Disciplining the Imagination
by Sharon Hodde
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The imagination is a powerful thing. Depending on how you use it, it can result in great good or great harm. This fact has been on my mind a lot lately as I have noticed the ways in which I grossly misuse, or under-use, my imagination. Let me explain what I mean by this....
Imagination is a gift that God has given us, and, when used toward its proper end, can be an amazing asset to the Kingdom of God. Far too often we are limited by our insecurities and doubts, so we do not use our imaginations to their full extent. We do not dream God-sized dreams, and we do not imagine grand visions for His Kingdom. In fact, imagination rarely plays any part in our pursuit of God. Instead, we get stuck in our daily routines of going to Bible study, going to Church, hanging out with our Christian friends, etc.
Imagination is not a practice that we have written into our Christian lives, and you rarely hear people talk about it being a discipline we should hone. But if God gave us an imagination, then we should be using it to glorify Him, rather than wasting it. And just like any gift that God gives, we should use it with skill and with excellence. Our minds should be in overdrive as we go through our days, constantly thinking and praying for vision in the way we live out our faith. When we see that homeless person standing on the side of the street, we should be thinking of creative ways to help the poor in our communities. When your fellow student, co-worker, or neighbor is having a hard time, you should be thinking of original ways to reach out to them in love. Or, we can be formulating new ways to strike up conversations with people about the Gospel. I think the billboard and Gospel tract methods have been slightly exhausted, so new strategies on this front are greatly needed.. The possibilities are endless, but we rarely even scratch the surface.
Now all of this is not to say that we don't use our imaginations. Ironically, we use them all the time--just not in the way God designed them to be used. For example, girls are notrious for day-dreaming about what their lives would be like if they started dating a certain guy. I myself am guilty of this--just yesterday I was talking to my roommate about the pros and cons of marrying a certain guy, but I've never even gone out with him! Even in the middle of the conversation I was struck by the absurdity of it, as well as the potential danger of it. If I desire to guard my heart, then it is a slippery slope when you begin speculating on possibilities that may never come to fruition, especially if that certain guy ends up dating someone else. Then you are left devastated because your dreams have been snatched away.
But dating is not the only way in which our imaginations are misused. You can get carried away thinking about what your life would be like if you could just have kids, a spouse who understood you more, a better job where you made more money, and so on. All of these exercises in the imagination are spiritually deadly because they draw you into feeling discontent with the life that you currently have. What's more, this kind of imagining allows you to construct a world in which you are the center, and in such a world, God has no part.
It is here that I want to highlight an extremely deceptive way in which imagination can play out. Thus far I have explained that our imaginations should be used for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom, not the furthering of ourselves, but this line is not always black and white. Sometimes we can delude ourselves into thinking that we are dreaming big dreams for God, when those dreams are only masking our own pride. For instance, there is a part of me that would love to write books that lots of people read, books that help transform people into better disciples of Christ. That is a godly desire. But I would be lying if I said it wasn't also mixed with pride. There is a part of me that wants to have a creative imagination and do great things for God so that people will remember me as having done something great for God. In the end, it's not so much about God as it is about me. With that in mind, we must be cautious, because even in using our imaginations rightly, sin can still creep in to pervert it.
So if this is an area in which you struggle, I have two tips for you. First, if you notice that your imagination is carrying you away in unedifying ways, come up with a thought you can replace that imagining with. For instance, if you find yourself dreaming about a certain guy, a better job, or an overall different life, divert your thoughts onto praying for your lost friends, or for your family. In this way, you not only stop the unhealthy day-dreaming, but you also take the focus off of yourself. And if you feel that you are not using your imagination in the daily routine of your walk with God, then start praying for God to open your eyes to the ways in which you can break the routine and be creative in your worship of Him. But most of all, go beyond imagining--we must be more than dreamers; we must also be doers. So dream those dreams, but pray for the boldness to live them out as well. Even if you are using your imagination in a healthy way, you are still misusing it if you never live it out. That is ultimately what imagination is for.
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