Sacred Imagination

“Oh, how I love your law!  I meditate on it all day long.” – Psalm 119:97

Do you sometimes feel there’s more your could get out of reading the Bible, but you just don’t know how? Many have realized through the centuries there are gifts of understanding God wants to give us that we won’t get by reading and study alone. Let me share what may be, for you, a new way of engaging with God through his Word. All you need is some quiet time and your imagination.

We can engage our imaginations by mentally placing ourselves in a biblical story. Recently I read the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet while he was dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-50). Then I decided to relive the story in my imagination. I saw myself in the place of this unnamed woman. She had a tarnished reputation, but she loved Jesus a lot. I imagined what she must have been feeling as the men around the table watched her anoint Jesus’ feet with her tears, knowing many of them were judging her. As I walked through the story in my mind with emotions fully engaged, I began to feel the weight of guilt she must have felt about her past and then the lightness of joy of hearing Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven. . . Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” 

Want to try it? Next time you read a biblical narrative, enter into it, imagining the surroundings, the other people, the smells and sounds, and sensing your own response as the story unfolds. Imagination is a gift from God. If we let him, he can use it to teach and transform us.

Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God, but God’s means of manifesting himself to us.” – Christian Wiman

Shh. He’s working.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20

Our twenty-something grandson had come to visit us in Colorado, planning to take hikes and summit mountains. But an unseasonable snowfall kept him indoors for a few days instead. He broke out his canvas and paints and began to create a landscape while glancing out our front window.

I looked over his shoulder, wanting to tell him that the open field he just put in was really over a bit further, wondering about the colors he chose, and really getting concerned about all the wild brushstrokes that were not taking any shape at all. But I said nothing. Over the next couple of days a beautiful landscape emerged. It was related to the view out our window, but it also incorporated other scenes from his memory. It had its own artful color scheme, and all those wild brushstrokes emerged amazingly as mountains. It wasn’t what I envisioned. It was so much better! And I was really glad I had resisted the urge to try to get him to do it my way.

Then I remembered the verse that asks us to be silent before God. Wait! I thought we were supposed to talk to him always, tell him our needs, plead for others, ask him to intervene in our lives. Yes, that’s true. But sometimes we don’t understand the picture he’s painting. When that happens, we watch and wait without interference. The picture that emerges may not be anything like we expected, but it will be God’s own idea, and it will be beautiful. Sometimes we just have to be still and let him work.

I hear a voice in the silences, and become increasingly aware that it is the voice of God”. – David Brainerd

Note: I thought you might want to see the results of our artist’s efforts. The painting is titled “Magnificent Vista” and is shown above.

The Test Question

” . . . whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” – John 3:37b

There is a really scary verse in the Bible.

It’s the one where Jesus says that on the day of judgment many will come telling about all the things they did in his name, “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me . . .” (from Matthew 7:23). Doesn’t that scare you even just a little bit? It did me recently and I wrestled with it off and on all night.

What if I only think I’m a Christian and am deceiving myself? What if I’m doing good things for all the wrong reasons? How would I know? These people thought they were “in”, but they were wrong. Am I wrong, too?

I believe God sent me a message during that night. He said something like this: I am not trying to trick you. Take me at my word when I say, ‘whoever comes to me won’t be cast out’. That was enough to let me sleep, but in my morning prayer time, there was more.

God had a test question for me and this was it: “Would you rather live in a mansion without me or live in a prison and have me come to visit everyday?”

I didn’t even have to think about my answer. I would rather be in prison with Jesus than anywhere else without him. I knew then that I belonged to him.

How would you answer that question?

If you can answer as I did, you know you are his, and that scary verse is no longer a threat. If you can’t, please talk to Jesus now, receive his forgiveness, and commit your life to following him – no matter what. He is enough!

“To know God’s love is, indeed, heaven on earth.” – J. I. Packer

I have a question.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1Corinthians 13:12

I want to ask you “why?”, Lord. Why did my daughter get cancer? Why did you not heal her after the last time? She is a true lover of you, a disciple, growing in her faith over the years. Why would you let this happen?

Then I read a prayer from Carolyn Myss this morning. She said, “I have learned by now that you do not answer questions: You answer prayers.”

That was true of Job, wasn’t it? He wanted to confront God about the disasters that had come into his life. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve this pain. God didn’t answer Job’s questions, but he did reveal himself and his glory to Job. That was enough to quiet Job’s heart and satisfy his questions. He learned he could trust God with the whole story of his life including what he was experiencing that day.

So, Lord, I will change my questions to a prayer instead: May we realize your presence in this journey. Give us courage. Give us hope. May I trust you as the author of my life story and my daughter’s. And, please, reveal to us your glory so our questions become unimportant, and you become all-important. Amen.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal, but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” ~ C.S. Lewis

NOTE: Painting shown is by Bernard Vaillant (Dutch, Lille 1632–1698 Leyden) and is titled “Socrates Looking into Mirror”.

He came.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him…” – John 1:9-10

There were announcements of Jesus’ coming birth to Mary and Joseph, and his arrival was heralded by angels. But in the darkness of the Bethlehem stable, the most amazing proclamation of all came directly from the newborn boy. He stirred in his makeshift cradle, and his cry broke the silence of that night. That baby’s cry was the voice of God himself.

That cry shook the world of angels and demons. Eons ago, they had heard it break another silence as it called the world into being. They knew it as the voice that cast Satan and his angels out of heaven. It was the voice that called Abraham, spoke to prophets, and empowered kings. That world-changing voice was now coming from a tiny bundle of humanity. Could it be? What power was contained in that cry! What foreshadowing of what would come in his life. What hope for the world, created perfectly, now fallen. God had not sent a prophet this time or a king or an angel. He had come himself, and the world would never be the same.

The voice of God still speaks today for those who will hear. As we sit before him in worship and wonder, we wait to hear again the voice that cried out on that holy night. Then it comes: His voice resounds in the deepest recesses of our heart – through his word and through his Spirit.

Listen.

“What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.” -Ann Voskamp

NOTE: Post inspired by Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee.

Why, God?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

In the year 2000, a small group of devoted monks moved from the relative comfort of their lives to Norcia, Italy to re-establish the monastery founded there long ago by St. Benedict. Their sole purpose was to love and serve God through the solitude and simplicity of the ancient monastic life.

Then in October of 2016, the Basilica of St. Benedict, built in the 14th century as the center of this monastery’s worship, collapsed in an earthquake. It was a shocking tragedy. The monks couldn’t help wondering how God could allow the destruction of this cathedral when it was built by, and then used for centuries by, those who loved him sacrificially.

They mourned the loss of this great place of worship, but soon all their spiritual training kicked in, and they began to make plans for starting over. One writer described their reaction as “receiv(ing) this catastrophe as a call for deeper holiness and sacrifice.”*

Is that how we respond to crises in our lives? As a “call for deeper holiness and sacrifice?” Not usually. More often our response is “Why, God?” I think it’s OK to ask, but if the answer doesn’t come (and often it doesn’t – at least not right away), we need to accept what has happened and move closer to God as we pick up the pieces.

One of the monks said, “These are mysteries which will take years – not days or months – to understand.”*

Do you have an unanswered “why?” in your life? Let’s not let God’s silence stop us from answering his call to deeper holiness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Sam Storm

*Both quotes are cited in The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Sentinel Books: New York, New York), 2017, p. 243

What about the big kids?

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:5

If you have adult children, how’s your relationship with them? We watch and worry as they learn how to do life on their own. There’s a problem, though, when we think our grown-up kids are still ours to direct and protect. If we respect them as adults, we may need to rethink our role.

At some point we have to let them go, encourage them to grow on their own, quit worrying so much about them, and stop trying to be their Holy Spirit. We can do that pretty well when we approve of their decisions, but not so well when we think we know better than they do how they should be living their lives. Some of you can relate to that.  And you know in your soul you have to stop trying parent to another adult.

So, as we let go, what do we do? First, we give up trying to control. Then we put them into the hands of our loving heavenly Father and under the guidance of the all-wise Holy Spirit. If you are at a loss as to how to do that, here’s what I have prayed about my own grown-up kids. Maybe it will help you, too.

Lord help me to . . .

love them deeply as you do,

guide them wisely as you would,

listen to them carefully,

hear what they’re not saying,

hold them loosely so they can fly, and

keep them ever before you in my prayers.

Amen

 

“We may not say that we have the answers. Questions of how to conduct oneself as a Christian or how to serve as a Christian must be answered by life itself- the life of the individual in his direct responsible relationship to God.” – Elisabeth Elliott

Can you believe it?

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

Do you know why the people of Israel were forced to wander in the desert for 40 years after being delivered dramatically from slavery in Egypt, given the Ten Commandments, and led by the great prophet Moses?

My first thoughts: They disobeyed God by worshipping a golden calf, they grumbled a lot, and they even suggested they should go back to Egypt. But the writer of Hebrews lets us in on the true problem: They didn’t believe God!

After recounting their bad behavior, he sums things up by saying, “So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). After all God had done for them, they still didn’t trust him to fight the giants and give them the land. Unbelief kept an entire generation from receiving the blessings God had prepared for them.

Our trust in God is fundamental to his active involvement in our lives. In fact, Jesus said we needed to believe before our prayers would be answered. If we want to grow our ability to trust, maybe we start by believing some things God has already promised:

  • Your pain won’t last forever.  (Psalm 30:5)
  • Justice will come. (Psalm 103:6)
  • Your needs will be met. (Philippians 4:19)
  • God’s Word will show the way. (Psalm 119:105)
  • Relating to him will give you strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • You don’t have to be afraid. (Psalm 23:4)
  • God has a place and purpose for you. (Philippians 2:13)

Our earthly and eternal well-being depend on believing in the God of the Bible so much that we entrust our lives to him. None of us trusts him perfectly, but we can begin today to do it better!

“Man says, ‘Show me and I’ll trust you’. God says, “Trust me and I’ll show you.” – Anonymous

Do you know?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. – James 2:23b

As we relate one-on-one to God, we learn things: how much he loves us, how deeply he teaches us, and how desperately we need to rely on him. We find the Bible coming alive as we read, – correcting, encouraging, directing. We gain so much by living in close connection with our Creator! But do you know how much he wants that connection, too?

God desires relationship with us as much as we do with him. Probably more. Think about Abraham, a mere human, called by God to leave the familiar and go into the unknown. James says Abraham was a “friend of God.” Or Moses, who was not a perfect man, yet we are told God communicated with him face-to-face. Then there were the disciples who lived in close proximity to Jesus for months. On the night he was arrested, Jesus said to them. “I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you friends , , , ” (from John 15:15).

Why would God want to be a friend to humans? I don’t know, but story after story in the Bible tells us it’s true. And the better we get to know him, the more we believe it. As I was beginning to understand how important our closeness was to both of us, God whispered “That’s something many of my children don’t know.”

Do you know? God loves having your attention. Relationship with him is what you were made for. He wants to be your Savior, your Lord, and your friend. I think he wanted me to tell you that today.

“Let’s dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love.” – Henri Nouwen

Critic or Companion?

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:14

“God’ll get you for that.” That was a supposed-to-be-funny, but semi-serious, retort when I was growing up. I think it was a view of God that many in my generation shared. God was just waiting for us to step out of line. Hard as I might try as a teenager, I knew I stepped across that line too many times. I kept waiting for God’s hammer to fall. 

Do you ever feel that way? That you really can’t measure up to God’s standards, so you might as well quit trying? If that’s your mindset, you may need a new view of God.

Yes, he is holy and wants us to live in ways that honor him, but he knows we are weak and will fail. That’s why he sent Jesus to live the perfect life we cannot live and to die and be raised to pay for all within us that falls short of God’s standard. Does that sound like a God who’s just waiting for us to step out of line so he can zap us? No! It sounds like a loving God who made a way for us to become better over time – not by our own efforts, but by the power of the new life he gives us through Jesus. 

It may be our view of God needs to change to be more consistent with the God Jesus revealed. As we walk with him, he guides and grows us. When he finds something to correct, he always does it lovingly. He is never out to catch us in a fault, but to help us overcome it.  

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A. W. Tozer