Imagination is something that we often neglect in prayer, yet imagination can play a very helpful role. It is very closely linked to the art of listening, but because silence is awkward we feel the need to talk. We launch into a diatribe telling God what we want and think and love without stopping to listen. What is it that God wants? What is it that God is burdening me with? What is it that God might be trying to tell me? Our imaginations can help with this need to listen.
For instance, before you start saying anything – picture what it is that you are praying about. It may sound a little weird but in a sense that is a lot of what prayer is – we think or imagine what we want and we talk about it – just, in doing that we don’t often spend time on the imagining part we quickly shift to the talking and hope that our imagining catches up. And yet I wonder if there is value in taking the time to listen and imagine before we fill our prayers with words.
Similarly, it is our imaginations that end up distracting us in our prayers. Rather than trying to shut them down and ignore them or force our prayers to a higher level of spiritual elitism– maybe we need to stop and wonder if they aren’t the very things that we should be praying about – the things that are filling our imaginations. Maybe they are things we need to pray for, or they could be things we need to pray against.
By way of example, say you are praying for a missionary in China. Take the time to picture in your mind what life might be like for them; imagine being in their shoes. What would you pray for? Be specific.
Or imagine the meeting your are about to lead. Take the time to ponder how you dream of the meeting flowing. What attitudes and responses would you like to see? What things should be accomplished? How might this impact people’s lives? Ask questions of your imagination and use those answers to inform your prayers.
Now, I should also add a warning to this. Imagination does not equal the voice of God. We need to be careful not to put too much credence on the things that are easily manipulated by feelings and surrounds. Our imagination can work for us by helping us to pray, but it can also work against us by distracting us or by letting our prayers devolve into dream fests. We use our imaginations to pray unwittingly. I’m simply advocating that we use them to help our prayers.