My Question: What is a biblical perspective on visualization?

(andrew dascoli) #1

Hi everyone,
Hope you can share some insight on the topic of Visualization.
Here is how I have seen visualization described: An increasingly common method of “peak performance” in the business world is commonly known as -visualization. We hear of many athletes using this technique as well as others in a variety of fields.

I am trying to come to a place of understanding of this from a biblical perspective. 1st - for my own benefit. 2nd-I am in various positions of leadership and want to be able to enhance or rebuff this approach as is appropriate.

I understand just because we visualize that we want to be ruler of the free world (:grinning:), does not mean that it will come to pass. But from a practical perspective, it seems advantageous to apply this practice to seeing or practicing in your mind’s eye before a specific event. The scripture speaks of having a vision ( without a vision my …). Should this be considered a similar concept. I realize this probably bleeds into a bigger topic but I would like to at least begin the conversation.

How would you evaluate visualization from a biblical perspective?”

Thank you for your input !

(SeanO) #2

@ajtravels Very interesting question. I do not have a lot of experience with visualization, but here are my initial thoughts.

I do not think that ‘visualization’ perse is a Biblical concept.

Proverbs 28:18 says - Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Usually we only hear the first half of this verse and then a speech about giving to a building fund. But I think it is very important that the second half of the verse exhorts us to keep God’s law - especially since in Hebrew poetry stanzas are often parallel. The ‘vision’ being spoken of is the law of God. Nehemiah also, together with Ezra, restored God’s temple and His law.

I think the Biblical concept is rooted firmly in God being at the center of life and does not translate directly into motivational speeches for athletes or business men trying to succeed through techniques like ‘visualization’. I think Biblical success is much more about a way of life that honors God’s law and God’s Kingdom.

However, I do not think visualization is wrong and I certainly think, remembering back to my soccer days as a goalkeeper, that keeping your eyes on the ball and staying focused are important for success.

Like you (with your example of ruler of the free world) I have met people while evangelizing who actually thought they could control reality through techniques like visualization - which is obviously bonkers.

So - I think it is fine to use visualization to focus on the goal and I agree it is helpful in that regard, but I do not think - though someone else may be able to show me otherwise - that it is the same as the Scriptural concept.

Were you thinking along the same lines? Do you actually give motivational talks? How did you get involved in that line of work?

(Andrew Bulin) #3

I’m not very pastoral, but a professor mentioned that a church has a difficult time if the pastor lacks vision. I would also add to that a vision of what the Lord wills is above all most important.

Here is what one of my favorite books on leadership (cited below) has to say about how transforming leaders visualize outcomes:

Effective leaders create compelling visions that can guide people’s behavior. They are able to visualize positive outcomes in the future and communicate them to others. Leaders also listen to the dreams of others and show them how their dreams can be realized. Through inspiring visions, leaders challenge others to transcend the status quo to do something for others. [1]

It is interesting to think how the secular world talks about visualizing success which may or may not come to pass, while Christians can visualize and have faith in God’s will, which is likely more tangible. It reminds me of when Elisha’s servant was not able to visualize God taking care of them and lost heart. But rather that visualizing an ideal, Elisha prayed and his servant was able to literally visualize the angels all around (2 Ki. 6:15-20).

[1] Peter G. Northouse, 2016. Leadership: Theory and Practice, 7th ed (Los Angeles: Sage), 174.

(SeanO) #4

@andrew.bulin You made a very good point in that what Elisha visualized was real - the angels were actually present. Whereas ‘visualization’ is about imagining what you want to be true to help you focus. I think this is a key difference for me - the Bible focuses on God as the root reality - He is our vision. Visualization focuses on our own wants and desires as the root reality - focusing on those to bring them to pass.

What are your guys’ thoughts on Church leaders claiming their vision is the will of God? Versus creating a vision that aligns with love God and love neighbor and then seeing what doors God opens and doing your best to walk through them?

(Andrew Bulin) #5

Primarily, I think scripture, prayer, and fellowship with trusted believers will help in discerning more clearly God’s will. You and I’ve talked about how church tradition can show whether or not we are following a tried heresy. :grinning:

When we talk about visualizing goals, I’ve seen leaders manage to do the whole thing without consulting God and His word. I guess from my perspective, Christians may need to “visualize” what God knows and promises to unfold.

My family has been having to visualize a lot of changes within our lives and this passage has been on my mind constantly this year:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
— James 4:13-17 NASB

(andrew dascoli) #6

It seems there is two “visions” or visualizations being spoken of here (maybe even 3).
For me, I live in the world of business and high performance. Visualization is often spoken about. Clearly visualization of walking through a series of steps to complete-for the purpose of success, can be a powerful tool.
But where is the line where it becomes some sort of “conjuring” or metaphysical action?

I want to honor the Lord in all things as my basis for life. This is where the root of my question sits. I have spoken about visualization as a positive at time to others. I am known to be a christian in my circles. So I feel the weight of that and want to represent the Lord properly. I also view life maybe a bit more holistically than some others. What I mean by that is that I dont blame God for cancer when I smoked cigarettes my whole life ( just an example). I dont get mad at God when I have eaten nothing but processed food and soda for months and then begin to get migraines (an example). I see life as using all the resources that God has provided including common sense and wisdom, even if it is not expressly in the scripture, in order to serve and provide the best version of myself to help others see God. Sometimes this has me “leaning on my own understanding”. Which I am aware of and essentially leads to my asking this question on visualization.
I exercise because it is common wisdom ( all real wisdom comes from God Almighty)
I eat right ( mostly) because science says so ( all real science was established by God Almighty )
I want to use visualization if it is biblically appropriate.
All that to say… where is the line where it becomes metaphysical ( without relying on God) vs a tool for appropriate use to build and serve the Kingdom?

(SeanO) #7

@ajtravels After more thought, I think the line has to do motivation, content and trust.

Motivation - Our motivation must be to love God and love others - if at any time our motives become self-seeking, that is a heart problem

Content - Paul said that we should think on things that are “true, honorable, lovely, just, pure, commendable” and “renew our minds” and David often remembered God’s victories in his life to bolster his confidence

Trust - In the Old Testament the Israelites always got in trouble for trusting foreign kings and the size of their armies rather than God. So - obviously - visualization and similar techniques could draw our trust - our hearts - into the wrong place. We must trust in God alone. Visualization cannot grant us victory - only God can grant us victory.

I think the Christian who is visualizing themselves catching the winning touchdown at the super bowl or closing a huge business deal must ask themselves the more fundamental question - what is my greatest vision? What vision captures my heart?

If the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ is not right - then visualizing is simply vein imagining - winning the super bowl for fame, riches, or honor is living for self-glory rather than God-glory. Our God-vision must be greater than any other vision in our lives.

Tim Keller defines an idol as:

"It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.
End Quote

I think one key danger of visualization is that it could fan the flames of idolatry - God must be our highest vision. If God ever ceases to be our highest vision and something else has caught our mind’s eye - our heart - we our in trouble as Christians.

Proverbs 4:23 - Above all else, guard your heart (imagination), for everything you do flows from it.

Is that helpful???

(David Roeder) #8

Col 3:1-4
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

This verse comes to mind when I think of filtering all I see in this world through a lens of God’s truth revealed to us in His Word. Am I tracking with what has been said thus far?

(Helen Tan) #9

One way of looking at visualization is to see it as a God-given tool that’s neutral. Used in a God-honoring and Holy Spirit-guided way, visualization enables us to break out of the limitations set by our earthly senses. It is tied up with the gift of imagination to enable us to see what God has done and has in store for us. It enables us to travel to the past, view the present and anticipate the future in our minds, and can be the means through which God guides us. Here are some verses which I think highlight where visualization can be applied:

  • Faith - Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
  • Guidance/direction - Joel 2:28 tells us: And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

As with any gift, it can be abused. Several years ago, I attended a seminar which was marketed as one for memory improvement. Unwittingly, I had walked into a New Age Seminar where visualization techniques were taught. It became clear that there was some kind of power in visualization and yet, I “saw” something vile and evil in it which made me recoil and warned me against going there. The same thing happened to a fellow Christian whom I met at the seminar. So, for sure, this gift can be abused.

Yet, I see the beauty of it in what @Rachel_Davis posted in the Members Lounge about a therapist who works with women in prostitution in South America. She was given the vision of a dancing warrior which propelled her forward, and proclaims, “ To what song are you dancing? I was dancing to the rhythm of my circumstances, my fears, my own lies, my impossibilities. But suddenly I realized that there was a song that was waiting for me, a melody inviting me to dance as a warrior, one to help me realize who I truly am. God has made me a restorer of broken purposes!”

(SeanO) #10

@kardiaccny In my opinion using the language of the apostle Paul - ‘renewing our mind’ - ‘setting our minds on that which is above’ - is healthier than using the word ‘visualization’ since it is often associated with seeking altered states of consciousness, altering reality by our will power/thoughts or other unBiblical practices.

If I understand correctly, @Helen_Tan and @andrew.bulin have also offered helpful perspectives on how the Scriptures use the idea of visualizing - in the sense of dreams, visions and godly thoughts - to stir people on to greater things for His Kingdom. In that sense, whether visualization is good or bad depends upon how it is used rather than upon the mechanism itself.

(Andrew Bulin) #11

@SeanO, right you are.

It also seems to me that we have a sense of a possible reality outside of what is before us. As Christians, we may understand that maybe due to living in a fallen world, we see God as through a veil when we were intended to walk with Him in a world that is still called “good.” Maybe it’s no wonder so many people share a common dialogue in matters of spirituality or when it comes to “visualizing” something better for yourself. A life spent walking with the Lord means He can give you the reality of His projected will, rather than the other way around.

Before I embarked on yielding to missions, I tried so very hard to visualize and make myself a self-made man. I scratched at what now looks like crumbs compared to how much God has blessed me. I do not believe we are talking about separate things, but that they have all manifested as related in my life at one common point: I can try my best to forge a life by how I visualize it, or yield to God’s will completely, crucifying my own, which is so much greater than what I can possibly “visualize” with the keenest of imaginations. Since yielding to Him, my reality has been altered and I’m on a much better path. As an adopted son in the Christian family, I have to work at having faith in His projected will, not visualizing my own.