Putting imagination to work

I woke up last night following a nightmare of my family being caught in a tragedy. It was one of those vivid ones where you are sure it was real for some time even after waking up. Usually my reaction to these situations once my mind is calmed down is to figure out the fastest way back to sleep, but last night the Lord directed my thoughts to those people who have endured my nightmare in real life. I prayed that God would give me more vivid nightmares if that’s what it took to help me imagine the lives of those struck with great suffering better than I do now.

Imagination seems to be one of the least used tools in the lives of Christians I meet. Those who use imagine God working in mighty ways are often cast aside as unrealistic or idealistic. People routinely respond to the tangible circumstances of the world as if they are the most real things in the universe when the Bible says that the things that are most real are the things we cannot see with natural eyes (2 Cor 4:18). Contrary to this thinking, the throughout the scriptures show us that imagination is a powerful force that can be used either to boost self-confidence (Prov 18:11, 1 Cor 8:2) or confidence in God (1 Cor 2:9, Eph 3:20).

There are several passages in the Bible that use the word “imagine” or “imagination” but we should think more broadly than that. Perhaps one of the best words to use as a pivot point for applying imagination to the Christian life is the word “consider.” When Jesus instructs his hearers to “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matt 6:28-29), he intends that we use our imagination. How did the lilies get to be more beautiful in appearance than even the richest and most opulent man who ever lived? We’re supposed to imagine the level of detailed care involved for God to have planned out and then executed his plan to make these flowers so beautiful so that we can truly appreciate God’s wonderful care for his kids who are often tempted to be anxious.

When the apostle Paul says “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11), he means for us to use our imagination. We are to imagine what it would look like if we were truly dead to sin and it had no control over us because of the life of God in us. What specific things would we stop doing? What specific things would we start doing? What would an ordinary day in my life look like? Imagine it and then go use the faith God supplies to live like that.

When the author to the Hebrews says “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:3), he means for us to use our imagination and make a comparison between how Jesus suffered mistreatment and how we suffer it. We are supposed to wonder what it was like for him and what was his motivation and his fuel. It’s only after we use our imagination to get a fuller appreciation for what it was like for the creator of the universe to be abused by his own creation that we gain the fuel and motivation we need in the gospel to prevent weariness and a desire to quit.

As we train our imagination to work for the Kingdom rather than for our flesh, we receive other benefits as well, especially in how we might live out the one another commands. An obvious place to start is Hebrews 10:24 where we are commanded to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Imagination is our helper because not everyone we know will be stirred up in quite the same way that we are. Think about your friend, spouse, child, or parent. What kinds of things do they pursue? What is it that they love? What motivates them to act under normal circumstances? How could you present a current problem or need to them in such a way that the gospel’s demands of them are more vivid than they would be to a generic person? Creatively loving, encouraging, admonishing, comforting, serving, and even forgiving one another begins with a godly use of imagination. That’s what I hope my vivid nightmare will produce in me as I try to comfort those who are dealing with situations I have not faced in real life.

We are not supposed to read the Bible like we read the newspaper. Be creative about using your imagination with the Scriptures. It will help you to grow in love, grace, and discernment more than you can imagine.



So I’ve recently been introduced to a friend of a friend who if she is not my political opposite is pretty close to it. She seems extremely well intentioned which is a reminder to me that we must not demonize people with different political ideas than we have, but is wrong on at least two fronts.

DocJess is extremely liberal and sees life through that filter. She’s also a medical doctor who is completely behind the idea of a single payer system funded by the government. I don’t really know where she is spiritually other than that she says she’s Jewish and the two things she’s passionate about (in her words) are healthcare and politics. She’s obviously well read of those that agree with her although I have no reason to believe she’s a lemming who just totes the Democrat party line. In fact I believe quite the opposite. It’s pretty obvious to me that her world view and her experiences in this fallen world are completely driving her ideas about healthcare “reform”. I’m not going to get into her arguments or counter arguments because I don’t think they’re particularly relevant to what I’m trying to say today.

You may have heard the old saying that when you’re a hammer, everything you see is a nail. DocJess is a good example of someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ, I’m pretty sure doesn’t believe in the Hell the Bible talks about and doesn’t believe in sin in the way the Bible promotes. That manifests itself in her desire to make this world a better place and give healthcare to all Americans because this is all they have. They have no hope beyond this life so making this life as enjoyable as possible is essential. Once this life is over in a practical sense, just pull the plug and move on to the next person who needs healthcare, to include restricting life sustaining medicine to people who have a low quality of life (by her definition of course).

I’m not writing this to beat up on DocJess. Of course I pray that she’ll open the Scriptures and see that the Jewish Messiah has in fact come and that she would embrace Him. My point is that Christians in many ways are no different. We act based on how we think and do things based on our preconceived notions of what’s best. The problems occur when those notions do not line up with the Bible in any meaningful way.

Listen to what John Piper says in the introduction to his book, Future Grace.

“I have found in twenty years of preaching and teaching and struggling with people who want to be authentic Christians, that the way they think about Christian living is as often absorbed from the cultural air we breathe rather than learned from the categories of Scripture. Not only that, some of the inherited categories of “Christian” thinking are so out of sync with the Bible that they work against the very obedience they are designed to promote.”

These events have been making me re-evaluate some of my thinking about my thinking. If you are a Christian, here are some questions for you that may be helpful to consider.

Why do you care if we have universal healthcare or some stepchild of it?
Would universal healthcare impair the Gospel?
Does the fact that Jesus did nothing to overthrow a government far more heinous than what the President is proposing affect our position on political activism?
In what ways is our political activism different than that of an unbeliever, even if they’re on “our side”?
Who would you love more, an unbeliever who shares your political ideology or a believer who is diametrically opposed to it? If you just gave a Sunday School answer and said the believer, how does that show up in your life?

To be clear, I don’t believe putting the government in charge of the healthcare system is a good idea for a host of reasons. I just don’t think that in light of eternity whether or not we have government healthcare matters a lot. Christians in Europe and Canada have found ways to live and preach the Gospel with government run healthcare. Rachel Barkley, a dear sister who went home to be with the Lord, got her chance to proclaim the Savior loudest not when she was healthy but when she was dying. If the Canadian healthcare system under which she was cared for contributed to that Gospel proclamation (which it probably didn’t but this is my point), then we should rejoice in it because when the Gospel is preached God is glorified.

(By the way, if you have not seen her testimony at deathisnotdying.org, you are cheating yourself)

Where does that leave my budding friendship (I hope) with DocJess? I’m hopeful that I will be able to visit the town where she lives on business and maybe share coffee with her and our mutual friend. During that conversation she will preach the wonders of how a single payer system will make the lives of ordinary Americans so much better for the 70 or 80 years they are here. I will preach Christ and Him crucified. If she convinces me, Democrats will have another supporter. If I (or not I but the Holy Spirit) convinces her, we’ll be able to rejoice around the Throne for all eternity.