Childish Fantasy Vs Mature Imagination

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I can put myself back in my five-year-old self and sometimes my thoughts don’t seem much different now. In some ways my thoughts have matured and I’ve “put childish ways behind me”. But in other ways I feel like I’m the same little kid.

How do we hold on to the “self” from all our accumulated years and at the same time grow up? What is the difference between the immaturity of a child and changing to become the child who will enter the kingdom heaven (Mt 18:3)? How do we know when our thoughts aren’t childish fantasy, but mature imagination?

At my men’s group a few weeks ago, a pastor, Barry Clarke, pointed out how the younger son, from Jesus’ story in Luke 15, illustrates the difference. He demanded his inheritance early. “Father, give me my share of the inheritance” (Lk 15:12). He must have fantasized about the exploits he would engage, once he had the means to pull them off. I see the kernel of childish fantasy there in his demand of “give me”. Childish fantasy is selfish. We tolerate degrees of self-absorption in adolescence. We are nauseated by the same self-absorption in adults.

As the story goes, the younger son gets slapped around a bit by harsh reality and hard times. We are told he “came to his senses” (15:17). Jesus tells us how the young son imagines his conversation will go when he goes home. In his imagination he practices his speech he will give his father. He decides he’s even willing to rejoin the household as a servant saying “make me like one of your hired men.” I see the development of a mature imagination in his statement of “make me”.

Childish fantasy is selfish. You can know your thinking is childish and immature when it is turned in upon yourself. Are your plans “give me” plans? There is an egocentricism in childishness. And like I said, it is to be expected in kids—at least it isn’t surprising. But it is disdained in those who are supposed to be mature.

There is a humility to the mature imagination. Is what you are giving your imagination to about the contribution you can make? The younger son imagined saying, “Make me.” Are your plans “make me” plans? Self will always be part of any equation we imagine. There is nothing inherently wrong with “me” being included. You cannot be separated from your contribution. But are you giving your imagination to what the self can get or what the self is willing to be made into?

May our imaginations be ignited by who we will be made into as we humbly play our parts. May we imagine how our service can make us into mature sons and daughters. May we discern the difference between our proud fantasies and humble imaginations. May we put away our “give me” plans and let our “make me” imaginations run wild.

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Where Your Disappointments Start

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A disappointment is when something you have arranged in your mind does not happen that way. Namaan the leper, in 2 Kings 5, is an illustration of how disappointment works.

His Appointment

Namaan was given an appointment with Elisha, much to the relief of the king of Israel (v.8). But when Namaan’s cavalcade finally made it to Elisha’s front step, the powerful prophet didn’t even have the decency to greet Namaan himself. Elisha merely had his assistant pass along instructions for his healing, “Go wash in the Jordan river and be clean.”

His Disappointment

Verse 11 is the revealing statement, “But Namaan was angry and went away, saying, ‘“I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!’” It’s really Namaan’s first two words that says it all: I thought. He had played it all out in his mind how his miracle would happen.

His Unchecked Ego

Three things stand out that set the stage for disappointment. First, the ego was not in check. Namaan was a “great man and well respected” (v.1). He knew it and everyone else in Syria knew it. He was ticked when Elisha didn’t act like he knew it. You may think something should go a certain way because of who you are. If so, you’re not thinking rightly, because you are nothing. An entitlement mentality sets the stage for disappointment.

His Passivity

Second, there are rarely passive participants in the miraculous. The way Namaan had his miracle play out in his mind was with him standing as a passive observer as the powerful prophet greeted him royally, prayed fervently, waved his hands assertively, and provided complete healing (read verse 11 again). You may think something should go a certain way without your involvement, but God often works with active faith, not presuming cockiness.

His Reluctance to Do Something Simple

Third, what we are asked to do is usually not difficult. Namaan’s attendants shrewdly played to their master’s ego by acknowledging that if he were asked to do something difficult, he would have gladly done so. He was put in a rage because he was asked to do something simple. You may think something should go a certain way because you’re willing to do the difficult, but it is faithfulness in the little things that God is looking for (cf. Luke 19:17).

Can God to It Differently?

It is a wonderful capacity God has given you to arrange possibilities in your mind. The source of your disappointment is when you don’t allow for a God who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph 3:20). Or maybe a God who is able to just do things differently.

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Transforming Stinking Thinking

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The Bible says a lot about the mind. Our faculty to think is such a wild capacity. Have you ever thought about what a unique ability it is to have conversations inside your head? As unique and wild as it is, it can be a force that is sometimes positive and sometimes negative.

We must think about our thinking. The Bible tells us to think about ourselves. After that well-known passage where Paul says it is the renewal of our minds that actually transforms a life (Romans 12:2) he says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). He says don’t think of yourself one way, but think of yourself another way. The bottom line is, you are to think about yourself.

How do you think about yourself? Is it accurate? What do you tell yourself? Zig Ziglar would use the phrase, “We all need a daily check up from the neck up to avoid stinking thinking which ultimately leads to hardening of the attitudes.” Stinking thinking can be in either extreme of thinking too high or too low about ourselves. Transformation occurs when our minds are renewed by seeing ourselves the way we really are.

If you have stinking thinking, your first job is to start reading reality’s script. Sometimes your own thoughts don’t help. You need to put in better thoughts—from the outside. God is ultimately the only one who sees you the way you really are.

What would it be like to think the way God’s thinks about you? The Psalmist wrote, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Ps 139:17). I would say one of the reasons they are precious is because God’s thoughts are the truest thoughts in the universe. It would be utterly transforming to think the way God thinks. Do you think it is possible?

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