Personal experience is an important element of faith, so if we lack this, the life-changing depth of our faith will suffer. Today we talk about how to enhance the way we experience our faith, so that it feels more real and can affect us more fully.
It’s a common problem for many believers to experience doubt or a lack of passion, simply because they don’t feel God’s presence. Personal experience is an important element of faith, so if we lack this, the life-changing depth of our faith will suffer. When we don’t feel God’s presence, or don’t truly experience ourselves as loved by him, it can be hard to pray or worship with passion or regularity and we end up only doing it out of duty.
The key to this problem is not the content of our beliefs, but the way we experience them in our minds. Intellectual knowledge by itself is not sufficient to change or nourish us. We must feel the reality of that belief as though it was right in front of us.
Studies show that when we visualize situations, the same parts of our brains are active as when we actually experience them in the world. Every time we have a thought or recall a memory, or anticipate a future event, we are using our imaginations, and this triggers the mind as though it’s really happening. Imagination is the mind making “real” something that exists as abstract thought.
This is why in Hebrews 11:1, the author states that “Faith is the substantiating (hypostasis) of things hoped for (elpiz?), the conviction (elegchos) of things not seen.” The things we substantiate with our minds (hypostasis) creates conviction. And the things we are convicted about become true in the concrete world. But it all starts with our “hypostasis”. It’s why Jesus says according to your faith be it unto you.
This is taught as a tool for marriage counseling. If you are married, it is normal to think about your spouse multiple times throughout the day. In a happy marriage, these thoughts tend to be positive, and any negative thoughts or memories tend to be kept vague. But in a negative marriage it’s just the opposite. The negative is what is ruminated about. But this is not simple cause and effect, it’s a snowball effect. If we think positive or negatively all day, it becomes more probable that we will have a positive/negative interaction the next time we see them. Our expectations and the messages we repeat to ourselves — our faith — will influence what comes to pass.
All thoughts are like this: memories, expectations, fears and hopes.
This pattern is the same for our spiritual experience. We can’t wait for the transformative effects of faith to show up on their own, we must participate with our imaginations first. This means actively visualizing what we know with our minds to be true. We know that God is present, but he is unseen, so we have to use our imaginations to visualize his presence. When we do this, and imagine him with all five of our senses, it triggers our mind to become convicted of his reality.
This is also what Paul meant when he said to “take every thought captive to Christ.” Be intentional about your thoughts. The mind will be captivated by what it perceives as real. So the more vivid the image in our mind is, the more it impacts and moves us.
This does not come naturally to all of us. So an exercise to help with this is to carve out time every day to imagine Jesus being present with you. See his eyes, the color of his hair, the look on his face, hear the sound of his voice as he affirms how he cares for you. Experience him as you praise him.
When you first start practicing, it might feel like you are pretending. Our old habits will conflict with this new way of thinking and of course it will feel unnatural. But the critical difference is that we already know with our intellect that it is true. It’s not pretending, it’s aligning your mind with reality. It’s freeing your mind from the tomb of the world’s lies.
For further reading, Greg recommends two of his books: Seeing is Believing, and Escape the Matrix.
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