In Christian circles and elsewhere, our imaginations often get a bad rap. For those of us who have had a tremendous struggle with sexual sin, our imagination is totally wrapped up with the idea of fantasy--especially sexual fantasy. Many of us lived for years in an imaginative world inhabited by scenes drawn to satisfy our ultimately insatiable sexual desires.
We also associate the imagination with the imaginary, as if anything we could imagine would of necessity be unreal. Thus imagination stands in opposition to reality. Maybe you have a childhood memory of a parent, not believing your story, telling you, "You've got quite an imagination."
Also, we tend to associate the imagination with escape. Perhaps we remember our own experiences in which we went off into a world of reverie. I can remember when I was about 13 years old how I almost single-handedly liberated Eastern Europe from the Communists. The details of my imaginative exploits could have filled a novel. For me, this was a much better world than the real one of family strife and peer rejection in which I lived.
But God gave us our imaginations, so surely they are not all evil. The parables that Jesus told were not necessarily actual events, but may have been drawn from the imagination of Jesus to teach eternal truths.
Dreams are a part of our imaginations--a part that functions when we sleep, and in the Old Testament God often spoke to prophets and others through dreams. The New Testament tells us how an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph telling him to take Mary and the baby Jesus to safety in Egypt, and later in the same way told him when it was safe to return to Israel (Matt.2:13 and 19). In Acts 2:17, we are told that in the last days when God pours out His Spirit, "your young men shall see visions and your old men dream dreams,"
Of course, in each of these instances, it appears that God took the initiative to bring about a dream for His specific purposes. But, I ask, might we not use our imaginations--our waking dreams so to speak--for God's purposes? Might we not, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, draw our own parable-like pictures to make real the Lord's presence in our lives? I think we can, and in fact, most of us probably already do.
We use our imaginations to create a picture of something or some event that we cannot, at that moment, see with our physical eyes. To "see things unseen" we create an image. Have you not in prayer pictured Jesus standing with His hands outstretched towards you? At times of deep repentance haven't you pictured yourself kneeling at the foot of the cross, perhaps as "his blood and sweat flow mingled down"? In moments of exultant praise, I have lifted my hands and voice to the lamb upon the throne. Haven't you done something like this?
Scripture has painted word pictures for us that we can take into our sanctified minds to draw us more closely into the presence of Jesus. Throughout the history of the Church, hymn writers have blessed us with words and images that would reach our imaginations in ways that bring us more fully into the presence of the King.
The imagination is the eyes of the heart. If our heart is set on that which is good and holy, it will draw us to the Lord. If our heart is set on that which is not of God, the imagination will draw us to that which is evil, to sexual fantasy, visions of revenge, flights of self-glorification.
Fallen man, of course, has a natural tendency to use his imagination for evil. When God looked on the earth just before telling Noah to build the ark, Genesis 6:5 tells us that He said of man that "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Remember, though, that this was before Jesus. We are a redeemed people. We are washed in the blood of Jesus, and although the inclination to sin has not fully left us, God has sanctified us, and I believe that this sanctification can extend to our imaginations, that they might be used for His purposes.
For the homosexual overcomer I see two ways this can happen. The first was a central factor in my healing. Let me share it with you.
Prior to my conversion I had an almost non-stop fantasy life. Anytime my mind wasn't occupied with other things it went to the fantasies, images of men and my relationships with them. When I accepted Christ these images disappeared, as I am sure they have for many people in the first glorious months after conversion. For many people, however, after the initial joy of knowing the Lord becomes more "normal" the fantasies and sexual struggles start to come back. Mine never did. I believe that this is because my imagination became filled with images of Jesus, specifically of Jesus as my friend or my older brother. I didn't do this intentionally; I didn't know enough to do it or what it could do for me. I believe it was a work of the Holy Spirit.
In my daily quiet times I imagined Jesus and me walking down a road together; often with His arm around my shoulder. I imagined us climbing a mountain together, and He would help me over the difficult places. At the end of the day when I was exhausted, He let me rest my head on His chest as John the beloved disciple had done. Sometimes I worried that this would get too "physical" for me, but it never did. In these quiet times Jesus seemed to be encouraging me to do this. If I did anything to bring this about it was simply being there each day to meet Him. I was and have been faithful in my quiet times ever since I first met the Lord.
What I later came to believe happened in those years was that Jesus used my imagination to pour into me the man's love and affirmation that I so craved, that was so much at the root of my homosexuality. For most men coming out of homosexuality, no man's love is great enough or deep enough to fill the empty places. If at that point in my life I had tried to get this kind of love from a man, I probably would have driven him away. Only Jesus had the living water--His very real presence in my life--that could satisfy.
But, He not only satisfied, He healed. After a while I no longer needed those visions. I was healed enough that normal healthy male friendships could fill my normal male need for fellowship and belonging. In those days I related to Jesus as a little boy; today I relate to Him as a man.
I believe that many wounded people could more freely use their imaginations in ways that would enable Jesus to further their healing. The woman dealing with lesbianism, who was deeply hurt or abused by a man, might in prayer open her imagination to see Jesus as a man who would honor, love and protect her. She might picture Jesus taking her to dinner, treating her in a way that showed how honored He felt to be with her, asking nothing in return.
The man who has a deep root of rejection might picture Jesus choosing him for a some special project, or he might imagine Jesus, as I did in a time of prayer, carrying him as a little boy around the neighborhood so that everyone could see that he was a special friend of Jesus.
Think of some place where you are empty or wounded and in your holy imagination allow the living Jesus to minister to you in that place.
The other area in which God might use your imagination is to give you a picture of what you might one day be, not in the great by-and-by, but in this life. Use your imagination to see things longed for but not yet manifested. For many this might be picturing themselves as having come into the fullness of their manhood or womanhood. Imagine yourself truly healed, able to function fully and freely as the man or woman God created you to be. Surely, most little boys and girls have pictures in their minds of themselves as they will be when they are adults--their own models.
It is not at all unreasonable for the overcomer to combine his or her hopes with a Holy Spirit-guided imagination to form a picture of the man or woman he or she will one day become. This would not be done to create some heroic or larger than life character, to create a dream that would likely turn to discouragement., but rather to see that which would be totally consistent with God's promises. For a woman to picture herself as a gracious womanly woman and for a man to picture himself as a strong, manly man is totally realistic given the power and willingness of our God to bring about change in our lives. In doing this you are simply letting your imagination become the custodian of your faith.
Some people who struggle with recurring sexual fantasies say they feel like they have a library of sexual videos stored in their mind, that they can draw on any one of them instantly. Over time, as we walk with the Lord, this library does get pushed further and further back into the far recesses of the mind. I believe that we can help this process by developing a who e different set of "videos" that we can call on in an instant. These videos would be of things that are good and holy and pure. These videos might draw from Psalms or somehow incorporate encounters wit Jesus here on this earth. Jesus has won the victory, and we can experience this victory in our minds.
Oswald Chambers says that our imagination is the greatest gift that God has given us if it is used for His purposes. I think this is going a little far, but think about it anyway.
Regeneration News, April 1998. P.O. Box 9830 Baltimore, MD 21284-9830 (410) 661-0284; P.O. Box 1034 Fairfax, VA 22030-1034 (703) 591-HOPE
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