Terese and I are celebrating our anniversary so my good friend Ivan Veldhuizen wrote the blog post this week. Ivan is the Executive Director of International Ministries for Converge Worldwide, and also is a gifted speaker and writer
FYI: Big news is coming soon on my new book. Here is a sneak preview of the cover!
Imagination and Memory
The first thing we read about God in the entire Bible is that God created (Genesis 1:1). Creativity characterizes who God is. It is central to His nature and expression. Having been created in the image of God, we too are given these creative characteristics. They are meant to be used. The more creative we are, the more we are like God.
Evangelicalism has had a tendency to minimize the value of creativity. I remember learning that artists were a little wacky, impractical paintings were stupid, and too much creativity in church was humanistic. How wrong! These are the very things that God loves to see from His children!
For those of you who have children, do you remember some of the first drawings or paintings your child created? Remember how excited you were to see their artistry? And where did the pictures go? On the refrigerator…or some other prominent spot where you would gaze at the masterpiece regularly. Parents love to see their children create!
God, too, wants us to worship and serve Him from imagination more than memory.
When I was a small child, I learned to recite a prayer before I hopped into bed. I would get on my knees at the bedside, place my elbows on the mattress with hands clasped in holy expression. With head bowed, I would repeat this simple prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray thee Lord, my soul to keep. Amen.” Night after night after night…. Once I learned it, I didn’t even have to think about what I was saying any more. In fact, I hadn’t prayed that prayer for maybe 40 years…and when I wrote it down just now, I could still remember it as if I said it this morning. Memory is good, but it’s not the best way to worship and serve the Lord. It’s virtually impossible for our heart to be deeply involved in memory. Fresh expressions are essential for us to be emotionally and meaningfully involved in connecting with and serving God.
Nine times, scripture calls us to sing “a new song”. (Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9; 14:3) Never once does it tell us to sing an old song. Don’t get me wrong – old songs are wonderful and should not be tucked away forever. Well—maybe a few of them should be…along with a few new songs too. But God beckons us to worship Him with imagination, not just memory. It’s like the memorized prayer – it becomes rote and mindless and fairly empty. We human beings are made to feel what is newly created more than what is formerly remembered. Our current expressions of praise require new words, compelling ideas, fresh sounds, and God-given creativity to involve all of us that the Creator wants involved in authentic worship. That’s why he tells us to sing “a new song”. Just trust Him in this. He knows what He’s talking about.
Back to my bedside… I remember when my Mom first told me to NOT say the recited prayer before I went to sleep. “What?!” I remember thinking. “What am I supposed to say? What if I say something stupid? What if I tick God off? What if I sound silly or somebody hears me say something personal?” (I shared a room with three brothers). Trust me – this was scary! I had never done anything like this before and I didn’t know how to use my imagination in talking with God. After a prolonged period of silence that first night, while settled on my knobby knees, I finally blurted out a ridiculous self-conscious prayer something like this: “God – I don’t know what to tell you. I like you and I hope you take care of me tonight. Amen.” Certainly, this was not profound. Without a doubt, I was VERY uncomfortable with using fresh expressions to God. However, it was the beginning of a very meaningful and deep journey of communicating with God on a completely different level. If I would have never moved from memory to imagination, my relationship with the Lord would be only a fraction of what it is today.
I’m quite certain that many church-goers are still in the recitation mode when it comes to worship. We’re still in the mode of memory more than imagination. We like to do what we’ve done before. We’re comfortable with that and we remember the meaningful ways that God met us in the past through these expressions. It’s scary to break out of that mode…and usually quite uncomfortable, but it is absolutely essential if you want to grow deeper in your relationship with the Lord. There is so much more.
Therefore, God tells us to “sing a NEW song”! Again and again and again and again….