Encounter Bible Stories in a New Way by Picturing Scripture
Your imagination can help you thoughtfully engage with God’s Word
This is the third in a five-part series sharing creative ways to engage with God’s Word. Using practices from The Abide Bible, these blogs will guide you in slowing down and letting Scripture refresh your heart. Today, you’ll learn how you can engage with the Bible by using your imagination to picture Scripture.
[The Samaritans] said to the woman, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world.”
John 4:42 NET
It’s a hot, dusty afternoon. You press through the sweltering heat in the same way that you press through the multitude of anxieties that run through your mind.
The empty water jar you carry is heavy on your shoulder, but you know it will feel much heavier on your walk back home. As usual, you’re the only person on the path to the well. The sun is high in the sky and sweat rolls down your brow, dampening your hair. Still, you’d rather draw water at midday than come when the other women gather in the cooler hours, standing bunched together and casting judgmental looks at you over their shoulders. Their whispers sting more than the harsh sunlight, and so you come to the well alone.
Except today, you’re not alone. There’s a man sitting at the well. As you draw closer, you can tell that he is a Jew. He looks weary and dusty, probably on a journey to worship in Jerusalem. You try to ignore him. Jews and Samaritans don’t mix, not since your ancestors built their own place to worship on Mount Gerizim. This man probably despises you—just like everyone else.
And then, he asks you for a drink of water.
Do you recognize this story from John 4:1-42?
Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. This unlikely conversation between a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman led to many lives being transformed by the gospel.
I used to wish that I could have witnessed this meeting at the well. Then, I learned how picturing Scripture could help me observe some of my favorite Bible stories unfold before my eyes through the gift of imagination!
Using God’s Gift of Imagination
When my daughters were little, I would often begin my day in an office —coffee cup in hand—and end it on the terrace of a beautiful castle in a land you won’t find on any map.
While this might sound impossible, it’s just one example of how my daughters used their imagination to play and explore their world. One day we were having a tea party at a magical castle based loosely on their favorite fairy tales; the next we were soaring through the galaxy as we explored new planets in spaceships made from cardboard boxes.
Those times with my daughters taught me something about God’s gift of imagination. After long days at the office, I found joy in letting my mind wander to faraway places. But playing with my girls taught me that imagination isn’t an escape from reality. Instead, it’s a tool that enhanced my daughters’ ability to engage with stories, understand other people’s experiences, and even grow in understanding their own lives and personalities. And, when we read the Bible together as a family, I saw how their imaginations helped them better understand the stories I thought I knew so well.
I also realized how slowing down and using my own imagination while reading God’s Word guided me in engaging more richly with Scripture.
A New Way to Engage in a Centuries-Old Practice
You might be surprised to learn that using your imagination to engage with Scripture is a centuries-old tradition.
At the end of the 15th century, Saint Ignatius wrote about a new way to read stories from the Gospels. He called it “Gospel Contemplation.” His goal was to help people use their imagination to fully consider God’s Word.
This might sound strange at first. Can using our imagination reveal something new in God’s Word? The answer, of course, is no—God has already revealed everything he intended in Scripture, and we cannot add or subtract anything from his Word (Matthew 5:18). Similarly, we can’t understand the meaning of Scripture with our imagination. For that, we need to look at the facts and historical context.
Instead, this practice encourages us to step into biblical stories with our senses and view the characters around us as real people. Using our imagination and our knowledge of human experience, we can consider, for example, how Nicodemus felt when he met with Jesus in the middle of the night (John 3:1-21) or how Mary Magdalene felt when she saw her resurrected Savior outside the empty tomb (John 20:1-18).
When you picture Scripture, you don’t just engage with the passage and its meaning but also with the emotions that fill our hearts when we imagine ourselves in these stories. Picturing Scripture can help us experience biblical stories in a new way and apply God’s Word to our own lives.
How to Picture Scripture
You can incorporate your imagination into your Scripture engagement with these helpful steps from The Abide Bible.
Prepare Your Heart
Before you begin reading, make sure that you have the time and space to give your full attention to God’s Word. Try to ignore distractions. If you benefit from taking notes, make sure you have a journal with you. Begin with prayer, asking God to bless your time in his Word.
Read the Passage
Read your chosen passage at a thoughtful pace. Pay special attention to details you might not have noticed before. After you’re done reading, spend a few moments considering the passage before moving on to the next step.
Picture Yourself in the Story
Use your imagination to enter the story you read. You could imagine that you are a main character interacting with Jesus, or that you are an observer on the sidelines. As you watch what is happening around you, here are a few ways to fully engage your imagination:
- Look at the setting. What do you feel, hear, see, smell, and taste? If needed, use a study Bible or the internet to look up helpful contextual details that can enrich your understanding of a particular setting.
- Look at the people. What are they doing and saying? What do you say to them?
- Consider your emotions. What are you feeling as you imagine yourself in this Bible story? Do your emotions change throughout the story?
Pray for God’s Wisdom
As you close your time in God’s Word, pray and thank God for the stories included in Scripture. Ask him to help you learn from these stories and apply what you learn to your life.
Practice What You Learn
In your daily life, reflect on what you learned from picturing Scripture and seek to apply these lessons to your words, thoughts, and actions.
Encounter Biblical Stories Like Never Before!
Perhaps my favorite verse from the story of the woman at the well is found at the very end of the passage. Her neighbors tell her, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:42b NET).
Firsthand experience is a powerful thing! And, while we can’t physically walk with Jesus through Samaria, we can use our imagination to gain a fuller experience of the Bible by picturing Scripture. I hope you’ll join me in using this creative approach to deepen your engagement in God’s Word and draw closer to your heavenly Father!
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