In this series we have seen (1) What the imagination is; (2) how imagination plays out in God’s grand story; (3) how the imagination captivates the heart through the sight of what is real; and now we will see (4) how sight leads to song.
Seeing Jesus rightly results in worship. If Christ is before our eyes, our mouths cannot help but sing. The soundtrack of our lives should resound with heaven’s praises: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.”
First, we sing because there is no such thing as not singing. Singing is more than the mere act of moving our lips. It’s our lifestyle of worship. David Foster Wallace says, “There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
Second, we sing because we want to obey God’s word. James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” We are not meant to be spectators in life, but actors. In the theater of God’s creation, we live out his word “as we perform it in a million little gestures.” We are meant to embody the gospel, to character-ize it, if you will.
It’s important to realize that we are “imaginative creatures of habit.” Naturally we stuff our imaginations full of stories and images and then we embody that “stuff.” That is why habits are important. Our rituals shape us and even if we are unaware of it. They show us what we value. There are many habits of grace, but we will look at one: meditation through the Word.
In order to cultivate godly imaginations, we need God’s word. Clyde Kilby says, “the Bible is an imaginative book.” All of the word pictures, parables, narrative, poetry, etc… appeal to the imagination. When the book is open, God speaks and people encounter him. As we understand the truth of God’s word in our minds (which includes picturing it), we want to move to a place of emotionally glorying God. Meditation helps. The heart of meditation is bringing the text back to mind. After we’ve intentionally come into God’s presence and asked him to speak through his word and have reflected on what he has to say, we recall his word. Second Timothy 2:7 says, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” Meditation is filling up our minds (not emptying them!) with truth.
Meditation is filling up our minds (not emptying them) with truth.
Third, we sing because it proclaims God’s reality. We have all heard the expression, “She is so heavenly minded that she is no earthly good.” But what if heavenly minded people—people with imaginations fully engaged—were the ones whose song most engaged culture? What if we used our imaginations to communicate God’s love to the world?
A sanctified imagination leads to evangelism. We look up to God, internalize the truth, and then reach out to the lost and dying world. Clyde Kilby says, “the best teacher is the one who can change ears to eyes.” Invite people to not only hear God’s word, but also to see Christ with the eyes of their hearts.
A sanctified imagination builds up the local church. Veith notes that the “imagination does not do well in isolation.” He continued, “Imagination should thrive in the fellowship of the local church.” But what does redeemed imagination look like in the church? It looks like preaching that has imagination in mind—metaphors, word-pictures, and God’s stories. It looks like services that tell the truth—“Christian worship (‘liturgies’) shape the ‘vision of the good life,’ and those visions in turn ‘shape and constitute our most basic attunement to the world.’” It looks like the sacraments, re-membering Christ by taking the Lord’s Supper and joining him in baptism. It looks like compassion—or, as Veith puts it—the “imagination applied to human relationships.” Imagination thrives in community.
A sanctified imagination leads to great art. We can think of great artists like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, poets like George Herbert, musicians like George Frideric Handel, actors like Laurence Olivier. They made Christ-exalting, reality-exposing art. There are so many artists to choose from, but let’s take the hymn writer Fanny Crosby for example. On November 20, 1850, she walked down an aisle and knelt at an altar. It was her “now or never” moment. The congregation behind her sang Isaac Watts’s famous words, “Alas, and did my Savior bleed.” Though Crosby knew the words by heart, when the crowd of people sang the ending something happened in her soul, “Here Lord, I give myself away, ‘Tis all that I can do.”
Though she could not see with her physical eyes, Crosby saw Jesus with the eyes of her heart. Jesus Christ became her Lord and Savior. In that moment, Jesus—the God man—captivated Fanny Crosby’s heart and imagination. And this love for Christ drove her to worship. Affections drove her to sing. She produced thousands of well-loved hymns—many of which are still sung today.
Fanny Crosby’s hymns are “emblems of faith.” She used the artistic gift of music to lead people to worship the Savior. That is the point of art. It is meant to expose the world to our supreme love—Christ. May we, like Fanny Crosby, see that imagination is a gift from God and may we use it for the glory of God.
- Revelation 19:6; Psalm 105:2; John 14:6
- David Foster Wallace, “The Gospel Coalition,” There Is No Such Thing as Not Worshipping (blog), April 24, 2015.
- Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 8, 15, 22, 109-110.
- Clyde Kilby and Dyrness, The Arts and the Christian Imagination, 239.
- Mathis, Habits of Grace, 14, 41, 45.
- Wilbourne, Union with Christ, 26, 109, 220.
- Mathis, The Romantic Rationalist, 94.
- Edith Waldvogel Blumhofer, Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby
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