Prayer is often referred to as communicating with God. For most people it tends to be a little lopsided with us doing most of the talking and God listening. Do you find you fall into that category? If God is a divine being who created us, don’t you think that He’s interested in speaking with/to us? Would you like to hear God do more of the talking? Have you ever struggled to connect with God in prayer? Do you want to experience and interact with God instead of just knowing about him? If you said yes to any of those questions, perhaps you should try connecting with God in prayer on a more emotional level using your imagination.
Yes we said imagination, but we’re not crazy, nor are we suggesting you just dream things up. If God created our whole being to know and worship Him, it stands to reason don’t you think that we should worship and interact with him with our whole being (body, mind, spirit)? Imaginative prayer is a way in which you can connect with God using your senses, emotions and the imagination he gave you. “The idea is that a Holy Spirit-infused imagination moves us from sterile head knowledge to life-transforming, heart-healing, biblically informed ways of being and doing life.“1 Let’s explore the idea a little more.
It’s important to recognize that God created our total being, that is body, mind, spirit which includes our feelings, emotions and imagination. Remembering that we were created for relationship with God then it stands to reason that all those areas must be meant to be used and are therefore helpful in cultivating that relationship with Him. Perhaps this is best seen in the command to love God with all of who we are (Mark 12:30).
If you read the scripture at all, you’re beckoned into a story filled with all sorts of action, drama, colours, noises, smells and sights and textures. In the opening chapters of Genesis it’s amazing to allow our imaginations to picture the scene as God creates. The book of Revelation is also a stunning visual journey as it paints the picture of Jesus returning, a world in turmoil and a new heaven and earth. Enter any story and you can only imagine what people are feeling and how God is shaping them.
Take a look at the scriptures and you’ll see that imagery and metaphor is all over the place. Jesus is referred to as shepherd (John 10:11), Vine (John 15:5), Lamb (John 1:29) and Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4). God is referred to as dad (Mark 14:36). The Church is referred to as a body (1 Corinthians 12) and bride (Revelation 19:7).
Christians have also recognized symbols like the cross, bread and wine that engage our imaginations as we seek to interpret and understand their meaning and power.
I think you understand the point we’re making and basis for it from scripture.
Christians through the ages have used and appreciated the use of imagination in the worship and communication with God. Historically, those early church saints and fathers who have been associated with the use of imagination include Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Origen of Alexandria, St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis de Sales, and Julian of Norwich.2
Not only has imagination been used in the past to connect with God and engage in the wonder and mystery of His word but also there are Christians today who encourage it. Here are a few quotes from some of these writers and thinkers.
Using the imagination also brings emotions into the equation, so that we come to God with both mind and heart. It is vitally important to understand the scripture intellectually, but if we have not felt it emotionally, we have not fully understood it. ~ Richard Foster3
For Christians whose largest investment is in the invisible [eternal], the imagination is indispensable… Right now one of the essential Christian ministries in our ruined world is the recovery and exercise of the imagination… imagination is the mental tool we have for connecting material and spiritual, visible and invisible, earth and heaven… imagination catapults us into mystery. ~ Eugene Peterson4
HOW IT WORKS
Now that you understand what this type of prayer is and the rationale for it, let’s check out how you can actually do it. The basic idea is that you use your imagination to engage in the story.
- Enter a character
As you’re encountering the story, it can be helpful to enter into a character in the story. That way you experience the sights, sounds and feelings all from their perspective. It may shed a different light on the story for you and help you notice something you’ve missed before.
- Pay attention to your feelings
Notice what feelings are being stirred up and at what point in the story. Where are you being drawn in deeper or where are you resisting?
- Seek contact with God
Look into His face, make eye contact or have dialogue. (Note – keep in mind that scripture doesn’t tell us what God or Jesus actually looked like. In scripture, God is often a voice and our depictions of Jesus are based on images artists have conveyed for us. Check out these God sightings/encounters from scripture to see what we’re talking about. Exodus 19:16-20, Exodus 24:9-18, Matthew 17:1-13, Revelation 1:9-20, Revelation 4)
Measure what you heard and felt with what you know of God’s character and biblical truths as revealed in scripture since it’s our top authority on who God is and what’s true. If your experience lines up with scripture, keep it. If it doesn’t line up with scripture then it was either in your head or because of something you ate but it wasn’t of God.
Here’s our suggestion for the steps on how you can actually practice this type of prayer for yourself.
- Pick a scripture
Grab a story from the Old or New Testament or use a parable of Jesus.
- Do some deep breathing
Slow yourself down and prepare to focus and listen. Do deep slow breathing for your body to relax. On the breath out, imagine releasing the worries and thoughts in your mind. After a minute or two, whisper a short prayer to God asking him to guide and direct you by His Holy Spirit.
- Listen to scripture
It’s recommended that you get a friend to read the scripture for you, play it on .mp3 if you have an audio bible (or use a website with audio features like Biblegateway.com) or you can pre-record yourself reading it and then just play it back to yourself.
Evaluate your experience in light of scripture as we outlined above.
So… there you have it. Now you can go and try practicing this yourself or grab a friend and do it together, taking turns to read to one another. Hopefully this practice will help you have a greater understanding of God, His love and will for your life and transform your heart so that you live it out!
Imaginative Prayer For Youth Ministry by Jeannie Oestreicher & Larry Warner
**A couple of important points:
- Imaginative prayer is not to be misunderstood as to how you can ensure God is with you. The bible says that as Christians, God is already with us (Psalm 139:7, Matthew 28:20, 1 Timothy 1:14)
- Imaginative prayer isn’t special or a better way to pray. It doesn’t make you a better Christian than someone who doesn’t engage in this way.
1Jeannie Oestreicher & Larry Warner, Imaginative Prayer for Youth Ministry (Zondervan: 2006) Pg 20
2Jeannie Oestreicher & Larry Warner, Imaginative Prayer for Youth Ministry (Zondervan: 2006) Pg 21
3Jeannie Oestreicher & Larry Warner, Imaginative Prayer for Youth Ministry (Zondervan: 2006) Pg 22
4Jeannie Oestreicher & Larry Warner, Imaginative Prayer for Youth Ministry (Zondervan: 2006) Pg 22