As a young parent, I looked out of our kitchen window and saw one of our boys sitting on the sidewalk by himself. Concerned that he had hurt himself or was lonely, I walked out and asked, “Why are you out here all by yourself?”
“I’m not, Dad,” he said. “Joe is with me.”
I couldn’t see anyone else, so I asked, “Joe? Joe who?”
“My best friend, Dad. Joe Fakeny.” (Yes, that was the name he had dreamed up!)
As I interviewed my son further, I realized that he had dreamed up more than just Joe in his imagination. In fact, an entire Fakeny family lived in a make-believe neighborhood where they all lived and worked and played.
How amazing is that? Let’s not take for granted or grow complacent with our incredible ability to imagine. One thing that separates us from the rest of creation is our ability to imagine. Human beings don’t operate by instinct or biological causality. We have the remarkable capacity to “see” worlds in our minds that may not yet exist.
It is a powerful ability that gets right to the heart of who we are and how we operate, and there is a fundamental reason that we were wired this way.
While image-bearers of God were made for a relationship with God, there is a vast gap between us and the Divine. Our world is a world of sight, sound, and touch, but God lives in a world of unseen realities. So, God gave us spirits to commune with Him and do what we were created to do.
One of the primary functions of the spirit—the inner man—is the ability to imagine or “see” God. Imagination, in this sense, is not conjuring up what is unreal but what is real yet unseen. God hardwired us with the ability to “see” what cannot be seen, to commune with one with whom we cannot physically converse, and to love the one whom we cannot touch. We are creatures of imagination.
This ability to imagine is holy and mysterious, yet at the same time practical and mundane, and altogether necessary. In his book, Subversive Spirituality, Eugene Peterson says that imagination is essential for Christians whose most significant investment is in the invisible.
But as with most wonderful things God has made, the Fall has also made imagination dangerous. Because of sin, many unworthy, ungodly things can capture our imagination and misdirect our lives.
When our ability to imagine partners with the desires of our heart, it has the potential to grow more and more detailed and take more and more control of our lives. Imagination can be harnessed for eternal, gospel-centered vision and ministry, but our imagination often turns selfish and converts what was once just a faint and distant hope for the future into a prized possession.
When this happens, we become convinced that life without whatever we imagined is unthinkable and unlivable. As a result, our sense of identity, purpose, well-being, contentment, and satisfaction becomes directly connected to the realization of what was once a figment of our imagination.
Something has happened here that is very dangerous: our imagination has been captured and is now controlled by some aspect of the creation. Imagination can quickly become idolatry.
Are you aware of your ability to imagine, or have you taken this extraordinary capacity for granted? And more importantly, are you aware of how powerful this ability is to dominate your heart and control your life?
So, let’s be honest: what has controlled your imagination, and has it become an idol of the heart?
“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” (Psalm 135:15-18)
Paul David Tripp
1. Think back to your childhood. What’s the earliest age you can remember imagining? What did you imagine in your childhood?
2. Think back to your adolescence and young adulthood. As you began to imagine your future as an adult, what did you see? How did these desires of your heart shape the course of your life? Do you have any regrets about your earlier imagination?
3. Did anything you imagined in your youth come true? Did these dreams align with God’s kingdom, or were they more selfish in nature? How has God redeemed and rescued selfish dreams for his good purposes?
4. What dreams of your youth failed to come true? How did you react to this disappointment? Have you gotten over the frustration, or are you still bitter, angry, and unfulfilled?
5. In what ways are you still imagining your future, regardless of your age? Are you aware of how powerful this ability is to dominate your heart and control your life? What has controlled your imagination, and has it become an idol of the heart?
6. How can you use your God-given ability to imagine to dream up an eternally-focused, Kingdom-oriented vision? What gifts, skills, and expertise has God blessed you with that you can you for his glory? Be specific. What can you practically do to bring this vision to life?