Learning to Swim in the Father's Affection

Learning to Swim in the Father's Affection

Learning to Swim in the Father's Affection

A continuation of my previous story, "Immersed in the Father's Affection."

I was standing beside a river.

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.”

This is where I live. I want you to live with me here.

The Gift of Imagination

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

a throwing of the mind out of its normal state…although he is awake, his mind is drawn off from all surrounding objects and wholly fixed on things divine that he sees nothing but the forms and images lying within” (definition taken from Blueletterbible.com)

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.

Don't put more faith in your ability to be deceived than the Holy Spirit's ability to lead you into truth.

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)

  1. Does it exalt Jesus? -One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to magnify Jesus. If you are seeing/hearing something that causes Jesus to be bigger and more beautiful, chances are, you’re probably onto something.
  2. Does it contradict scripture? -If you think Jesus is telling you to lie to the police officer to get out of a ticket… you might want to read your Bible more. Seriously, learning to hear from God will motivate you to have a better handle on scripture!
  3. Does it bear fruit? -Take note of what results in your heart and your life. Compare it to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Does what you see/hear cause love, joy, peace, etc to grow?
  4. Do other believers confirm it? -We absolutely need community in order to grow in discerning God’s voice in our lives. If you have an experience that you’re not sure about, talk to someone who is further along in their journey with Jesus. Oftentimes we are interpreting our experiences with some blindspots, and others can help us to see them.
  5. Does it come to pass? It’s much easier to tell if something was God in hindsight. That’s okay! Be willing to make mistakes, and commit to looking back at the things you thought were God. This is what we call a feedback loop, which is necessary for our growth. As you look back, can you tell what was your voice and what was God? Can you see how assumptions caused you to misinterpret what God was saying?

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.

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