By Bill Mowry
Masking tape was an important household expense when our children were growing up. Peggy and I watched in wonder as our boys created space guns and castles from masking tape, plastic liter bottles, and cardboard. Their imaginations had no limits on what they could create. What a fun time for us as parents!
Reflecting back, I’ve been asking this question, “When was the last time we used our imaginations in ministry?” Let’s be honest. Most of us associate imagination with the play-acting of children. After all, we no longer create things from masking tape and cardboard. When we relegate imagination to children it becomes a childish behavior not an adult one. This mentality forfeits a gift from God.
I believe that imagination is a lost disciplemaking tool.
“Why is it that professed Christians dutifully sit in church . . . and then go out to live like pagans?” asks author and pastor Warren Wiersbe. “I have a suspicion that one factor is the starved imagination. The truths of Scripture have never permeated their imaginations.”
What is imagination? Wiersbe describes imagination as the “image-making faculty in our mind, the picture gallery in which you are constantly painting, sculpting, designing and sometimes erasing.” Author Cheryl Forbes writes that “imagination is the Imago Dei” that marks us as God’s image bearers. Imagination is the creative act of making images that pull all of our senses into experiencing God’s truth.
The Puritan theologian and philosopher Jonathon Edwards writes that “[imagination] can enable the mind to grasp circumstances never actually experienced.” Like other Puritan preachers, Edwards wanted to evoke suavitas (Latin for “sweetness”) in people’s souls as they heard the promise of Christ. The sweetness of grace is experienced through the imagination.
God regularly appeals to our imaginations. Look at the spectacular images He paints in passages like Ezekiel chapter one or Revelation chapter one. These vivid pictures grab our senses to experience Him. Without imagination, walking with God would be like replacing our high def flat screens with a 1950s black and white television.
Unfortunately, the church often lives in a black and white world. When was the last time you heard a message or took a course on imagination? Theologian Eugene Peterson ways that the church needs “masters of the imagination.” I believe the Body of Christ needs a discipleship of the imagination.
How do we bring God’s gift of imagination into our ministries? Here are three practical suggestions.
1. Create word pictures. Metaphors, analogies, and stories create word pictures to communicate meaning. How do you create word pictures? Start by making “is like” statements; creating analogies to express spiritual realities. The Kingdom’s growth is like a mustard seed. Salvation is like drinking living water. Grace is like welcoming home a prodigal son. Word pictures incite our imaginations by putting well-known truth into new containers for understanding and application.
2. Switch places. We imagine new possibilities when we switch places. Take a moment and imagine thinking and living like your neighbor or co-worker. What is his or her experience with God? What would make the Bible come alive to them? What would attract them to start a conversation about faith? When we switch places we imagine how truth is understood and lived out through the eyes of another. Switching places helps us imagine new and fresh ways to minister.
3. Daydream about application. Picture yourself living out a passage of Scripture. For example, what would your life look like if you accepted Jesus’s invitation to “become a fisher of men?” What skills and training would you need to be a fisher of people? What lures are attractive and appropriate to fish with for people? What is one simple step you could take as a result of these questions?
Put this lost disciplemaking tool to work this week. Set aside ten minutes and allow your imagination to run wild on a subject using one of the above suggestions. Ask God to use these ten minutes to expand your faith and to appreciate His gift of imagination.
In his wonderful essay, The Value of a Sanctified Imagination, pastor and author A.W. Tozer writes:
I long to see the imagination released from its prison and given its proper place among the sons of the new creation. What I am trying to describe here is the sacred gift of seeing, the ability to peer beyond the veil and gaze with astonished wonder upon the beauties and mysteries of things holy and eternal. The stodgy pedestrian mind does no credit to Christianity.
The Value of a Sanctified Imagination, A.W. Tozer
May we become masters of imagination and harness its potential as we reach and disciple people where we live, work, or play. Let’s restore this lost tool to Jesus’s mission.
When I was a young mom, a friend opened up my dusty bible and showed me that what Jesus had done on the cross two thousand years earlier was for me. Until that time, I hadn’t understood that heaven was a promise from God, guaranteed by His Son’s death. It took me two years to accept that eternal life was so simple and to invite Jesus into my life.
I soon discovered, however, that although receiving Christ was simple, living His new way of life was not! Much of my spiritual foundation had been tradition, religion, and misguided thinking. I realized that I needed to know more of the Bible so I would not miss anything God had for me. I joined a Bible study led by a woman named Elaine who deeply loved God and knew His Word. Whenever group members asked her a question, she would direct us to the Word and often would quote it. It was obvious to me that the Bible shaped Elaine’s life and relationships. I asked her, “I’ve met many Christian women, but your love for Jesus stands out to me. Why?” In response, Elaine told me about discipleship, which she described as one person helping another grow in the Lord, allowing the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to change that person’s life. Many years before, a friend, Chris, had discipled her. I realized that a discipling relationship like that was exactly what I needed and wanted. I blurted out “Will you disciple me?” Little did I know that for years Elaine had been praying someone would ask her that specific question.
Elaine and I began meeting together, using discipleship books by The Navigators. It was not just studying the books that radically changed my life, however. It was also the experience of having another woman sit with me and open her life and heart to me. Elaine lived out 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8: “We prove to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives” (NASB, NIV).
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
Elaine’s authenticity and vulnerability about her personal challenges and sin created an atmosphere where I could candidly share my struggles. Elaine listened and did not try to fix me. She continually encouraged me to look to the Bible and trust the Lord. She taught me how to have daily times with Jesus in His Word and how to apply the Scriptures to my life.
Elaine’s love for Jesus and His Word was contagious. Before long, I had caught her passion; my excitement about Jesus became so uncontainable that others started to notice changes in me. I asked Elaine to disciple my friends also but was disappointed to hear her say she didn’t have time to teach them.
“Who will teach them if you don’t?” I asked.
“You will,” she replied.
Figuring that she might not have noticed, I relayed my lack of credentials: “I have been meeting with you for only two months. I don’t know much at all. What if they ask me something I don’t know?”
“You are not growing because of what I know,” Elaine assured me, “but because of Who I know.” Although she continued to meet with me, Elaine lovingly moved me out of the “nursery” and helped me begin to teach others.
Clearly I was discipling women not because I thought I was capable but because I wanted them to have the opportunity to know Jesus the same way I knew Him, I trusted the Lord to help me. Through the experience of seeing Him use me, a young Christian, to teach another, I discovered that my heart’s passion was discipleship. I loved teaching others to love Jesus and obey His Word.
My life was like a pebble thrown into the middle of a pond, making one ripple upon another ripple until the ripples met the shore. One life lived for the Lord and invested in another could have impact for generations to come! Jesus had given the Great Commission: to go and make disciples of all nations. The twelve people Jesus discipled went on to disciple others who in turn discipled still others. Now I, too, was part of His Commission, and as time went on, the women I discipled also went on to disciple others.
Behind us are many people who have given their lives so others would know Jesus Christ. Before us is the challenge to keep discipleship going from generation to generation. This is the discipling vision. Go and make disciples. Look—don’t you see it? The fields are ripe for harvest!
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