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Podcast 1.02 Using Our Imagination When We Pray

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Episode 1.02: Using Our Imagination When We Pray

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Intro: Welcome to the Encounter Jesus podcast, also known as the ‘feel like Jesus is hugging you today’ podcast. I’m Elizabeth Ellynshaw, and today we will be talking one of the most important keys, perhaps the most important key I’ve experienced to changing prayer from a chore to life’s most deeply satisfying adventure. And the great news about this key is that I was already using it in our last episode, so if you listened to the previous episode, you’ve already done this. And the key is using our imagination when we pray.

In our last episode you may remember we talked about what boring prayer meetings are like. And then I asked the question, if we could have physically seen Jesus with us sitting on the sofa in that boring prayer meeting, what would we have done differently? And I came up with lots of answers, like falling at His feet worshipping Him, confessing all our sins to Him, or asking Him lots of questions. But what I want us to notice now is that we were using our imaginations to picture what is true. It is true that Jesus is with us at every prayer meeting, He said He would be with us to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age, so we were picturing the truth that He is with us, when we were imagining Him on the sofa. What else is true about where God is in relation to us, and what will happen if we use our imaginations to picture it when we pray?

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Prayer: Lord, I pray for the person listening to this right now, just as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, that the eyes of their heart would be flooded with light to see everything You want them to see. I pray that just as Habakkuk said “I will look” or “I will watch” to see what God will answer me, they would be able to look for the pictures You will bring to their minds of the truth from Your word, and I pray that You would begin to meet them and answer them in what they picture and see in their minds and hearts, in Jesus’ name, amen.

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Content: God has given you a super-powered imagination. You have the ability to imagine anything, past, present, or future, real or unreal, true or false, good or bad, anywhere in the world, anywhere in time or space, anything that was or is or might be or will be or probably won’t be, and you can pull it up in an instant. It’s really astonishing that God has trusted us with this much power to imagine anything. But one of the most important things we use our imagination for is to picture what is real yet invisible. We do this in the physical realm, say with things that are real but we can’t see them because they are too small or too big or too far. If you say to me, “you know this countertop is actually covered with millions of tiny microbes,” I immediately start using my imagination to picture millions of tiny something on the counter, I might picture them as green cartoon blobs with mean goggly-eyed faces, but I picture them. Or if we’re looking at the sky and you tell me, that speck of light is a star, but that speck of light that looks the same is actually a whole galaxy that’s just much farther away, I immediately imagine zooming in on it and seeings its spiral arms. And we do it with things in the past and in the future. If you say, there used to be an ancient village on this site, I imagine the village of the past. Or if you say, “they are going to build a supermarket on this vacant lot,” I imagine the supermarket of the future. Our imaginations can even time travel!

In the same way, I can imagine the things the Bible says are true yet invisible, like that Jesus is with me, angels are in the room to minister to me, God is storing up a reward in heaven for me right now as I obey through suffering, and when I imagine those kinds of things, powerful stuff happens. To go back for a moment to the example of the microbes, if I really start imagining them all over my counter, I might start to feel something, like grossed out, and do something, like wash or sanitize the counter. And when I pictured Jesus on the sofa in the prayer meeting, I started to feel something, and I wanted to do something in response to the truth that Jesus is with me. Teacher Mark Virkler stated this principle really clearly when he said our emotions flow out of the pictures we are looking at in our minds. So that’s why it’s so important that we use our imagination to picture what is true, like that Jesus is with us, instead of to picture a lie, like that Jesus is not with us or is somewhere really far away.

One of my mother’s favorite Bible verses that I heard her quote a lot when I was growing up is Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” You may have heard that the Hebrew word for peace is shalom, which means this complete wholeness and wellbeing in every area of life. And what we translate as “perfect peace” is communicated in Hebrew by repeating the word twice: Shalom, shalom. It says God will keep this kind of person in shalom, shalom.

So what kind of person? The one whose mind is stayed on God. But that Hebrew word for “mind” here, yay’-tser, comes from the word for something a craftsman shapes out of clay or metal. It can be used literally, to mean an object you make, or metaphorically to mean the stuff you make up inside your mind. These are the thoughts we make up, the ones we choose and add to, not the ones that fly in unexpectedly and we haven’t chosen them yet. These are the thoughts and thought patterns that we are crafting.

And there are many, many other verses in the Old and New Testaments that make it clear that these true thoughts we are making and choosing can be visual thoughts. To give you one example, Moses was in a situation that doesn’t naturally make you feel peace when he had to go to a really angry, really powerful king and keep saying, ‘let my people go.’ But Hebrews 11:28 says Moses was using this key. He “kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (NLT). You can only look at what is invisible if you use your imagination. When Moses used his imagination to picture what was true, that God was a bigger and scarier king and God was there with him, it kept him unafraid enough of the angry human king that he could keep going. Now, you might argue, ‘but Moses had seen some stuff I haven’t seen. He’d seen a burning bush, and a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night going ahead of him. He could fix his physical eyes on that pillar and he didn’t have to use his imagination.” But Paul makes it clear that all of us can and should be looking at what is invisible yet real. In 2 Cor 4 he says I am suffering in this world that I can physically see, but I know my suffering is light and temporary compared to the big heavy eternal glory it’s working for me in the invisible realm, so while this is happening, I am going to look, gaze, and fix my eyes on the realm I can’t see and what’s going on there, not on the physical realm that I can see. Paul was clearly using his imagination to picture thoughts about his eternal reward and what made it all worth it, and again, just like Moses, that gave him shalom shalom in suffering. Because God promised that if we “keep” the stuff we picture and shape and make up and imagine and think about in our minds full of God and consistent with all the truth about Him, He will “keep” us in shalom, shalom.

Well, I want God to keep me in shalom shalom. So I need to practice. How can I fill my imagination with true pictures of where God is in relation to me right now? Well, the Bible is full of pictures to get us started. For example, we can take the famous beginning of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and actually imagine that as we pray. If God is my Shepherd, what am I in this picture? I’m one of His sheep! I can imagine being a sheep, walking along behind Jesus the shepherd, following Him. And I can think, what kind of terrain is He leading me through in my life today. Have we reached the ‘green pastures and quiet waters’? Or are we still on our way through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’? Or is it just rocky? What do I want to say to Him about how I’m doing? And if I tell Him that, what will the Shepherd say to me and do in response?

Or else is God compared to in the Bible? A Father! Most of all, Father. This was clearly the picture that filled the imagination of Jesus. If God’s the Father, I must be His child! If I picture myself as a child with God my perfect Father, what do I want to do? Do I want to run around and play with Him or show Him something I’m excited about? Do I want to climb on His lap and snuggle? Do I want to grab His legs and scream, “pick me up! This situation is scaring me!” If I do, how will the Father respond to me?

Father and Shepherd are some of the big ones, but there are more obscure metaphors in the Bible that we can imagine too. Deuteronomy 32:11 compares God to a big eagle who builds a nest for its little baby eaglets. The dad eagle hovers over the babies, protecting them and shielding them with His big wings, and then, when they are old enough to learn to fly, He shakes up the nest and makes it uncomfortable so they have to jump out and try their wings. But He stays close, He spreads out His own wings like a safety net and flies under the the kids and catches them if they fall, and then He soars with them riding on the back of His own powerful wings. Wow, what an awesome eagle dad.

Where would you imagine yourself in that picture? Do you feel like a tiny, helpless, fluffy baby eaglet resting in the nest Father Eagle built for you, waiting and watching for Him to bring you food, and hiding from all your fears under His big strong wings? Or maybe you’re becoming a bigger baby eaglet that is growing, doubling and tripling in size as you eat what He feeds you day by day and you keep crying out to Him hungrily for more? Or are you a juvenile eagle squawking in fear and protest that things that used to work for you aren’t working anymore and you need to understand that He is kicking you out of your comfort zone so you can learn to fly because He wants to take you soaring with Him the way He does? Or do you feel like you are falling through the air like a stone and you can only hope He catches you on His wings before you die? Or “thump!” Has He caught you? and you feel His warm, living, feathered wing under you and everything is still and you’re still alive and you dare to open your eyes and you can see the landscape way down below, and actually start to enjoy the incredible ride on Him?

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Question: I invite you today to choose the moment in the story of the Father eagle that feels the truest of you right now, and try out your imagination on it. Imagine what you as the baby eaglet are experiencing and try to use all of your senses. What can you see? What do you hear? What do you feel and touch? And even what do you smell and taste? And then pray and talk to God as your Eagle Dad, and tell Him how you are feeling and what you need from Him in this moment.

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One Comment

  1. Tina Tina

    Good morning. WOW! CONFIRMATION! WHAT A PERFECT ON TIME WORD!! I was praying and asking God why is my mind all over the place while I pray….is it because I don’t picture you as there with me or that your real?
    Thank you God and Elizabeth. Thank you for this podcast. Keep up the great work. I enjoy listening to you.

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