When you read the Bible, do you use your imagination? I strongly suggest you do. Does that sound surprising, even dangerous? I used to feel the same way. For some reason, we Christians tend to like propositional truth, facts, and well-crafted arguments. Imagination is so . . . so made up. I don’t suggest we just go around making things up and calling them truth. I suggest we do what sculptors, songwriters, and poets have done all through history. I suggest that we try to feel and see and smell what it was like for David to have the prophet Samuel pour anointing oil over his head and call him the king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Try it! Use your imagination. What would you have felt if this had happened to you when you were in junior high school? That’s about how old David was in this story. My first reaction would have been total fear! I would have said, “I am just a kid; Samuel is a powerful, mysterious prophet of God. This is a scary guy; Israel already has King Saul; and—well—I’m just a kid!” What look did Samuel have in his eyes as he gazed upon this dirty-faced, smelly shepherd boy? Was it doubt? My imagination tells me no. I think Samuel had hope. I think he looked at this kid and whispered a prayer of thanks for this boy that God Himself had chosen.
That wasn’t so hard, was it? Do you see this moment differently now? I do. Let’s try another story. Let’s use our imagination in the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water.
The boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matthew 14:24-33)
Let’s use our imagination to go into the story. Since no one goes out on the water in a small fishing boat when there is a storm blowing, Peter and the other men probably went out before the storm hit. But now the wind and waves have picked up speed. Do you think the men are nervous? They are in my imagination. It’s dark. They can’t tell what direction to steer toward. Then they see what they think is a ghost walking on the water! I don’t know how they are able to see anything at all, let alone someone walking on the water. Lightning? Perhaps. I don’t know, but somehow they see Him, and now they are really nervous. In fact, they are terrified. But then they realize that it’s Jesus. What would you do next? Probably not what Peter did. Personally, I don’t think I would have done much of anything except stare with my dripping mouth hanging open. I would have been one of the other guys in the boat. In my imagination, I place myself there in the scene. I am shocked, but Peter is magnetized, magnetized to Jesus. He figures that if Jesus can walk on the water, maybe he can too. He asks to join Jesus in this miracle. Jesus smiles and waves for him to come overboard. What are the guys in the boat thinking? Wide-eyed, I try to pull Peter back in, but he will not be held back, not from his Jesus. As I rest my hands on the side of that rocking boat, I watch Peter actually walking on the water to join Jesus. Wow! At that point, I start to swing my leg over the edge of the boat; I want to do it too! But then I hear Peter yell for help. In my imagination, he does not slowly start to sink as his faith weakens. He just looks around, looks at his feet standing on the water, panics, and goes under completely. I quickly swing my leg back into the relative safety of the boat. Jesus grabs Peter’s hand, and I see Peter come up out of the water as if on an elevator. He looks at Jesus . . .
What a moment! See? By using your imagination, you can feel the agony and the ecstasy of the scene. As I stand back and reflect on it, you know who I feel bad for? The guys in that boat. They never knew what it felt like to stand on the water. Was it like concrete? Was it squishy but firm? They could ask Peter but could never experience it for themselves. Peter, on the other hand, was really wet, but he was different from that point on. He did not just see the power of Christ; he joined in with it. This was a taste of things to come for Peter.
I encourage you to enter into more Bible stories and to take your kids with you. Things will come to you that you had never thought about before. You will “see” the story and remember it from that point on. Don’t let the Bible be an old, dusty thing on your coffee table. Get into it. Use your imagination!