This is the last in a four-part series describing some tried and true ways Christians have drawn close to God through the centuries (Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). For this fourth post, I want to look at a path that taps into our most powerful mental capacity, the imagination. Because of it, we are able to dream, create, and discover. It is the reason for great art, scientific discoveries, and entrepreneurial efforts. You would be hard-pressed to have any form of human endeavor without the imagination. It is truly part of our unique design in God’s image.
Almost 500 years ago, Ignatius of Loyola tapped into this gift as a way to draw closer to Jesus. It is called the prayer of imagination or entering a gospel scene. Instead of just reading and meditating on the gospel stories, he taught others to imagine them and become a character in the story. Of course, the central character is Jesus Himself. But how you imagine your interactions with Him reveal so much about your heart. They also reveal so much about Jesus. But most surprising of all, during the prayer of imagination, the living Christ can show up, giving priceless gifts of healing and revelation.
Jesus meets each of us individually, in the uniqueness of our own stories.
My own exposure to this path came through the Ignatian Exercises, a nine-month experience of entering the gospel stories and walking with Jesus. There were many flashes of insight. One of the most interesting was the character I assumed. In the beginning of the exercises, I became Andrew, one of the lesser-known disciples. I took a back seat and watched what happened from that vantage point. But as the exercises proceeded, I suddenly found myself being John, one of the inner three, closest to Jesus. It expressed not only the desire of my heart but also the growing reality of that closeness. Overall, Jesus became a living, breathing man to me. I longed to follow Him because of His unparalleled authority, His daring speeches, and His captivating love. He became the hero I have been looking for all my life.
But my experience with the prayer of imagination will be different from yours. For Jesus meets each of us individually, in the uniqueness of our own stories. The great Shepherd of the sheep will not treat us as formulas. Nor can the Lion of Judah be programmed.
If you are interested in trying the prayer of imagination, start with a gospel story, reading it several times and asking Jesus to meet you. Then take the story and imagine it, putting yourself in the event. Assume one of the characters in the story, or just be yourself observing it happen. You can even talk to one of the characters about their experience. There are no strict boundaries, as long as you enter the story. Take note of sights and sounds, smells and voices. When you finish, take what happened in your imagination to Jesus in prayer. It’s also good to finish with journaling as a way to chronicle your experience.
I hope these last four posts have opened some new doors for you in seeking God. Remember also that He is seeking after you, even now as you read this post. He is faithful to do that even when we are not. That is our great hope in Christ!
Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has been a church planter, a high school Bible teacher, and a running coach. Six years ago, he pioneered Landmark Journey Ministries to help men connect their stories to God’s story through retreats and spiritual direction. His newest book, Heroic: The Surprising Path to Manhood, will be released in April 2019. His greatest claim to fame is being married to Heidi for 32 years and having two amazing daughters, Abigail, and Rachel. He and his wife currently reside in Franklin, TN.
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