Now that I Can Only Imagine is out, folks are beginning to wonder more and more about what imagination looks like in the Christian life.
We’ve been looking at four ways to cultivate a Christian imagination. Some of those ways are:
See the Bigger Picture
Bring Everything You’ve Got
Dare to Be Creative
Redefine What’s Possible
Today, I want to talk more about #2-bringing everything you’ve got.
Cultivating the Heart
When Paul prayed that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened (Eph. 1:18), it seems clear to me that he had something more in mind than mere physical vision.
In short, Paul’s talking about imagination in a Christian sense—a whole-hearted way to see God’s world and to live in light of what He says is true in Christ.
In Scripture, mention of the “heart” points to so much more than that mass of tissue we feel pounding away inside of us. As we’ll see, the heart is the very center of our being. It’s the essence of all that we are as thinking, feeling, and doing creatures.
Imagining our world in light of God’s reality—seeing with the eyes of our hearts—involves a holistic work of internal renovation. As God refashions us after the image of His Son (Rom 8:29), He forms us into the kind of people who see His world aright.
First, let’s look at that transformation from three angles: thinking, feeling, and doing. Then, we’ll consider a few strategies for participating with God as He works within us.
Thinking With Our…Hearts?
If you do a basic word search for the heart, you may be surprised at what you find. For me at least, I was surprised to learn just how often the heart gets connected to thinking.
We think and understand with our hearts (Matt 9:14, 13:15; Isa 6:10). We ponder things in our hearts (Luke 2:19; cf. Gen 37:11). We speak both in (Rom 10:6) and out of our hearts (Matt 12:34; 15:18). With the heart, we believe and are justified (Rom 10:10). That’s all interesting, but how can you train a heart to think?
In the first instance, we don’t. God works in us by His Spirit to freely understand the things revealed in His Word and in His world (1 Cor 2:12). Still, we have a part to play as we take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5) and renew of our minds (Rom 12:2).
Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings?
We’re used to talking about the heart in emotional terms:
- “I love you with all my heart.”
- “You’re first in my heart.”
- “She broke my heart.”
The Bible represents the heart in this same way, too. We love with our hearts (Matt 22:37; cf. Deut 6:5). We suffer the reproaches of others as heartbreak (Ps 69:20). We experience sorrow and anguish in our hearts (Rom 9:2).
We could multiply examples here. The point is, the heart is about more than emotion, but it is certainly not less than that. God wants us to have a vibrant emotional life; the heart that sees God’s world is also the heart that feels it.
Regular Activity is Good for the Heart
So far, we’ve seen how our hearts think and feel. But, Scripture doesn’t leave the heart to mere internal matters. The heart is also the center of action in the human life.
We bring forth good deeds out the good treasure in our hearts (Matt 12:35). The Gospel sets us free from sin and makes us “obedient from the heart” to biblical teaching (Rom 6:17). In Proverbs, it’s the heart that keeps Solomon’s wise commandments (3:1).
Part of what it means to live an integrated life is to act on what we feel in our hearts and know to be true. As James would say, we must be “doers of the word,” and not hearers only (Jas 1:22). Otherwise, our imagination would never touch the ground in reality.
Bringing it All Together
The relationship between thinking, feeling, and doing is often complicated.
I can feel like blowing off my next assignment to catch a movie, but I know that short-term enjoyment will fade the second I sit back down at my computer.
I can know that I should have a chat with my neighbor, but that intense feeling of social anxiety deep within will fight to keep me from crossing the driveway.
I can wake up every morning to do my devotions like a “good Christian,” but spend that time distracted, feeling nothing as I think about other things.
To live integrated lives and to see the world as God intends, we have to manage the delicate tension between the three, not letting one faculty overwhelm the others.
Easy, right? Not even close, but we’ll close with three ways to grow in this respect:
Feel Your Thinking
We’re not robots. God doesn’t want us to imagine our world as Spock would— dispassionately gathering facts and using logic to direct our every move. If we take our hearts seriously, we’ll never be content with that sort of strictly rational existence.
Next time you face a difficult decision or problem, engage your entire heart. Yes, gather the facts and make your arguments, but stop and ask how those facts make you feel.
Often enough, your gut will have something to say that your brain had never considered.
Mind Your Emotions
Emotion in itself isn’t a sin; it’s a barometer.
Emotion tells us what we value most. Threaten my kids, and you’ll learn by my anger how much I value their safety. Cut me off in traffic, and that same anger will speak a far less endearing word about me.
That said, mind your emotions. Next time you experience an intense case of the feels—either in anger, sadness, or joy—step back. Observe your emotion. Ask it questions. “Why do I feel this way?” Push back gently. What does the Lord have to say about it?
Emotion in itself isn’t a sin; it’s a barometer. Emotion tells us what we value most.
Do Your Part
You can’t pick up a book on self-improvement or business mastery without some form of this old gem: you can’t feel your way into acting, but you can act your way into a feeling.
This works for the Christian life, but only when applied with care. There’s a fine line between “willing” yourself past your feelings to do what’s wrong and merely going through the motions. Strive for the former; guard your heart against the latter.
With over 900 mentions of the heart in Scripture, we’ve barely even scratched the surface here.If you want to go deeper on this journey, check out the suite of resources we’ve developed based on the new Bart Millard movie, “I Can Only Imagine.”
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