Are we to have visuals in our mind as we pray?

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John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
E.g the Psalms have vivid descriptions of nature.. the heavens, metaphors like God is a rock.. a shield.. many times we read of cherubims and the throne of God..

Can all these visuals be in our minds with a few caveats? I.e:

Do not focus on one item too long
Do not be too weary in imagining things
Do no think imagine Christ or God vainly

I cannot help but think we can. The Psalms as a model of prayer necessitates this. When I imitate the Psalms to think that God is my rock, I do not think that I am to withhold thinking of a rock vaguely. The impression of a rock leads me to think of God's attributes (we do not focus on the object by itself). And I think it is a huge leap to say, Psalms and the language of the bible are models of prayer BUT do not think of them as you pray (or even sing or worship for that matter!).
 

hLuke

Puritan Board Freshman
Good point, John.
The thing that might make visualising during prayer problematic is the false pictures we will inevitably create of an Almighty, Eternal, and Invisible God. It is probably okay to visualise the miracles of God and perhaps even His glories revealed in creation, but we should be weary visualising anything related to the appearance or character of God, lest we make God a figment of our own imagination. Perhaps that falls under "not imagin[ing] God in vain."
Reciting the words of scripture in our heads. Or even try visualising the name of Christ, just not his appearance or inexpressible attributes!
 
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jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Why visualize? I love praying while observing the night sky: the heavens declare the glory of God.
 

B.L.

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm a very visual learner/thinker and I've had to be very intentional about not visualizing things while praying. While some pictures may very well be harmless, the mind (mine at least) is prone to flash imagery almost unannounced and unexpectedly at times. Perhaps to a certain extent this is unavoidable. This is actually one reason why I personally don't like books that illustrate scenes from the Bible. I wouldn't describe visuals while praying as sinful generally speaking, but I would describe it as a distraction at best with some potential to enter into very dangerous waters. your mileage may vary on this.

The mind is incredibly powerful...one reason why we are reminded to be constantly renewing it and watching what we consume. I have often wondered about Christian traditions (Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans) that are big on religious icons and imagery and whether those things aren't etched into their minds forever presenting a perpetual stumbling block.

A bit of a tangent of sorts, but related to the mind...I had a Christian friend many years ago who struggled mightily with p0rn0graphy. He was in his 30s at the time and had spent over a decade heavily immersed in it. One thing I've never forgotten about learning of his struggles was him telling me he found it easier to pray with his eyes open because when he closed them his mind would pull up vile wretched images of what he had seen in the past.
 
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chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
E.g the Psalms have vivid descriptions of nature.. the heavens, metaphors like God is a rock.. a shield.. many times we read of cherubims and the throne of God..

Can all these visuals be in our minds with a few caveats? I.e:

Do not focus on one item too long
Do not be too weary in imagining things
Do no think imagine Christ or God vainly

I cannot help but think we can. The Psalms as a model of prayer necessitates this. When I imitate the Psalms to think that God is my rock, I do not think that I am to withhold thinking of a rock vaguely. The impression of a rock leads me to think of God's attributes (we do not focus on the object by itself). And I think it is a huge leap to say, Psalms and the language of the bible are models of prayer BUT do not think of them as you pray (or even sing or worship for that matter!).
Are you thinking of a rock vaguely or specifically? I'm not sure the technical psychological term, but you can think of a generic rock as a metaphor without visualizing a particular rock in your mind's eye.

I do the same when I pray. Think of God on his thrown listening to my prayer, but I don't visualize anything specific, if that makes sense. Or Jesus interceding or the Spirit helping in my weakness (Rom. 8:26).
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
It is impossible not to visualize while we pray or read the gospels. I hear folks speak of the sin of mental images of Christ, but just try to read of His miracles without imagining the events to take place. You cannot do it. This would mean that reading about the works of Christ would cause you to sin.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
It is impossible not to visualize while we pray or read the gospels. I hear folks speak of the sin of mental images of Christ, but just try to read of His miracles without imagining the events to take place. You cannot do it. This would mean that reading about the works of Christ would cause you to sin.
I concur. Contrary to what someone somewhere might think, it really is possible to be overly scrupulous.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
God tells us not to make images of him because he has no physical form (Deuteronomy 4:15ff). Since a rock does have physical form, it's okay to make images of rocks. In fact, the rock imagery is helpful if we are to understand what the symbolism of "The Lord is my Rock" is teaching us about God. The rock's physical attributes matter: We see its imposing size. We feel its tough surface. We hear the crack as we pound in a stake. We rely on its strength as we pull against that stake. In these ways, something seen and visual—by its very physicalness—allows us to better apprehend God who is unseen. Many times in Scripture he invites us to use the senses he has given us, including our eyes, to better understand and know him.

Of course, it would be a mistake to picture the rock and say, "There. That's a picture of God. Now I know what he looks like!" But imagining a rock in order to understand the symbolism is a different mental exercise.
 

B.L.

Puritan Board Sophomore
It is impossible not to visualize while we pray or read the gospels. I hear folks speak of the sin of mental images of Christ, but just try to read of His miracles without imagining the events to take place. You cannot do it. This would mean that reading about the works of Christ would cause you to sin.

This might sound like a distinction without much of a difference, but visualizing God in some way while praying to Him is different than forming a picture in your mind of what a particular event in the Bible may have looked like. Prayer is an act of worship. As such, I think there is wisdom in guarding one's imagination.

God tells us not to make images of him because he has no physical form (Deuteronomy 4:15ff). Since a rock does have physical form, it's okay to make images of rocks. In fact, the rock imagery is helpful if we are to understand what the symbolism of "The Lord is my Rock" is teaching us about God. The rock's physical attributes matter: We see its imposing size. We feel its tough surface. We hear the crack as we pound in a stake. We rely on its strength as we pull against that stake. In these ways, something seen and visual—by its very physicalness—allows us to better apprehend God who is unseen. Many times in Scripture he invites us to use the senses he has given us, including our eyes, to better understand and know him.

Of course, it would be a mistake to picture the rock and say, "There. That's a picture of God. Now I know what he looks like!" But imagining a rock in order to understand the symbolism is a different mental exercise.

Similar to my thoughts above I think there is an important difference between using imagery to better comprehend God's attributes and literally picturing God as a rock when praying to Him.

One might not actually think "There. That's a picture of God. Now I know what he looks like!"...but in the context of prayer what's the difference, exactly? The person prayed to God imagining Him as a physical rock. Lol.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
God compares himself to a hen, so now I need to guard against thinking about chickens anytime when I pray.
 
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