What Is Imaginative Prayer?
Updated: Aug 10
I don’t remember the first time I heard the term imaginative prayer, but it is a way I’ve prayed and met with God for many years. In fact, you’ve likely engaged in imaginative prayer without naming it as such. Simply put, imaginative prayer is a way of opening ourselves up to encounter God in Scripture. We immerse ourselves in the Biblical text in a posture of listening to the Holy Spirit.
If it seems strange to combine the word “imagination” with prayer, consider this: Jesus constantly used the imagination of his listeners to teach them. He invited them to be a merchant finding a pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46), a traveler passing by an injured stranger on the road (Luke 10:30-37), a son returning home to beg for a job as a servant (Luke 15:11-32), or a guest invited to a great banquet (Luke 14:16-24). Imaginative prayer is a spiritual practice in which we invite the Holy Spirit to speak to us through immersing ourselves in scripture. We stay true to the Biblical story and we actively engage with it.
I often have the opportunity to lead individuals and groups in imaginative prayer. One of these opportunities is coming up next week as I host a monthly online gathering of Be Still – Spiritual Practices in Community. For more information, click Be Still on the website menu above.
You can also engage in imaginative prayer on your own, as you spend time in Scripture with the Lord. Below are a few simple steps for letting God use the imagination He has given you as you pray into scripture.
Imaginative Prayer for Individuals
1. Select a time and place when you have 20 minutes or more to spend in prayer.
2. Choose a passage of Scripture from the Gospels. You may want to select one of the parables in which Jesus invited His listeners, though most any passage is just fine.
3. Begin your time in the Word in quiet with the Lord. Express your desire to meet with Him and hear from Him.
4. The first time you read the passages of Scripture, imagine yourself as a person observing from a distance. Use all five of your senses as you read. What do you see, hear, touch, smell and taste as you observe?
5. The second time you read the passage, place yourself as an observer in the scene. For example, in the parable of the prodigal son you might imagine yourself as the older brother. Again, use your five senses and ponder thoughtfully with the Lord – what do I see? What do I hear? What do I touch? What do I smell and taste? At this point, you may also want to notice your emotions and thoughts as you are there in the scene.
6. The third time you read the passage, you are most thoroughly immersed in Scripture. Imagine yourself as a main character and place yourself close in proximity to Jesus in the story. Once again, use all your five senses to imagine yourself in the story. What do you hear the Holy Spirit speak? What do you notice around you? Is Jesus present? What do you sense from Him?
7. Give yourself ample time between each reading of the passage to notice what you experience and allow the Lord to speak to you from that place.
8. Close your prayer time thanking the Holy Spirit for meeting you, instructing you, and guiding you during this time.
At any point in this spiritual practice, you may want to journal about what you notice and experience.
to what you have written later, for further conversation with the Lord.
My hope is that imaginative prayer will be a spiritual practice that is helpful in deepening your relationship with Christ.