Evangelical author and philosophy professor Dallas Willard writes, “Sometimes important things can be presented in literature and art that cannot be effectively presented in any other way.” Given the way God has designed the human being and human community, people need all the capacities He created—reason, emotion, imagination, memory and language, all working together. As mysterious as that transaction is, they need all these capacities so that they may “know” God and not simply know about Him.
In fact, the Bible reveals that people are to know Him so intimately that they ultimately live every minute of each day in a companioning-worship-walk with Him. Jesus pressed this very issue when explaining to the woman at Jacob’s well that, “. . . God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, NIV). The Apostle Paul presses the same mandate when he urges Christians to, “. . . present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your logical, reasonable worship-way-of-living (latreian)” (Rm12:1, author’s rendering).
The Bible reveals that the essence of worship is to find one’s satisfaction in God above all and everyone else. The Apostle Paul boldly declares, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21, NIV).
But based on these submissions, there exists one important question: If humans and human community are to engage in an intimate and interactive involvement with God, how does this interactive transaction actually happen?
Most would say that the goal and essence of worship are both wrapped up in a relationship with God. But still, how do finite people have relational interaction with a Divine God? Is not God unique from humans? Of course. He alone is Divine, Holy, Supreme. But how; or in what way, or in what realm, has God created humans to ‘experience’ in transactional reality, relations with Himself?
At this point it is important to note Bible Role for Imaginative Expression. God designed finite humans in such a way . . . that the mystery of transactional engagement with God happens through environments of imaginative human expressions.
When people go to worship, whether in groups or alone, God designed them to need to exercise their imaginal intellect as much as any other dynamic of their being—including their rational intellect.
When people worship God alone, they “practice” focusing their faith toward God through the gate of their imagination. As they couple their imagination with their intellect, they will imagine the unseen realities they ‘know’ are true in Scripture.
The Biblical Role of Imagination and Imaginal Intelligence
The Hebrew term for imagination is either yatsar or yetser. It is a term that is use, for example in the passages in Jeremiah related to the Potter’s trade (e.g. Jer. 18:3).
Yatsar means to fashion in the mind before forming in time and space. That is, to fashion in the mind also holds in its meaning the capacity to imagine, to invent, to form, to frame (in the mind’s eye); and the emphasis of the term is in the ability to see something—that could be real and true—in the mind’s eye BEFORE it is actually formed in time and space. Yet, though it is ‘seen’ in the mind before it is actually created, the assumption of the term is that the thing “fashioned in the mind” will actually at some point in time be formed in reality (e.g. Jer. 18:4, “But the pot he (the potter) was shaping from the clay was made in his hands; so the potter formed it (first in his mind fashioned it a different way to be made—then began to form it again, after having thought of its new form) into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (NIV, author’s expanded explanations).
Hebrew concept of imagination includes two dynamic applications:
with regard to the human capacity to invent or make something, imagination is ‘the capacity to see what could be but is not yet.’ An example of this human capacity is Jer. 18:4, “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (NIV).
with regard to the human capacity to interact with transcendence, imagination is ’the capacity to see through what is known into the realities beyond what is known.
A profound example of this second dimension of imagination—facilitating interaction with transcendence—is the exercise of faith in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (NIV). One who believes ‘faithfully’ in God looks on the revelation of God has given (culminated in God’s revelation of Jesus, God Incarnate); and though not knowing ‘all’ there is to know about God’s saving work, knowing enough of God’s work in Christ (Christ’s real and earthly life, death and Resurrection), to place one’s hope in all the realities of salvation one has in Christ, most of which “we do not see” (Heb 11:1b). That kind of ‘faith’ is not blind faith’. It is true faith; though much of what goes into that faith is beyond the capacity of the human to ‘completely’ grasp.
Paul says the same thing in Romans 11:34: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (NASU).
Jesus implies this same “faith principle” when speaking to His disciples after His Resurrection, when He said in John 20:29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (NIV).
you dealing with God about people (centered in your daily worship communion with God), and
God dealing with people through you (the assignments you receive from God out of your growing communion with Him) . . . then, your artistic abilities will be a means by which and a context in which God will expect you to function in order to develop contact and relationship with people with whom you are intentionally looking, by faith, to effect and serve for His purposes. That effect, and that sort of service—if it is truly ministry on God’s behalf—will entail a supernatural transaction (energized by God’s Spirit, not by you), and will result both in …
spiritual impact in people’s lives through the ‘service’ you render; and in
people coming to find salvation in Jesus through seeing the Lord more clearly—and hearing Him—through your ministry service, whatever that particular ministry service might be.
Therefore, your artistic ministry will only be fully and biblically developed as you go beyond “the doing of your art”. Your arts ministry will develop a fuller biblical design as you increasingly develop ways wherein and around which you will be …
identifying and developing people you can mentor towards their own growth in Jesus; and …
resourcing the local and regional church (equipping the saints—Eph. 4:11-12) out of the specialized fruit-bearing capacities you have progressively demonstrated in your past ministry track record.
Besides simply your abilities to perform an artistic expression or endeavor—if you are really focused on ministry, and growing in more developed ministry—you will be developing specialized areas of biblically based resourcing around at least four (4) areas :
spiritual formation issues,
biblical ministry issues (related to theology and strategies of the arts in ministry),
artistic skill areas, and
technical aspects specialized and related to arts ministry strategy.
When your focus is set on ministry, when your ministry is articulated in Kingdom terms (and not in musical or artistic media terms), your artistic orientations become the environment in which you premeditatedly intend to connect with people about the realities of God—and when you are faithing that He, the Lord, will graciously and supernaturally move through you—then it will be clear . . . to you and to others . . . that you have truly entered into the realm of ministry through the arts.
Anything else, and you may end up simply being yet another clanging cymbal
A Blueprint For Itinerant [Traveling] Ministries
Paul lays out … in Acts 14: 21-28 … for anyone who has a “traveling” ministry, a ministry with an itinerary outside one’s local congregation, that is very helpful.
Note the following seven (7) components in Paul’s Outline for traveling ministries:
Connect … with people [implied]
Declare … God’s reality and His accessibility through Jesus
Win … people to Christ as you can
Strengthen … the believers
Give Permission … to potential ministry initiators [In Paul’s case he was formally appointing congregational leaders. You most likely will not do that. But you CAN pray for and encourage those who seem to be ready for ministry to get on with that ministry.]
Repeat the process … of doing the above five actions in other places
Report back … to your home church and other churches that know you, love you and are supporting you