May 5, 2022
A continuation of my previous story, "Immersed in the Father's Affection."
It wasn’t deep, maybe waist high, and it was clear. Jesus was standing in the middle, looking at me with the brightest smile. He didn’t say anything, he just laughed. Then he raised his arm toward me, and he motioned for me to join him. I stepped out into the water. I was shocked to find that it was warm. The gentle sand greeted each step. I took my place next to Jesus, both of us facing upstream. He splashed me and laughed. I splashed him back, he laughed harder.
He laid back into the water, letting himself sink to the bottom. I followed suit. As I sunk, I realized breathing wasn’t going to be a problem. It was almost as if I had gills, somehow I knew that I was made to live in this environment. Every part of me tingled. You know how when you’re underwater, you have a full-body sensation? It was like that, but magnified. I could feel it over every fiber of my body, and with it there was a power surging through me. Somehow I was completely at rest, yet filled with might.
Jesus turned to me, “This is where I live.” Whether he spoke out loud, or I heard it in my head, I don’t know. “This is the Love of the Father, and I’m always immersed in it. I want you to live here with me.”
Did I actually experience this? That’s a tricky question. No, I didn’t physically meet Jesus in a river. But I did set aside time in a particular space, and I invited the Holy Spirit to use my imagination. I asked Him to give me pictures and an experience of being with Jesus. Would God use our imaginations like that? Why not? The imagination is a unique gift to humanity, because God wanted to give us this specific avenue of experiencing His presence. There are many avenues of experiencing God’s presence, but I’d like to give you a case for the imagination.
The imagination is often discarded by the dominant worldview of our culture as irrational and subjective. It’s no wonder encounter with God is so absent in the western world! We use our imagination all the time. Anxiety is simply a hijacked imagination. Anxiety is nothing but the imaginings of negative outcomes. Just because those things sometimes do come true, doesn’t mean they didn’t begin in the imagination. The enemy of our souls has targeted our imaginations to keep us out of encounter. He has created such a mistrust of the imagination, that we wouldn’t poke it with a stick.
God often communicates visually. The Bible is full of visions, dreams, word pictures and analogies. The worldview of scripture doesn’t seem to have a hard time with whether someone physically saw what was described. Peter sounds like such a hippie in Acts 10. He’s sitting on a rooftop with the munchies, and he falls into a “trance.” The word for trance here is ekstasis,
Sounds trippy, right? Apparently in a trance, space is opened up for God to give us images, words and experiences. It's as though a blank canvas becomes available, for an interaction between us and God. In Ephesians Paul prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” so that you may know the Father better as well as the glorious inheritance that he offers (Ephesians 1:18). What are the eyes of your heart if not the imagination? God is yearning for the imagination to be restored to its proper place. Why? When we learn to see Jesus with the eyes of our hearts, we’ll begin to see Him everywhere.
How do I know if it’s God, or if I’m just making something up? People ask me that all the time. We’re so afraid of misrepresenting God, that we’d rather not try at all. We’re afraid that if we miss it, we’ll do more harm than good. Don’t get me wrong, there is a danger of being misled, and we should be equipped to discern. But we’re also in danger of putting more faith in our ability to be deceived than in the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead us.
The Holy Spirit is quite capable of speaking to us. Often it’s so hard to differentiate His voice from ours because He’s inside of us! If you’re waiting to hear an audible voice from heaven, remember that God paid a price to put heaven inside of you. The greatest danger is not that you would get something wrong, but that you would harden your heart from hearing at all. Keep a humble posture, and be willing to test what you hear and see, and you’ll stay safe! Here are a few questions you can ask, to make sure you are staying on track: (I found these questions from Adventures in Missions and made a few of my own adjustments, you can check out more here)
Now that we’ve paved the way for some imaginative encounters with God, it’s time to dive in and give it a try. Check out part 3 for an experiential practice.