Journeying With Scripture – Part Two – Use Your Imagination

What is imagination? Can/should we use it when reading the Bible?  This post is the second in a series about “Journeying with Scripture”. It is an opportunity to explore further how and why we read the Bible. It will also uncover some of the thinking behind the Bible study books “Journeying With Abraham” and “Journeying With Nehemiah” and how they might differ from other approaches.

For some, “imagination” might seem to refer to fiction or ideas that have simply been made up as opposed to “reality” or “truth”. Christianity accepts that God needs to reveal Himself to us for us to have any grasp of who God really is. So, isn’t using the imagination resorting to making up our own ideas about God?

If we were starting from a position of no revelation or choosing to ignore all revelation of any kind then imagination would risk being nothing but a human construct, fabricating its own “god” in whatever image suited us. However, we don’t start from a position of no revelation or encounter between God and us. God has spoken and revealed Himself. But, isn’t the use of our imagination still liable to undermine that revelation?

When God reveals Himself to us, it is done in ways that we can at least partially comprehend. Yet, so much of this revelation falls short of the fullness of who God is. For example, God is not a man – so Jesus both reveals God to us and at the same time can’t reveal everything. God in all fullness is beyond our capacity to understand.

Much of the understanding we do have utilises metaphors (e.g. God as Father, Rock, Fortress, etc.). Metaphors encourage the use of the imagination. They put two things together and invite us to explore the resulting picture. An act of the imagination is required to connect the two – metaphors are by their nature not usually completely literal or logical. Yes, they may engage our rational faculties, but they also require creative thinking.

Escaping the boundaries

Creative thought is an essential part of being human; it is how we solve problems. Scientific research and discovery may appear to be totally absorbed with rational thought, yet it too requires leaps of the imagination. We imagine a solution beyond our current position and this helps guide our endeavours. We imagine new possibilities and then begin to create them.

Empathy is understandably a highly prized characteristic. Like creativity, it demands (whether consciously or otherwise) acts of imagination. We see circumstances, relate them to our own experiences and imagine assumed connections. Often these connections are absolutely correct. So, the imagination is not simply for creating an artificial reality or lies, but for helping us perceive truth.

When it comes to reading Scripture, empathy is a useful skill to have. It can enable us to enter into stories and begin to understand why people react the way they do. This is not just true of narratives, where we might sympathise or empathise with the main character or other players in the text. It can also help make sense of letters and Psalms, for example. If we can in some sense discern why Paul is upset or frustrated or why the Psalmist is singing for joy, then this helps us to connect with the text for ourselves.

Empathy may also help us to discern the unusual or unexpected turns in a story. If we can imagine how a character would probably have felt or wanted to react, then maybe the fact that they don’t do so becomes more apparent and hits home more. We can sometimes perceive more clearly  what it is that is unusual about the person or story and what we might learn from them.

Imagination is also important when it comes to our future hope. None of us has seen what is beyond this life, nor does the Bible give detailed, clear descriptions of life after death. But, our imagination, which extrapolates from the data we do have, can help us perceive that which our faith then clings on to. The little snippets that Scripture does give us about resurrection and the life beyond are sufficient to fire our imaginations and kindle hope.

None of this means that imagination is an infallible tool. It can go wrong – we can imagine things which are unhelpful and not true. However, rational, logical thought can also lead us up blind alleys or down into the dark as well as out into the light. Imagination is not an inferior part of who we are. It can be used together with other skills to help us grow towards the truth.

If imagination is so closely linked to creativity, then it wouldn’t be all that surprising if in some sense God wants us to know Him through our imagination. It may be that the ideas, the possibilities we imagine are planted in us by God. After all, surely it is only someone who can imagine a better world that works towards one?

How about you? What role does your imagination play in your life of faith? Do you see a need to listen to your imagination or do you mistrust it?

© Joe Lenton, July 2013


Need a change of perspective?

Giant PebblePerspective changes things. From one angle something can seem small and insignificant. From another, it can appear large or even dominant. A small pebble on a beach can appear to be a large boulder, with the distant sea now merely a backdrop.

We have a great deal of choice about how we look at things. We can skip over the details and take in the wider picture, or we can get in close and examine the tiniest speck. Changing perspective means we have to do something about it – we need to move.

This can also be true about how we “see” things in our lives. Our current perspective will cause some things, whether they are events, people, ideas or something else, to look either larger or smaller. Their apparent importance and impact may vary depending on how we are looking at things at the time.

A shift of perspective might enable us to realise that we’ve been caught up too much in the details, or maybe we’re so obsessed with the big picture that we can’t see the small things any longer. Either way, a change of perspective might help us to appreciate differently the balance of elements in our life.

Faith in and the desire to follow Jesus helps bring about new possibilities for shifting our perspective and seeing life in new ways. Looking at things (as far as it is possible) from God’s point of view can open our eyes to a whole new set of priorities. Some things increase in size and importance, whilst others diminish.

What seems important or “big” in your life right now? Is there anything you may have lost sight of? Have you tried moving, changing your perspective? Through prayer and openness to the Spirit, we can learn to see in new ways.

© Joe Lenton, July 2013

Image: “Giant Pebble” © Original Art Photography By Joe Lenton, 2013 – available to purchase as a print. Part of the gallery on

Pride & Prosperity

Isn’t it wonderful when life is going well? Prospering financially and in many other ways can be extremely enjoyable. It can even help to dull the pain and memories of the bad times. Yet, paradoxically, we can be highly vulnerable during the good times.

Things were going well for Nebuchadnezzar when the story starts in Daniel chapter 4. He was a highly successful leader. In fact, he was the most powerful man of his day. He could have anything he wanted, when he wanted.

Perhaps some of us are doing rather well at the moment. Maybe we’re healthy, enjoying life and feeling pleased with what we’ve achieved. Perhaps we are well-off and able to treat ourselves to all kinds of nice things. In comparison to many others in our world today, of course, most of us are very wealthy, whether we recognise it or not.

Such times are great and can rightly be enjoyed. God isn’t against pleasure or wealth. However, there is a real danger that we think these things are ours by right. We can drift into taking things for granted, or worse, we can think it is purely down to us.

We can all slip into thinking that it is simply by our power, by our abilities that we have gained prosperity and that it is for the sake of our social standing or reputation. We can forget that these things are gifts. Prosperity is a gift, not a “given”.

In Deuteronomy 8 we hear a warning given to Israel not to forget God when times are better, once they have settled in the promised land. We may wonder how on earth they possibly could. They have been through so much and had a massive turnaround in fortunes, going from slavery to prosperity all thanks to what God has done for them.

Yet, God knew and forewarned them that it is too easy to forget the Giver when there are so many gifts to enjoy. It is too easy to overplay our role in getting where we are today. It is too easy to leave God behind, like a pair of old crutches we only needed when our leg was broken.

We can all forget how we came to achieve success. We can forget the role God has played. We can forget that God gives things to bring glory to Himself and to enable us to advance His kingdom, thinking instead that we have earned these things purely for our own enjoyment and to make us look good.

So, God sends warnings. He warned Nebuchadnezzar in strong terms, firstly through a dream and then again through Daniel when the dream was interpreted. Nebuchadnezzar was terrified by the dream. He wanted to know what it was about. His fear suggests that at some level he already had a suspicion or instinct that it was a difficult message for him. When his religious entourage is unable to help he sends for Daniel to interpret the dream.

Daniel interprets the dream, not surprisingly with a little fear himself as this was not good news to deliver to the most powerful man in the world! But, there is a way out, this dream doesn’t have to come true. Daniel tells him that he could yet avoid this nasty chain of events. Nebuchadnezzar could turn to God, turn from doing wrong. He could stop oppressing the poor and weak, instead of being a proud, self-interested and ruthless man.

12 months later, Nebuchadnezzar looks on his prosperous life and turns not to praise God but himself. The warning has not been heeded, the grisly story predicted in the dream begins to unfold and Nebuchadnezzar goes mad and is made to look a fool.

Yet, even then there is a possibility for change, a way out. When Nebuchadnezzar finally turns his eyes to heaven, when he finally gets a heavenly perspective and praises God, he is restored to health and prosperity.

It wasn’t a certain thing that he would find himself back in power with abundant riches. God graciously chose to make that happen. His change of heart didn’t guarantee a good, easy life for him. But, it opened him up to receive the future God had in mind and it served as a vivid example for others.

It was predicted that Israel would face trouble, destruction of some kind, if the people forgot God. It was predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would suffer being humbled under God’s hand if he forgot God and made it all about himself. Sadly, both stories follow the same pattern. There is a warning, but it isn’t heeded and terrible things result.

These stories, amongst others, serve as warnings to us. If the times are good, that is great. But, don’t forget God. You aren’t the centre of the universe and you haven’t made all this happen all by yourself.

We need to be ready to heed the warnings. We need to look to heaven, to get the heavenly perspective before God chooses to humble us. Nobody is beyond being humbled. God can choose to bring any of us down to the ground with a bump, if need be. For some reason God sometimes chooses not to or at least to delay it. But that doesn’t mean we are immune. At some point, we will reap the consequences of our thoughts and actions if we don’t change and turn to God.

Besides the warnings, there is a positive example that has been set for us. Despite having unimaginable power and untold heavenly riches at his disposal, Jesus chose to remember where it all comes from. He chose to use it all for the sake of God’s kingdom and remain incredibly humble, giving thanks and praise to the Father. With his help, so can we.

Similarly to the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the warnings God gives us do not need to lead to something terrible, they do not mean we have to remain under judgement. No, these warnings are opportunities. We can choose to take the opportunities given to us, to grow and turn to God. Our Father is waiting to help us, waiting for us to turn back to Him.

Whatever good gifts we receive, let’s enjoy them and be thankful. Remember, good gifts come from a good Giver. They point us to Him – they are not ends in themselves.

© Joe Lenton, February 2013

The Stranglehold of Fear

Is fear ruling your life? Are you trapped by fear but don’t even realise it?

Fear is sometimes quite sneaky. It tries to hide behind other feelings or even behind rational thought. When we decide not to pursue a particular course of action we may have come to that conclusion through careful, logical thinking. So, why do we sometimes then feel an odd sense of relief or guilt about our decision? Is it because we were actually afraid and have found a way out, avoiding the path that seemed frightening? Unfortunately, sometimes this may take us away from what God has for us.

Clearly there are times when we discern correctly that a new course of action is not appropriate. Rational thought and feelings of uneasiness may play a positive role in helping us to discover the right way ahead and God’s guidance. However, we can also end up avoiding things out of fear and using our feelings of unease or our “sensible” logic to give us an escape route.

It is simply not the case that God will always ask us to do things that we are comfortable with right away. Moses asked God to send someone else. Jonah ran away. Ananias is at first reluctant to go and meet the newly converted Saul. Neither, of course, does God always send people to do things that terrify them or they don’t feel equipped for. God may move us to carry on with things we are already comfortable with. But, sometimes God may want us to try something new and possibly something that seems scary.

There is a strange tendency that human beings have of being unwilling to let go of the familiar. It is strange because it can extend to clinging on to something unhealthy rather than letting go and receiving something far better. It has been documented that many prisoners struggle to cope with renewed freedom on leaving prison and re-offend to regain the now familiar routine of prison life. Similarly, some victims of abuse or kidnap develop an attachment to the person abusing them and are fearful of moving on even though it would mean freedom from abuse and a better life.

In the UK we have a couple of common sayings that help illustrate the point: 1) At least we know where we are…., 2) Better the devil you know… These sayings show that even if we know our current situation to be unsatisfactory we are often unwilling, too scared, to move on to pastures new.

We see change and immediately risk listing mentally (or verbally to any poor soul who will listen!) all the potential negatives. This can even lead to us playing out scenarios in our minds where things get worse and worse until all of a sudden we can justify to ourselves how this one decision could lead to our whole life falling to bits. If we were to take a step back we might realise that this “script” is not too dissimilar to an episode of a TV farcical tragic comedy. There may be some truth to our concerns, but we then blow them up to something we imagine is sufficient reason to prove that this course of action will definitely end in our demise so must be avoided at all costs.

If we want to follow Jesus, however, we need to learn to cope with change. We are supposed to change, becoming more like our heavenly Father. Yes, we may well be afraid at times; but fear is not to be our Master. We can learn to press through the fear and come out the other side, instead of allowing it to dictate which way we go.

Think of what God said to Joshua as he entered the promised land. It was to be a huge challenge to him as a leader and to the people as a whole, but God said “be strong and courageous” not once but 3 times (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9). He was not to be frightened but brave because God was with him.

In Acts 4 the believers pray for boldness to declare God’s message in a situation that would instil fear in most. In Romans 8:15 Paul writes “you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear” (NIV). In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul tells Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity” (NIV). God’s presence with us means that we do not have to be constantly afraid of what might happen.

Fear can be conquered by faith. If we choose to focus on God and His presence with us by His Spirit instead of on “what if….” lists of negatives then we can begin to live free of fear. God looks after us as His children and we need to learn to trust Him. Only if we put our faith in Him, not just believing He exists but actually relying on Him day by day, will we gradually win the battle with fear.

We do not need to worry about our lives, about our food, clothes and other things. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all these things will be provided as we need them (Luke 12:22-31). This can help to free us to serve God and go where He calls instead of hiding behind fear and refusing to change.

Perhaps today or this week we can begin to redeem those two little words “what if…”. Maybe instead of allowing them always to be followed with negatives and reasons not to do something we can turn them into words of opportunity. “What if” we step out together with God – what amazing things might happen if we conquer our fear together?

© Joe Lenton, January 2013