A number of years ago, I listened to a tape series about prayer by Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline. One lesson that stood out to me and made a marked difference in my prayer life was his recommendation to visualize prayer. There are at least four beneficial shifts you will experience if you strive to visualize your prayers.
First, specificity. When you take time to vividly imagine what your prayer would look like answered and lift that image with all its details upto God you tend to be far more specific in what you pray. For example, I had an extremely unruly Sunday School class of Junior High kids once. (Okay, may be more than just once) I was about to give up on the class and it was about the time that I happened listened to the Richard Foster tape. I decided to go in early to class one Sunday and take time to pray for each child before they arrived. I walked around our table and stood behind each empty chair and prayed for the child who would be sitting in it. I visualized them engaged, helping, curious and enjoying the class. I prayed for each one of them and then for the class as a whole. I pictured how they interacted. Imagined the excitement in their voices. My class was a very different class from that point forward. I can’t explain how it changed things. I just know it did. At some level, it changed me and I am sure I brought a completely different spirit to the class.
Second, extended prayer. When you slow down to visualize prayer you spend more time praying. A prayer of “God please heal Margie’s broken hip.” becomes several minutes of picturing Margie standing straight and tall, happy, free of pain, and delightfully mobile. I find myself more engaged and actively concerned for the person when I do this.
Third, a growing ability to focus. Between the fast pace of media, constantly interrupting cell phones, and an incessant habit of multi-tasking, many people are finding themselves having a growing difficult focusing in prayer. If that is you, then you will very likely struggle at first with visualizing your prayers. However, with practice your ability to focus will grow. You will even see an increased focus in your prayers that are not marked by visualization.
Fourth, greater efficacy. Why? How? I don’t know, but prayers that I slow down to actively visualize seem to be more obviously answered. May be I’m just watching with greater frequency because I have a picture in my head that I am waiting to see in reality or may because the intent of my prayer is so much clearer God is more response. I can’t really explain it and you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it for yourself and draw your own conclusion. So far, though greater efficacy seems to go hand-in-hand with visualizing my prayer.
How to Start.
Select something to focus on in prayer. Picture the person or situation you are praying for as it is now as vividly as you can. Start with a mental image and then one by one layer in all of your other senses. Next, picture how things are changing into how you would hope that they would be. Once again, make the picture as complete and concrete as you possibly can. Hold this in image in your mind and lift it up as your prayer to God. It is really that simple and that difficult.
Here is one last thought for you to consider if for some reason you are hesitant to take time to envision your prayers. Many of the revelatory experiences that people have of God in the Bible are dreams and visions. God speaks to people through images that he places in their minds. Doesn’t it just make sense that we might want to communicate back with Him in that same way. God gave us amazing creative minds. Let us use the fullness of our minds to connect with God in prayer.