“As a Christian, I am responsible for the furniture of my mind and imagination.”—Frank Gaebelein
I’ve taken time over the last several weeks to talk about the imagination, because I sincerely believe a healthy and holy imagination is critical, even essential, to a vibrant life of faith. God designed us to be drawn toward whatever it is we find beautiful or compelling. That is to say, what we see and love—real or imagined—possesses the power to give shape and direct our lives.
If, for instance, you’re imaginatively drawn to being a rock star, then your vision for the good life will be drawn in large measure by what it means to be a rock star. A certain dress code and attitude—we might even say character—begins to take shape as your life more and more falls under the influence of what it means to be a rock star.
Likewise, if you’re imaginatively drawn to being a cowboy, the very same principle holds true even though the image will form in an entirely different way. A different dress code and attitude are required to be a cowboy, and over time the shape and direction of your life will form around the “image” as it bears increasing sway over your mind.
Hopefully you can see through these analogies the particular power that the imagination has to direct our affections and then our life. If you pay close attention to your own internal world, you’ll likely find various images of the good life floating around inside of you. Those images possess immense power to cultivate virtue or vice in your life.
Remember, our everyday sins like greed and lust are little more than imaginative iniquities. But even the more egregious sins like stealing or adultery are really just greed and lust all grown up. Consider Eve’s imaginings about the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 3. It wasn’t until she had imagined what fruit could do for her (“the good life”) that she was poised to eat it.
At the same time, if our imaginations are filled with visions of the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), then it’s likely our character and course of life will follow suit. What that means is that all Christ followers must learn both to properly guard and guide our imaginations.
To that end, a few practical instructions for pursuing healthier and holier imaginations:
1. Take time to identify the images that are exerting power in and over your life. What are the images that frame your hopes and expectations? What is the vision of the good life that you’re using to evaluate life and determine whether you’re succeeding or falling short? The more aware and attentive you are to the mental images at work within you, the better prepared you will be to protect against idolatrous imaginings and promote visions of the good life that are consistent with Scripture.
2. Monitor how different images or imaginings affect your heart. Ever noticed how going to someone else’s house will often effect how you feel about your own house? Ever noticed how a movie will inspire you to live differently or draw you into temptation? Take note of how your heart gets turned in various ways through images. Which ones encourage you? Which ones derail you? Establish parameters where your heart may be most susceptible to sin. Not everyone struggles with the same images. Pay attention to your heart.
3. Set good, true, and beautiful images before your eyes as often as you can. The German poet, Johann Goethe, argued that the best way to train our aesthetic sensibility is to have beautiful things always before our eyes. The point Goethe is making is that our taste for things is shaped by regular exposure to them. Repetitive influence is profoundly powerful. If we regularly and intentionally set the good, true, and beautiful before our minds, then the likelihood of those things catching hold of our imaginations and over time directing our lives is far greater than if we do not.