Today’s Question: What is the life you’re imagining?
This is Part 2 of our series on “Experiencing our theology.” Or put more simply – seeing what we believe about God.
Last week was an invitation to consider, “What do I believe about how God functions in my life in different areas?” We moved beyond a broad conceptualization of God, down into the specifics of everyday life: money, romance, sin, salvation, redemption, transformation, miracles. And we talked about PRAYER as a key part of how we conceptualize & experience God:
- What do we believe prayer is for?
- That is does?
- Do we believe it makes a specific, tangible difference?
- And most importantly: How would we pray if we believed that it made a specific, tangible difference?
Today is a continuation of this conversation.
I was inspired this week by something I heard (and I confess, I don’t know where, although I suspect it was the podcast by Phil Vischer who did the “Veggietales” videos), where a guy said,
“One of the coolest things about our faith is how, while Jesus sometimes guides us specifically by saying, avoid that, or go here, do this…, the main thing he does in our lives is set us down somewhere, hand us a canvas and a brush, and say, Go…paint. He leaves us tremendous freedom to create a life in the place where we are.”
This captivated me all week long. As I thought out it, this picture took my life from feeling huge and overwhelming, to small, specific and manageable. I don’t have to paint the entire world. Just this canvas in front of me. Which raises a question that all artists wrestle with: I have this gift of an imagination. When I tap into it, what do I see?
In a book I read a few years ago by Skye Jethani, called Futureville, he talks about the World’s Fair and how it used to be a way to help people imagine a future that was not here yet. This was in the years immediately after the Great Depression, and the audience was was a generation mired in poverty. In this difficult, seemingly hopeless time, The World’s Fair gave them a chance to reinterpret their present situation as temporary, and a brighter vision of tomorrow to march toward.
He contrasts this with a billboard he saw in Chicago recently from a firm of lawyers that said, “Life is short, get a divorce.” A rather grim suggestion on your stressful commute home from work.
Contrasting these two, Jethani makes this point: Whoever shapes our vision of tomorrow wields enormous influence over our lives. Imagining the future – good or bad — gives us something to move toward in our daily lives. It’s not always clear how certain brush strokes lead to a picture. But if you watch a painter, you see this amazing PROCESS where the imagination is made tangible.
We’ve circled back a few times now to this prayer Paul prayed for his friends in Ephesus, where he points out how God can do “infinitely more that we can ask or imagine.” Which suggests that our imagination is like a stepping off point for God. It’s a floor, not a ceiling. So we’d do well to cultivate it.
One of my favorite Bible passages that helps me live into this is Isaiah 55. Listen to this:
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
[God invites us to look UP, at how He works. Then He describes the process:]
“The rain and snow come down from the heaven and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
[Think about that for a moment: Rain and snow. What happens when they fall on earth? The earth ABSORBS as much as it can hold. That’s what causes GROWTH and FRUIT. God is telling us that the promises in His Word work the same way. We ABSORB them, and they SHAPE how we grow. And then here’s what happens…]
“You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”
[Miracles. Thorny patches become lush trees that are green year round. Instead of pricker bushes, you get blooming flowers. What comes out of us is beautiful and inviting, rather than defensive and protective.]
Think about that for a minute. Let it soak into you. Imagine what it might mean.
If there were a visual to go with the prophetic life, I think it would be an INTERSECTION:
It’s like three streets coming together:
- Imagination – what we see that isn’t here yet
- Action – how we act toward that
- Prayer – the way we trust and involve God in this process.
They MEET at this point, where we’re standing there with Jesus who calls us to live more creatively, with more depth and breadth and just BIGGNESS. Believing for impossible, improbable things.
Let’s look at these three “roads” more closely:
- Imagination –
We bring our thoughts into line with God’s possibilities. Goodness where there is currently blight. You look at someone hopeless and believe that better is possible. You think, “Why NOT me?” when it comes to something you dream of.
Note: It’s okay to give TIME to this imagining with God. If you have a propensity to get lost in daydreams, that’s okay. Just invite God into that process.
We can take time to imagine with God. To say, “Thank you that I have the Mind of Christ. Show me what you see, Lord. Teach me to see things your way.”
2. Action – We line our words up with this new, imaginative vision.
God has given us the authority (keys) to loose things on the earth. We want to loose God’s Kingdom. We do this by speaking according to His Word, rather than the circumstances we see around us.
(Our kids often say, “It’s so hot in here, I’m dying!” To which I reply: “You’re not dying, in Jesus’ name!”)
For years now, the temptation coming against this has been political correctness – first about hot button issues, but then it devolved into just not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings or cause conflict/disagreement.
Now, the primary temptation is empathy – not the real thing, but a counterfeit – where we’re told to imagine how hard or bad something is for someone, so we can agree with them how hard or bad it is, and validate their feelings or experience.
It sounds brilliant. It isn’t.
- Jesus only agreed with people that they were in trouble as a prelude to offering them a way out.
- He never came into agreement with anyone as a way of bonding or building a friendship. His relationships were built on bringing and pursuing HOPE.
One of Satan’s biggest lies to us right now is a version of the old saying, “misery loves company.” Only we call it empathy and validation. The demonic spirit of misery DOES love company – but we don’t have to provide that. Instead, we’re told to agree with what God’s Word says about our lives and situations:
- What the Enemy intends for harm, God will use for good.
- God works all things for my good because I love Him and am called according to His purpose
- God will finish the good work He started in me.
- The joy of the Lord is my strength.
It’s not that we don’t tell each other honestly what is going on. The sharing isn’t the problem. Sharing brings problems out into the light, especially when we’re sharing with other Jesus friends. The problem is in our response to one-another’s sharing.
A couple of examples (one where a friend got it right, another where I blew it):
Last week, I shared with Shelley that right after the adoption, I felt clear headed and no longer tired in a way I had not experienced for more than a year (and that had gotten significantly worse since we planted the church). I attributed this to getting blessings and prayers from hundreds of people on social media after announcing our new family. But now the fog & fatigue were back, and I was a little discouraged. I joked, “It seems unlikely that I’ll ever feel better if it takes 500 people praying for me simultaneously to get there…”
Her response was great: “I don’t believe the bar is that high,” she said. She wasn’t sure what the answer was, exactly, but she AFFIRMED THE TRUTH: that whatever it takes to make it possible for me to thrive in God will not be impossible, because that’s inconsistent with God’s word.
We won’t always know what the answer IS, but we can refuse to come into agreement with what it’s NOT.
Here’s a less great example, that happened about an hour later:
Another friend shared with me that she was going through her clothes to see which ones still fit because she’d gained some weight. I commiserated, sharing that I just gave in and bought several pairs of new pants because I simply could not squeeze into the old ones.
We both left feeling what I guess I’ll call a “Camaraderie of chubbiness.” Which could just as easily be called resignation to our plight.
God doesn’t traffic in resignation to your plight – EXCEPT as a starting point for Holy Transformation.
So what would some BETTER RESPONSE options be?
- Let me pray for both of us that our clothes miraculously fit and look good (pray right then).
- God says not to worry about what clothes we will wear – I wonder what that means here, because I’m facing the same situation.
A key way we can experience our theology is to line up what we say with what we believe (rather than what we’re afraid of or discouraged by.)
And finally, the third road leading into our intersection:
- Prayer – We pray honestly, boldly, audaciously. We don’t pray the problem. We let the word of God help us imagine an answer, and pray THAT.
Thank God that He has “this or something better” for you. Acknowledge that the beautiful gift of your imagination is still only a fragment of God’s reach and power. Let yourself settle down into that Holy Smallness, loved and true, as you wait.
Before we close, let me prime your imagination a bit:
The Bible is a story we enter into, not just a blueprint for how to act.
Throughout the scriptures we see Gods people telling and retelling the stories of how God comes through:
- How God’s ways are not our ways.
- How weeping lasts for the nighttime but joy comes in the morning.
- How those who sow in tears harvest with shouts of joy.
This isn’t “those were the good old days.” This is inviting these stories forward into our present, personal time and circumstances, into our imagination, so we can pray and act into what God is doing here & now.
We do this, each one of us, in our part of the world. And together, we see and experience our theology:
- that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
- That Jesus invites us personally to repent and believe the good news.
- And that as we do, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and everything is different in ways that exceed our imagination.
We LIVE into our faith, EXPERIENCE our theology, and ADD our stories to the larger, worldwide story of God coming through.
God doesn’t repeat or replicate things exactly. The Scriptures are our stories, not our precisely measured blueprint. Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow…and his mercies are new every morning. Both of these promises are true.
So…What is the life you’re imagining?
- Speak into it
- Pray into it
- Act and live into it.
Let me pray for us…
LORD, thank You that Your thoughts are nothing like our thoughts, and Your ways are far beyond anything we could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so Your ways are higher than our ways and Your thoughts higher than our thoughts.
The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the us to grow, producing seeds for us to plant and bread for us to eat when we are the hungry. It is the same with Your word. You send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all You want it to, and it will prosper everywhere You send it.
We will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to Your name Lord; they will be an everlasting sign of Your power and love.
Bless us as we live into this promise. In Jesus’ name we pray.