by Josh Porter
Begin with prayer (5 minutes)
Gather together as a Community in a comfortable setting (around a table, on the couch, the floor of a living room, etc.). Have somebody lead a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to lead and guide your time together.
Debrief last week’s Practice in small groups (15-20 minutes)
If you are in a Community of seven or more, divide into small groups of 3–4 people each (ideally same gender).
Spend a few minutes catching up on life…
Then talk through the following debrief questions:
- Did you do last week’s Practice? How did it go?
- If you didn’t do the Practice, how can your Community help you commit this week?
- Can you foresee singing prayer informing the way you pray in the days ahead? Why or why not?
Transition back to one large group (5 minutes)
Read this overview:
As human beings, we rarely think in terms of abstract strings of information, as if our thoughts were written lines we read from the teleprompter of our brains. Instead, we experience the majority of thinking by way of the imagination. With our imaginations, we replicate reality in our minds via images of things that are not physically present. By God’s beautiful design, our brains are remarkably capable of producing fast and automatic images as one means of interacting with him, ourselves, and other people. When our imaginations provide us with images that correspond with God’s truth, they have the potential to transform us, not unlike powerful moments and memories that have shaped who we are, for better or for worse.
Do this practice as a Community right now: (10-30 minutes)
This week’s Practice will require an uninterrupted 30 minutes to an hour, but tonight we’ll begin with a simplified variation. Some utilize the following Practice daily, while others do so once a week. Imaginative Prayer is a powerful and potentially transformative tool in your palette of Practices. The idea is to begin something that you will continue for years to come.
Tonight, have one person read each point of the overview aloud to the group, then provide some time and space for the group to work through each step privately in their minds. Everyone’s experience will be unique.
1. The Setting
The setting for this Practice is tremendously important. Before you begin, designate both a time and place that you are certain will be free from distraction and interruption. Ensure that you will be physically comfortable. You might dim the lights or use candles. For some, certain types of instrumental music can stimulate the imagination. Though there are similarities and overlap, Imaginative Prayer is not Silence & Solitude. Creating a physical space that nurtures an imaginative experience is helpful.
2. Invite the Spirit to guide your imagination
Pray and ask that the Spirit of Jesus would creatively point your imagination toward the truth of God. Ask that the following time would be an opportunity in which you experience in your imagination what you intellectually know to be true. Ask that this Practice would be protected from any interruption of the enemy.
3. The Inner Sanctuary
Next, you will go to a private space in your mind. For many, this will be a pleasant and familiar location that is serene and easily recalled in vivid detail. Some imagine a beloved place in nature, others a significant home or room. Imagine this place with as much detail as your imagination allows. What do you see? What do you hear and smell? What do you feel? Spend as much time as you need to recreate the scene in your mind.
The Inner Sanctuary is a sage place for you to meet with Jesus. Consequently, it should be a place of fond memories. Imagine yourself physically entering into this space. Take a seat there, and enjoy your surroundings.
4. Encountering Jesus
Now imagine Jesus entering into the Sanctuary of your imagination. Perhaps he approaches from afar and you watch him as he walks toward you. Maybe he opens a door and steps in. Remember, though you are not physically meeting with Jesus, you are meeting with Jesus in a very real and personal way. Your imagination simply provides images that represent reality.
You may reference an artistic depiction of Jesus or call on your existing mental image of his appearance. The accuracy of your imagination’s representation of Jesus’ physicality is less important than your representation of Jesus’ character. For this reason, it may be helpful to begin your time by allowing Jesus to speak the truth of Scripture over you. Imagine Jesus entering into your Inner Sanctuary, taking a seat next to you, then speaking to you.
The Bible is one way that God has spoken and continues to speak. Imagining Jesus as he speaks what God says is true of you is one way to accurately represent Jesus’ character in your imagination.
Here are some things the Bible says are true of Jesus’ disciples:
You are a new creation. (2 Cor 5v17)
There is no condemnation for you. (Rom 8v1)
You have become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5v21)
You are chosen. You are a royal priest. (1 Peter 2v9)
You are God’s own possession. You are God’s child. (John 1v12)
You are the Holy Spirit’s Temple. (1 Cor 6v19)
You are Jesus’ friend. (John 15v15)
You have been raised with Jesus and seated in the heavenly places. (Eph 2v6)
You are the aroma of Jesus. (2 Cor 2v15)
You were bought with a price. (2 Cor 6v20)
You are holy and beloved. (1 John 5v18)
The Lord loves you with an everlasting love (Jer 31v3)
The Lord rejoices over you with singing and dancing (Zeph 3v17)
You are holy and blameless in the sight of God (Isa 43v4)
You are precious in the sight of God. (Isa 43v4)
You are the apple of God’s eye (Zech 2v8)
You are forgiven, perfected, and free from condemnation. (Rom 8v1, 2 Cor 5v21, Heb 10v14)
Jesus will never leave or abandon you—you are God’s dear child. (Matt 28v20, John 14v18)
With this place and interaction sustained in your imagination, you may now simply “pray” by speaking to Jesus or by asking him questions. If you feel the image slipping, ask the Spirit to strengthen your imagination, then go back to your Inner Sanctuary—what you see, hear, smell and sense—then to Jesus, to his words, and so on
After a few minutes, have whoever was leading the group close by thanking God, and asking that the group continue to grow in seeing and knowing him better.
Read over this coming week’s practice before you call it a night (10 minutes)
Have someone read the following points and overview aloud to the group:
- The following week’s practice will require an uninterrupted 30 minutes to an hour. Plan accordingly.
- Go around the room, one at a time, and have everyone in the group share a day and time in the coming week in which they plan on setting aside 30 minutes to an hour to engage in the practice.
- If it helps, offer a reminder to your Community during the week encouraging them to stick to their scheduled commitment.
After completing the above steps — The Setting, Inviting the Spirit, The Inner Sanctuary, and Encountering Jesus — continue into your time of imaginative prayer.
You might invite the Spirit to guide your time meeting with Jesus. Some enjoy simply sitting with Jesus and talking as one talks to a beloved friend. Others use this exercise as a venue for other genres of prayer, e.g., they meet with Jesus in their inner sanctuary to do lament, intercession, confession, listening, etc.
The imagination is a powerful tool for many ways in which we pray. While praying that the sick would be healed, you might imagine Jesus laying his hands on them. While praying against demonic activity, you might imagine darkness being pushed back with beautifully powerful light at the mere mention of Jesus’ name. In this way, your imagination offers images that correspond with reality.
In your time of imaginative prayer encountering Jesus, the Spirit may surprise you. Some find themselves stepping into a memory with Jesus so that he can address the past. Others are given beautiful glimpses of Jesus’ delight in them, or of the coming kingdom of God around them. You might visit locations well beyond your Inner Sanctuary. You may find that Jesus brings others to join you there.
As you meet with Jesus, continue to ask the Holy Spirit to guide your imagination. Resist the urge to disengage when and if your mind wonders, your focus is broken, or you feel as though your approach is clumsy. Like every spiritual discipline, it takes practice. Allow for the time and space necessary to grow.
Close in prayer (10 minutes)