I was born with an overactive imagination. In elementary school I had the same dream of falling off a cliff and dying every night for weeks. I was terrified to go to sleep. My mom told me to imagine a different outcome. In my mind I wrote an elaborate story about kidnappers and police and a giant net that sprang out from the cliff and saved me. The police then arrested the kidnappers who had to pay me a million dollars. I never dreamed the other dream again. My imagination became my superpower against my fear.
God’s Divine Imagination
Creation was one cosmic movement of Divine Imagination. Though Jesus never used the word, he utilized his Divine Imagination in every aspect of his teaching and life.
The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet, Jesus taught, using something we have experienced to imagine something we have not. Imagine God as a loving Father accepting a broken and lost son back home, Jesus said to give us a true picture of God.
Imagination is a creative gift God granted us to foster faith in a God and future we cannot see. As such, imagination is our superpower defense against worry and fear.
Psychologist Kate Sweeny goes so far as to say, “If we don’t ever worry . . , we’re likely to put ourselves in some significant danger and risk.”
But worry unchecked and not focused toward imagining a solution morphs into damaging anxiety. 53% of Americans claim worry and anxiety are affecting their mental health in a negative way because of COVID. Worry and the resultant anxiety produce a host of health problems, says Smitha Bhandari, MD.
Worry then becomes like that famous image of the snake with its tail in its mouth swallowing its own life.
This is why Jesus exhorts us not to worry.
Worry Grows from an Imagination Twisted
When I served aboard the U. S. S. Kitty Hawk, I would stand on the fantail watching the wake of the massive ship furl behind us. At sunset the churned white water would frost blood red. It was stunning. Then I would stare into the vast and bottomless sea and imagine myself falling overboard and the aircraft carrier sailing on without me. I would scurry back to the perceived safety of the interior of the ship.
We twisted every gift God gave after we stepped away from reliance on our Creator into self reliance. Including imagination. From that moment on we’ve been able to imagine the worst in every situation.
Imagine visiting the Grand Canyon. You stand near the edge. The rugged western rim serrates the horizon eighteen miles beyond. Muted rainbow colors flicker in the distance. A wind gusts. You brace against it. Right then you can either imagine taking flight over the mysterious and massive canyon or imagine what it would be like to plummet to the bottom over a mile below.
In everyday life we wake in the middle of the night imaging the meeting with our boss is disciplinary or worse. We imagine the mole on our skin is malignant cancer.
What recourse to worry does Jesus give us?
Peace of Mind Grows from Imagination Redeemed
[box] A divinely inspired imagination can bring peace of mind and actually develop faith.[/box]
In Luke 12 Jesus tells a story about a rich man who builds more barns to store his wealth without realizing that he will die that very night and will not take his possessions with him.
Imagination is key in two ways in this story. First we engage our imaginations to enter into the life of a fictional man. Second it is obvious the man is so mired in the material world he cannot imagine a spiritual world. He has no faith in anything beyond what he can experience with his senses.
Life is more than possessions Jesus tells us in the message that follows. It’s an invitation to consider how God provides for animals and plants. He then asks us to believe (imagine) God does the same for us in the material world and beyond.
[box] “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And [imagine] how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life. . . . If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, [imagine] how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!” (Luke 12:23-29, NIV) [/box]
What’s Jesus getting at here?
Jesus is calling us to observe how God the Father ordered nature. The animal kingdom does not worry because to be in their Creator’s hand in the present is all they were designed to do. Nature can imagine nothing beyond. Life is not more than food.
But the Creator gave us the ability to imagine beyond the present. God gave birds wings; God gave us imagination. And our imagination, when focused on Christ and his promises of redemption, provides faith wings. We have the greater gift.
“Are you not much more valuable than they?”
Yes, Jesus, we are.
As Kate Sweeny says worry “draws our attention to the fact that there’s something we . . . should be doing . . . and it gives us the motivation to do something about that.” Redeemed imagination then lets us consider what that something might be. And imagination is creative meditation on God’s power, promises, and redemption. Our superpower against worry is God’s gift for us to live in his present provision while also imagining a future and kingdom provision for our body and souls.
Inspired imagination allows us to change the outcome of our stories.
Questions for You
What current worry can you imagine a different outcome to?
What story or promise in scripture speaks to your worry?
If you imagined Jesus sitting with you and you shared your worry with him, how would he respond?
Listen to my sermon on Redeeming your Imagination here.
Lord of Peace:
Like Martha, I am worried and distracted by many things, big and small. Imagined and real enemies multiply on my mind’s horizon. I wake from dreams steeped in fear. I worry about everyone from my family members and neighbors to strangers suffering in far away places. My anxieties multiply; my fear burns and lays waste to my hope.
Yet your word tells us that Jesus can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
But I don’t often know what to ask for because my imagination is twisted and fear-tainted. I can easily imagine the worst but fail to imagine your love and beauty and strength overcoming.
Show me the times your power has worked redemption in me and my life. Remind me of your faithfulness. I’m so forgetful. Take me on a walk through your glorious creation and show me your finger prints in it and on me. Help me believe that life is more than what I see.
Through Your Holy Sprit tell me a story with a different outcome than the one my faithless mind imagines.
By the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit I ask and imagine it.