not verified) says...

Yes, ma'am, I am! :-)

If only when we bought books, we also bought the time to read them! When you get a chance to read "Introverts in Church", I'd love to receive your thoughts on it.

The book I referenced in my earlier comment is "Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types". Very insightful!

https://www.amazon.com/Prayer-Temperament-Different-Forms-Personality/dp/0940136023

Gayle Weinraub says...

I've read that one! Yes, I agree it would be great if we could buy time along with our books!

Jara (not verified) says...

Cool. :-) What do you think of it?

Gayle Weinraub says...

Hi Jara,

The copy I have was published in '84. That's only four years after the MBTI assessment itself, I believe, which has changed since then. Though the concepts in this book are mostly good or even great, the book, in particular the first and second chapters, is badly out of date and in need of revision. There is language in it that is no longer used by Certified Practitioners and will sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to those of us who have gone through certification training! For example, in places the word ability is used instead of preference. Also the idea that our type preferences change over time is no longer accepted by practitioners. What does perhaps change is our awareness of what we really prefer. For instance, say someone grows up in a large family where he never has privacy and eventually leaves home and finds his own place. He discovers he is actually energized by living alone. He hasn't changed from preferring Extraversion, to Introversion. He just never had a chance to see how he liked being alone.

I have lots of things like that underlined in my copy, which was a gift from a Catholic friend long ago. But I have plenty underlined as well that is spot on and very helpful. It's indeed good to be reminded that any church will contain diverse personalities, and a satisfying worship must try to meet at least some needs of all.

Gayle Weinraub says...

I just looked at the publishing info you sent. Glad to see there is a revised edition as it was badly needed! I also see that the MBTI tool, or at least the first manual, was first published in the 60s. I must have been thinking of Isabel Myers' death in 1980, and the 1985 revision of the manual, when I mentioned the year 1980.

Jara (not verified) says...

Thank you for your insights, Gayle! The gift of discernment is very helpful while researching; it gives us the ability to digest the meat and spit out the bones. :-)

Jeremiah 15:19b NASB

And if you extract the precious from the worthless, You will become My spokesman.

 

Gayle Weinraub says...

Thanks, and you're welcome!

Jara (not verified) says...

You have an excellent memory, Gayle. You're welcome. It is my pleasure to read your work, so thank you for sharing it with us! Your articles are always amazingly in sync with my private study. I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us.

The prayer and temperament book is very insightful. Here's a link to the publishing information: 

https://www.amazon.com/Prayer-Temperament-Different-Forms-Personality/dp...

 

Gayle Weinraub says...

Thank you!

Charis Murrey (not verified) says...

While prayer may have some connections to psychology I believe that prayer is from the one true Christian God and that all Myers Briggs types are free to participate in all aspects of prayer and share some beliefs in the same definition. Also, prayer has more than one definition and perhaps more than one definition is true.

Gayle Weinraub says...

Thanks Charis, I agree!

Conor Cook (not verified) says...

As a Catholic INTP, prayer for me is at least two-fold, organized worship through the liturgy (Mass and Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours) and personal connection, communication, and conversation with God.  As Catholics are taught, prayer is adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and petition, so the liturgy, the Sacraments (especially Confession and the Eucharist), rote prayers, and personal meditation/contemplation are all tools in our arsenal, and I try to make use of as many of them as possible.

I am particularly fond of Confession, as it provides me with the most direct (physical) and personal connection to God's mercy through Christ's saving mission.  One of the issues I have, perhaps as an INTP, especially the Intuition/Thinking element, is that I don't really "feel" the presence of God in the way many describe.  Mine is an intellectual faith, gained through study and contemplation.  Through the prayers and ministry of the Church God has given me a way to interact with God and to sense his presence, without which I would not have any way to connect with Him.

One more thing, as an INTP I appreciate the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas was of my personality preference, as he was one of the deepest thinkers and most learned men in Western history.  If more INTPs could encounter faith in such a deep way, understanding the clarity that the Church provides to human thought, we would not be the least religious of the types.

 

 

Gayle Weinraub says...

Hello Conor, and welcome back! I see that you also left a very thoughtful comment on my first article. Thanks so much for sticking with me!

My preferences are for INFJ but my faith is mostly intellectual. I need to know Whom I believe in and why. I think that's a good thing, although feeling God's presence is also good. 2 Tim 2:15 tells us to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." In order to handle it correctly, we must know it which comes from studying it. It sounds like that's what you are doing. Perhaps the feelings will come later, the more you understand intellectually what an awesome God you worship. May He bless you!

J. Dean says...

As an INTJ Catholic, I've always found repetitive prayers like the rosary difficult to maintain in practice. it seems more fruitful to me to just try and hold an image of Jesus or Mary in my mind while being silent. Also, I can affirm the intuitive's appeal to gratitude. When I feel the need to spontaneously pray, my first thought is usually gratitude. I've read (somewhere) that gratitude is the highest form of prayer and this can be verified as well by looking at the prayers in the Bible.

Gayle Weinraub says...

Thanks for the comment J! I came across some very interesting material on gratitude a few days ago while skimming through some course material on positive psychology. The question was raised as to whether religiosity promotes gratitude or whether gratitude promotes religiosity. It sounds to me like there is some very tasty food for thought to be found here! Thanks for pointing out the role of gratitude in prayers in the Bible. I'll be looking out for that.

Inotila (not verified) says...

I'm a Christian INFJ who strongly believe in God and His power and i believe prayer to be a connection between someone(God) who understands  and belives in me, someone who appreciates my silence in the world which never stops talking.

Its the way of appreciating my Creator and expressing myself to Him. I also use prayer as a way 

of telling God the deepest secrets/pain in my heart which only Him can understand and gprovide a solution.

Gayle Weinraub says...

Thanks, Inotila!

Andrea Cabrera (INFJ) (not verified) says...

This is just personal opinion, but I believe that the differences in how we perceive prayer is not in how we pray or what we think prayer is, but in how we receive the answers to those prayers. For example, my brother, an ISTP, receives his answers directly from the Bible or through sermon. I on the other hand, a confirmed INFJ, receive my answers through revelation/intuition (most people would call it a "feeling"). An example; I suffer from severe social anxiety and in a moment when panic set in, I was overcome with this overwhelming peace and I felt God was telling me "Do not fear for I am with you." My brother, to his knowledge has never experienced something like that. I know it is not the best basis for my theory but I do find it quite interesting how as sensing and intuitive types, we receive our answers differently.

Gayle Weinraub says...

That's fascinating, Andrea! I don't think I've heard that before. There's a lot of food for thought here, I believe. Thanks for sharing!

Maria Akram (not verified) says...

I am a ENTP Sunni Muslim. Honestly, I'm very inconsistent with prayers. But prayer to me is communication with a higher power. It helps build a relationship with whoever you worship. It's asking but also thanking. 

Gayle Weinraub says...

Thanks for your comment, Maria!

Jason Ferguson (not verified) says...

Wow, lots of good reading here.  Greetings from California.  I am a 48-year-old male, former United States Coast Guard aircraft mechanic of 26 years.   My experiences of the last six days, include taking a new Myers-Briggs test from the Myers-Briggs website.  Now, for as long as I can recall, I have been type "A", and previously categorized much differently than the NEW "ENTP" category that I receive 6 days ago.  In this last few days, I have had what is described as Ego Death, Mental peace,,, or something described in MANY video lectures I have run through in the last few days.  Also, I have made an appointment with a  in Cognitive Integration Therapy (CIT), a practice recommended by Ken Wilbur, an acolyte of Abraham Maslow & Carl Jung.  This, so I can share the same language with another.  Because, frankly, everyone else,,, don't grasp what I am saying.  I score highly in written and verbal communications.  Returning  from phone call:  My half sister, understands,  I think.  This is,, Amazing, Flooding, Clarity,,,  Amazing.     AMT1 USCG (ret.).    Aloha 

Gayle Weinraub says...

Hi Jason, thanks for your comment! Also thank you for your service!

When you say you took the MBTI assessment from their website, do you mean you took the MBTI Complete? I've taken that and it should have walked you through a verification process that allows you to decide whether you agree with your results or not. It should help you find what is called your best fit type. If ENTP does not sound like you or fit comfortably, that may not actually be your type. It is important that YOU decide what your type is, rather than allow someone else to categorize you as you put it.

I'm not familiar with CIT. I hope you find it helpful!

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