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“DARING TO IMAGINE” - Daring Faith: Key To Miracles - Part 4

Eph.3:14-21 - March 26, 2017

(adapted with permission from Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, April 11-12, 2015)

     One of the greatest gifts that God has given you is the gift of imagination: the ability to see things in your mind, to think and to create with mental pictures in your mind. The reason you have this gift is because God imagines. God imagined the entire universe and it was created. You are most like your Creator when you are being creative. When you use your imagination for good and for God, God smiles.

     Everything starts with imagination. Nothing becomes reality unless first somebody thinks it up. Every great business, every great company, every piece of art, every musical note – somebody imagined it before it became reality. Without imagination you couldn’t even make decisions. When you go to make a decision you ponder, “What would happen if I did this or that?” And then you make the decision. Everything that has been created on planet earth by human beings started in the imagination of somebody’s mind: this is a gift from God.

     Imagination is a tool. It can be used for good or for bad. There are some things the Bible says we should not imagine. Then there are some things we cannot imagine because our brains aren’t big enough. Then there are some things that we should imagine.

     What are the things we should not imagine, not allow in our mind? Worry is a misuse of your imagination - when you imagine something in your mind and you start getting fearful about it. That’s a perversion. Lust is a misuse of imagination – desiring forbidden fleshly pleasure in your mind over and over. Revenge is a misuse of imagination when you think, “I know how I’m going to get back at that person!” The Bible tells us that the reason God flooded the earth in Noah’s time is because in those days all he could find were “evil imaginations” in people’s lives. They’d taken a gift of God and they were using their imaginations for violence, for perversion; for the occult, evil, bad things, for dark things. Today many people use their imaginations in very dark ways. You should not fill your mind with those things.

     But then the Bible says, the second category, there are some thing we cannot imagine. The Bible says that God is so great we can’t even imagine how great he is, how powerful he is. We look at the universe and see how great the universe is and the universe just shows a fraction of God’s greatness. The Creator is certainly bigger than the creation. You can’t imagine how much God loves you: your brain would explode if you understood how much he loves you. God is love – it’s his very nature, God’s make-up! You can’t imagine what heaven is going to be like. That’s why a lot of people aren’t really interested in heaven because it’s so foreign to us we can’t imagine those dimensions – how cool / great / wonderful it’s going to be. 1John 3:2 “Yes, dear friends, we are already God's children, and we can't even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” Right now you can’t see Jesus directly so you’re growing to be more like him a little bit at a time. But one day when Christ comes back, when we see him perfectly, you’re going to become perfectly like him. You’re going to be transformed in an instant. The Bible says we can’t even imagine what we’re going to be like when Jesus comes back.

     But then there are some things we should imagine. Philippians 4:8 “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable.Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” These are the kind of things God wants you to imagine.

     There is a relationship between your imagination and faith.

     1) My imagination shapes my life. In other words the way you think is going to affect the way you feel, which in turn is going to affect the way you act. And if you want to change the way you act, you need to change the way you think. Proverb 23:7 “For as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” For instance, the person who says “I can’t do this,” and the person who says, “I can do this,” are both right! The person who says, “I just can’t imagine that ever happening to me” – guess what? It won’t! Because you’re already producing a self-fulfilling prophecy. Proverbs 4:23 “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” Shaped by what? Your thoughts. Albert Einstein [who knew a thing or two! Used a lot of “thought experiments”] said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.Logic will get you from A to B; imagination will take you everywhere.There’s no limit to imagination.The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” CS Lewis the great Christian thinker of the last century said, “Imagination is the organ of meaning.” Brilliant philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “Imagination decides everything.”
     God warned about the power of imagination being misused. People in Genesis 11 were building this giant tower of Babel which was going to be basically an idol, trying to reach up to God. Gen 11:6 “The Lord said, ‘Now that they are one people speaking one language, this is only the beginning of what they will do.Now nothing they have imagined they can do will be impossible for them!’” God’s saying that because they’re one people with one language and they’re unified, they’ve got clear communication. He said “Nothing they have imagined they can do will be impossible for them.” If you’ve got cooperation, communication, and imagination, that’s how the impossible becomes possible.

     2) Imagination is essential to living by faith. In fact you cannot live by faith without using your imagination: because since God is spirit and you can’t see Him, you’ve got to use imagination to practice your faith. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith: “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen.It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” Notice two things: Faith is a way of seeing; and God says whatever we hope for, when you believe it’s going to happen – that’s faith, the evidence of things we can’t yet see.

     God gave you two ways of seeing. First you can see through your physical eyes; and second, you can see by the imagination in your mind. You can picture things in your mind. You dream them, you can visualize them. That’s another way of seeing. When you can’t see something physically you have to imagine it in your mind. Faith involves picturing it in your mind.

     When you were a kid at Christmas time, and there were gifts wrapped under the tree – you started imagining what was inside that box with your name on. Perhaps you got excited because you thought you knew what was inside that box as you were picturing it in your mind. You couldn’t see it but you were imagining that gift. This is a tool God says you have to use in walking with Christ. Because you can’t see God right now so you have to imagine. God has given us tools of imagination, visual aids: communion / the Lord’s Supper, baptism – both of those symbols engage your imagination. They help us picture the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ; going under the water and coming back out is a picture of Jesus dying, being buried and rising again. And communion is a picture of Jesus giving his body and blood for your salvation. They’re tools that engage your imagination.

     The heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, the Faith Hall of Fame, used their imagination. For instance, God says to Abraham, “Abraham, you’re ninety years old and you have no kids. But I’m going to change your name from Abram to Abraham which means father of a great nation.” For about a decade Abraham still has no kids. So he goes to a local restaurant: “A table for two.” “Your name, sir?” “Father of a great nation?” “Wow! How many kids you got?” “None!” It’d be pretty embarrassing to be named father of a great nation and you don’t have any kids...But God always calls things that are not as though they were; He names it in advance.

     Then he says, “I want you to go outside, Abraham, I want you to count the stars at night.That’s how many grandchildren and great grandchildren, how many you’re going to have in your family tree.That’s going to be the nation of Israel, how many Jews there are in the world.Count all the stars.” What’s God doing when he tells Abraham to go count stars? He’s activating his imagination. He’s saying, “I want you to visualize what I’m going to do in your life.” 2Corinthians 4:18 “We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see.What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.” The material (what’s seen now) is temporary and the immaterial is eternal. That chair you’re sitting on will decay and fall apart; it’s not going to last. On the other hand, you can’t see the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But they’re going to last for eternity! You can’t see your own soul – but it’s going to last for eternity. You need to focus on the things that will last which you can’t actually see with your eyes. You have to imagine them; that’s essential to living by faith.

     3) great lives are built around great dreams. You become great by attaching your life to a great cause, a great purpose or a great dream. You need something bigger than yourself to draw you out of yourself to make to you grow better than yourself and that’s what makes you a great person. Until you have a great dream you will never be a great woman. You need something bigger than yourself that pulls you out of your self-centeredness that makes you great.

     During Daring Faith let’s dream and visualize and think about how God wants to use your career, your future / finances / family / giving / ministry / career. My prayer for you is this next verse, along with Paul for the NT church: Ephesians 1:18 “May God enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see the hope that his calling holds for you.” May God enlighten the eyes of your mind – that’s your imagination. He’s saying I pray that your imagination will come alive and in faith you’ll be able to see God’s dream for your life, God’s vision for your life, God’s purpose and plan for your life, God’s calling on your life. Most people miss their calling in life because they’re following their dream instead of God’s dream. I’m not interested in you following your dream: I’m interested in you following God’s dream. God wants to give you HIS dream for your life – that’s your calling. He says when you understand what I’ve made you for, then you’re going to have hope. If you want significance in your life, you’ve got to stop following your dream for your life and instead start following God’s dream for your life. Because when you fulfill God’s dream you go, “This is it! This is what I was made to be! It fits – I know why I’m alive.”

     If you can’t imagine your calling, if you can’t dream God’s dream, you’re not really living; you’re just existing. And if you’re just going through life without a dream, you’re dying: Proverbs 28:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish. . .” I want you to discover God’s dream.

     4) God’s dream for my life is bigger than my dream. It’s exponentially bigger, eternally significant. There are a lot of dreams, but they wouldn’t be significant. You could dream of being a millionaire by a certain age. For what purpose? Do you think God put you on this planet to live for yourself? Of course not. God’s dream for your life is bigger than your dream. Ephesians 3:20 “God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Notice: far more than you could ever imagine! God can do that in your life. Or guess or request in your wildest dreams. God says, “Think of the greatest thing I could do in your life, the greatest way I could bless your life, dream the biggest dream, and I can top that!”

     In your limited human reckoning, you have no idea what God wants to do in your life – you are living such a small fraction of what you’re capable of, what God wants to do in your life. God’s dream for your life is enormous! He says I can do more than you can imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams. Paul adds, “He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us – his Spirit working deeply and gently within us.” God wants us to dream big: dreaming big honours God. It shows faith and trust. You should base your dream not on what you think you could do, but on what you think God could do. Write: “Let the size of my God determine the size of my goal.”

     5) Doubt is the enemy of imagination. Doubt and fear neutralize what God wants to do in your life. It takes courage to imagine...Why is it most people don’t imagine? Because they’re afraid of failure.

     When you were a kid you had a great imagination. But the older you get, the more your imagination grows rusty, gets lethargic. And you stop imagining what things could be and you just start living the way they are. And you get stuck in the status quo which is Latin for “the mess we’re in.” You don’t imagine what it could be; you just think about what it is. You stop using that imagination muscle in your life. Doubt is the enemy of imagination. That’s why it takes courage. Courage is when you’re scared to death and you say, “I’m going to do it anyway” – and God shows up. You have to move against your fears. And sometimes you have to ignore all the insecurity you’re feeling and just say I’m going to do it – even though I’m scared to death, I’m insecure and I might fail, and so on.

     James 1:5-7 “If you need wisdom, [want to know God’s vision for your life] just ask God for it, because He is generous and enjoys giving to everyone.But when you ask God, you must believe in faith and not doubt.For a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven back and forth, and tossed about by the wind.Such doubters cannot decide about anything they do, so they should not imagine [there’s that word! not imagine] receiving anything from the Lord.” You’ve got to believe and you’ve got to banish doubt. Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts.

     Your imagination in your life is either going to be governed by fear or by faith. If you let your imagination be governed by fear you’re going to go around being freaked out, stressed out, worried all the time: worried about what people think, do you have enough. When you allow fear to control your imagination, you live a miserable life.

     Instead say, “I’m not going to allow fear to dominate; I’m going to allow faith to dominate – I’m going to trust in God, all things are possible with God” – then your imagination populates with what could happen, and moves you ahead.

     Doubt will destroy you. A man who had a son who was sick came to Jesus. Mark 9:22ff “The man said to Jesus, ‘Please heal my son if you can.’ Jesus replied ‘What do you mean, “If I can?” Anything is possible IF a person believes.’ The father replied, ‘I do believe, but help me not to doubt!’” I like the authenticity, the honesty of this guy. “I believe; I’ve just got some doubts.” Another translation -“Lord, I do believe; help me with my unbelief.” Jesus accepts that faith, says as it were, “Good enough” – and he heals the guy right there on the spot. You don’t have to have all your doubts resolved and questions answered in order to follow Jesus Christ and enjoy all the benefits of it. You don’t have to understand something in order to benefit from it. For instance, you probably don’t understand how the computer regulates your vehicle’s engine, but that doesn’t stop you from driving a car. You don’t have to understand photosynthesis to benefit from eating an orange or carrot. You don’t have to have all your doubts answered, all your questions resolved in order to live by faith. “Lord, I believe; help me with my doubts.” And God says, “That’s good enough.”

     Have you ever cried out to God, “Lord, I want to believe? Help me with my doubts”? You need to do that this morning if you haven’t.

     Dreams leak like helium from a balloon. Some of you have a flat tire emotionally because you’re not dreaming any more. You have to re-energize the dream periodically. How?

     6) God’s Spirit and God’s Word fuel my imagination. These are the two sources that God provides to energize your dream so you don’t run out of gas. First he gives you his Holy Spirit; and second he gives you his Word and the promises of the Bible. John 14:16f Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever.That helper is the Spirit of Truth.You’ll know him, because he lives with you and will be IN you!” That’s where the power comes from. It’s not self-help psychology, not just trying to pump yourself up with positive mental attitude; this is the Holy Spirit working in you giving you power that you don’t have.

     The other source for refueling is God’s Word. Psalm 119:18,27 “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your law...Help me understand the meaning of your commandments, and I will meditate on your wonderful miracles.” You need to do this thinking about and considering God’s commands on a daily basis. Listen to God as you read his Word and talk and listen to God in prayer. That’s key to maintaining a God-mandated vision and dream for your entire life. The key to stronger, healthier imagination is a daily quiet time. Get alone with the Holy Spirit, just you and the Bible, get alone and you listen to God and you talk to God and you pray and you think and you consider; “graze” in Bible pasture then “chew your cud” as it were. That energizes your vision. If you’re not having a daily quiet time it’s no wonder your dream leaks. You’ve got to stay in the Word and place yourself / locate yourself in the Spirit. When you do that, when you practice the discipline of getting alone with God, that will energize you. You need to develop that habit to maintain your dream for life every day.

     At the other end of the day – as you’re about to put your head on the pillow, you can ask God a question: then while you’re sleeping, the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to show something to your subconscious. Job 33 “God speaks again and again, though people often do not recognize it.He speaks in dreams, and in visions of the night when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in bed.” Because then you don’t have all your pretentions up; when you’re relaxed, God can communicate to you a whole lot better. Isaiah 50:4 “The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so I know what to say to all these weary ones.Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will.” When you go to sleep talking to the Lord, then when you wake up in the morning, you’re already on the right wavelength to talk to the Lord again: so you have a quiet time and he opens you to understanding his will. And so he refuels your imagination.

     7) Growing my character will clarify my vision. When you’re having a hard time getting God’s dream for your life, you need to focus on growing up spiritually. The more mature you become, the clearer the vision will be. As you add character qualities in your life you’re going to be able to see things more and more clearly. 2Peter 1:5-9 “To your faith, add goodness; and to your goodness, add knowledge; and to your knowledge, add self-control; and to your self-control, add patience; and to your patience, add service for God; and to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness add love for everyone.IF all these things are in you and are growing, they will help you to be useful and productive [circle the phrase “useful and productive”: a pastor’s goal for his flock is for them to be useful and productive] But anyone who does not have these qualities, cannot see clearly.” The reason you can’t see God’s vision is you just need to grow up!

     The final thing to learn about vision and dreams and imagination is:

     8) If a dream is from God, it will be connected somehow to His Church & Plan for the World. Why would God give you a self centered dream, unconnected to what he wants to do in the world? He wants to use you for his dream; He wants to use you for his plan. And what is God’s big overarching plan? God is building a family and he’s collecting family members from every nation, every tribe, every language, every people group. When everybody’s in the family he knows that are going to be in the family, it’s over – we’ll be heading into Phase 2 which is eternity...That’s God’s big plan.

     God did not create you to live on earth and to live a self centered life where you get up, go to work, come home, watch TV and go to bed, make a little money, retire and die. Really? You think that’s all God put you here for? No. He put you here to be part of his plan. And if he gives you a dream, you get a dream from God, it’s going to somehow impact his church and his plan for the whole world. Because that’s what he’s doing; that’s the big picture, the Great Commission, Jesus’ parting word picture, His great dream or vision: Matthew 28:19f “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. That’s the Great Commission, the last words of Jesus before he ascended to heaven. The Great Commission is your commission. We’ve had two thousand years of God building his family so that now there are 2.3 billion people in it. The church is bigger than anything else on this planet: bigger than China, bigger than India, bigger than China and India together! God created it, and it’s the whole purpose of history.

     And if God is going to have a dream for your life, a specific dream, it’s somehow going to be connected to his overarching plan, the growth of his church, his kingdom, the building of his family. Until one day it’s completed and we’re all going to heaven. Because that’s what it’s all about. History is His story.

     You weren’t put here on the earth to live just for yourself. Look at Mark 8:35: Jesus says, “If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it.But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News [that’s the Great Commission], you will find true life.”

     Here are three questions you can ask yourself to begin considering what is God’s dream for my life. 1) What if? 2) Why not? And 3) why not me?

     1) What if? Be open to new possibilities. Then, 2) Why not? What do you see in the world that needs to be done? Why’s this not being done? Or not being done well, or done enough? You see a problem in the world that maybe you can make a difference with.

     Third, 3) Why not me? People ask, “Why do we have all these problems in the world like poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption – things like that in the world, these big problems?” Why? - because God is waiting for his children – that’s you and me – to imagine the solutions to the problems in the world. And God probably wants to use you in a way you’ve never, ever even thought. To use you to make a significant difference in the world in some part of the world. Remember, Jesus said, Matthew 19:26 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” So you pray and you ask God for direction. “God, I’m not doing this on my ability; I’m doing it on your ability. I’m not looking at what I can do; I’m looking at what you can do. I’m letting the size of my God determine the size of my goal. And I’m going to go for it. I’m going to move against my fears and I’m going to move against my doubt and I’m going to go ahead because (YOU SAY) all things are possible with God.”

     God’s dream, God’s vision, God’s goal for your life is so big you cannot even imagine it. God is looking for people who will step up, move out and go, “I’m all in.I’m going to be a part of God’s plan for my life.” God will use you if you will just say yes. And he’ll use that imagination. Great lives are built on great dreams. Let’s pray.