I still remember the river we saw while on vacation in Yosemite my junior year of high school. The river’s perfectly clear waters shot past in a narrow channel, about hip deep, and icy cold while my parents, my brother, and I sat on the edge with our feet in. My mother, brother, and I decided to jump in. The cold rushed over me and after a few minutes, I got out shivering, but with the endorphin rush that comes from a dunk in freezing water. The memory of that state of well-being has stayed with me my whole life.
I felt fully alive in that moment and have searched for that illusive moment of peace ever since.
It was only natural that I would come to Jesus expecting something similar. I found it not quite as simple as just wishing.
So when Jesus says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” in Luke 10: 27, I couldn’t help thinking that my experience thus far loving Him had not yielded the same results as jumping into that stream. So I spent some years searching out and studying, seeking the Lord with my heart, soul and mind. Eventually I discovered the word, mind, comes from the Greek word, dianoia, which has a list of many possible meanings related to the mind. The word that struck me, however, was the word imagination. I was commanded to love God with my imagination. As I meditated on this, I realized a couple of things. One was that I did love God with my analytical mind through study. The Jews have always considered study a form of worship. Two was that my imagination and my heart were very close to one another. Knowing my mind and its sensitivities quite well, I first asked the Lord to sanctify my imagination. Then I started seeking Him with my imagination, taking what I knew about Him from the Bible and exploring how I actually experienced Him in my heart and mind.
Praying with my imagination activated was a whole new arena for me. I began to experience peace on a whole different level. My first imaginative effort was born out of the difficulty of repeating the same requests over and over. God is patient and if you want to repeat yourself over and over, I’m sure He doesn’t mind. I can’t do it. I crave interactions with Jesus. So I get into the river. You know the one that flows right out of Jesus in Revelation. For me, it bears a resemblance to the river I jumped in at sixteen, except in my imagination, it is slower and a bit warmer. And Jesus is in it with me. I get right in up to my hips and stand in front of Jesus. All my burdens are in baskets on my back, and I have many. So instead of repeating myself, I just give Him one at a time. I discovered a couple of things about myself doing this. The first was that I didn’t actually want to give Him some of my burdens. I wanted to carry them. But when He looks at me, I feel in a deep way that He is trustworthy. I can trust Him with my pains and woes. And when I give Him those baskets, He takes them gently and lets them float down the river of life flowing out of Himself. The second thing I learned was how much lighter I feel letting Him do it.
Now I throw my whole self in sometimes and float in this crystal clear river that moves slowly and refreshes my soul.
Learning to worship and pray imaginatively takes some practice, but I know that in giving me the memory of the crystal waters in the mountains, Jesus was preparing me to encounter Him in a new way. How will you encounter Him today?
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelations 22: 1