Have you ever considered why it was important for God to give us imaginations?
Our imaginations are one the many ways in which we are made in the image of God. God has an imagination, a supernatural and infinite one, in fact. Case in point: the Milky Way galaxy, the monarch butterfly, the double helix DNA, the blue whale, the aurora borealis, the lilies of the field. The Creator God imagines the light, and “there was light.” Now, because we are made in God’s image, he endowed us with imaginations too. Of course, our imaginations aren’t as vast—the wheel, Velcro, the West Coast offense, tube socks. But our imaginations are nevertheless a very unique and important gift from God.
There are at least two reasons why God gave us imaginations. First, human imagination is necessary in order for us to fulfill the purposes that He intended for us. The Cultural Mandate, to fill and subdue the earth—would not be possible without it. Without imagination, there would be no farms and crops, no roads and cities, no systems of government, no languages for communication, no creativity or art.
Second, I think God gave us imagination because He wanted us to have fun, or as the Westminster Catechism states, “To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Think about that for a second. We are able to actually know God more fully through our imaginations. We can better understand Him and experience His Kingdom more fully because our imaginations allow us to do so. In our worship, in our prayers, in our thoughts about Him, and in our experiences of Him.
Let me give you some examples. Have you ever looked up at the stars and tried to imagine how big our God is? Have you ever sat on a beach and watched the crashing waves and imagined how powerful God is? Have you ever been in worship and felt God’s grace raining down on you, or felt God’s arms enveloping you? Have you ever listened to a Bible story, and imagined being there in the story—with David against Goliath, or with Moses crossing the Red Sea? These are examples of how our imaginations help us engage in worship.
And we are also able to glorify Him through the acts and arts and objects of our imaginations. If you’ve ever written a worship song, or written a poem about God, or explained a Bible story to a child, or designed and built a church building, then you’ve used your imagination to glorify God.
Here are five ways in which we can encourage people to use their imaginations more in corporate worship.
1. Tell Stories.
Encourage people to sit and close their eyes, and then just read from the Bible. Allow them to meditate on the story as you read, led by the Holy Spirit, and engage their imaginations in the process. Some faith traditions have a long-established history with this practice of contemplating the Bible text, such as Lectio Divina (from the Latin meaning “divine reading”).
2. Use Symbols and Other Sacred Forms.
The Christian Church has a long-standing practice of using symbols in worship. From the empty cross representing Christ’s resurrection, to the crown representing His Kingship, to the fish which served as a coded symbol for early believers, symbols are “worship without words.” Evangelicalism has abandoned much of the symbology of our faith, but the use of symbols and other sacred forms can greatly enhance worship. Symbols can be small, like a chalice on the communion table, to large and expansive, taking over the stagecraft scenery on the platform.
3. Incorporate Sacramental Acts Like Communion or Baptism.
Jesus Himself is the model for these metaphorical acts, steeped in deep symbolism and meaning. Or you can incorporate other kinesthetic imaginative acts, such as prayer walls, lighting candles, foot washing stations, etc.
4. Sing Songs with Metaphorical Lyrics.
I mentioned this in last month’s column. You can sing “You are eternal” or you can sing “You ride the ancient skies.” Both are true, but the latter poetically (and Biblically) says so much more because it engages our imaginations and allows for the truth, which is wrapped in mystery.
5. Paint During Worship.
I won’t go into detail here as I will discuss this more fully in a future column, but worship painting, which is being incorporated by more and more churches, is by nature an act of continuing revelation which engages our visual senses as well as our internal imaginations.
I really do think that we need to exercise our imaginations much more in worship, for we worship an imaginative God who invites us into the Truer reality of His supernatural Kingdom.