I never used to think I had any imagination. In those days, I also didn’t enjoy praying very much. I’m not positive the two things are connected, but I think it’s possible that they were.
Recently I have been reading Jean Fleming’s new book, Pursue the Intentional Life. Jean suggests that it is difficult to revere an invisible, holy God, apart from using our imaginations. That makes sense to me. How often have I pictured Him as Shepherd with sheep or as the King on His throne?
She suggests that deep engagement with Scripture also depends on imagination. I believe that, too. When I envision Jesus laughing and surrounded by children, or I try to picture what the holy uproar that took place on Pentecost, Scripture pops for me. It engages my heart and evokes my thinking.
Jean also says that imagination is required if we want to learn to walk compassionately in another person’s shoes. Again, I think she’s right. It’s only when I take time to imagine what it’s like to live with 24/7 chronic pain or to suffer with an unwanted addiction, that I am able to offer more than platitudes and pat answers.
Jean did not mention prayer, but I realize that imagination is one of the things that has made my prayers more meaningful in recent years. Here are some examples:
• I have friends who just moved to Asia as missionaries. They need to learn the language. I can ask God to help them with that—and I do. But I can also take a few minutes to recall how difficult foreign language-learning is. How full one’s head becomes with all the vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciations. The embarrassment of saying the wrong thing, the frustration of not being able to express oneself. I consciously call to memory what it was like for me on my last trip to a foreign country—how hard it was to communicate and how desperately I wished I could. And from this place of identification, I pray for my friends. With heart!
• Another friend faces a scary medical test. I can pray that God will give her peace—and I will. But when I remember the various medical tests I’ve had done before, and the anxiety and discomfort they caused me, I pray with deeper compassion and greater fervency.
• I support a Compassion child. So I pray for him to be healthy and do well in school. But after a trip to a developing country last year, I pray for him with new understanding. My memories of that trip—the beggars on the street, foul odors, people huddled under tarps trying to keep warm, desperate poverty—cause me to pray with emotion, “Lord Jesus, have mercy! Rescue him! Let Him know how much You love him. Accomplish all Your purposes for him!”
• When I pray for my son’s future spouse, I use my imagination, too. I imagine a godly woman who loves God, my son, and their children. I picture her worshiping, laughing, listening, giving wise counsel, caring for others. From this Scripture-inspired mental imagine, I don’t merely ask God to “give my son a good Christian wife”—I pray for that godly woman I see in my mind’s eye.
I used to be suspicious of the imagination. I was one of those people who Jean Fleming says worry about “making up something that doesn’t exist, something fictitious.” But I’ve come to see my imagination as a God-given gift that helps me to live, love, worship, and pray more passionately and compassionately, in spiritual 3D and living color.