How Does My Imagination Help Me Pray Better?

Femi Osunnuyi: I have never heard that question asked before and I wish that question had been asked before. That’s an absolutely brilliant question because I don’t think it’s often spoken about. What is the relationship between prayer and imagination? Everything! Let me give you an example. So, for those who are more medically inclined here, they probably would correct me, and I don’t want to be overly specific, but I do think this is correct. Our brain has about four broadly different systems, if you like, with the least developed being the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for our analytical functions and logical and conceptual reasoning and focuses more on the abstract.

So, for instance, when they are teaching you math in abstract forms like 4 + 4, your imagination is not involved; when you are just trying to solve things, you’re using your prefrontal cortex. Also, when solving syllogisms and different kinds of things that go with logical reasoning or when you’re reading non-fiction, that is the part that is much more activated. I’ll even add that when you are listening to certain kinds of sermons where they are breaking things down, like when Tomi was preaching from the passage about leprosy, what you are doing is expanding your understanding of leprosy. When we are joining things together like that, much more of our prefrontal cortex is being used.

Now, people have actually studied this in some ways; have you ever noticed that when you go for prayer meetings and people start talking too much about breaking things down, your prayers actually get shorter? If they preached about mercy, you tend to say, “Lord, make us more merciful; Lord, make us more merciful; Help me to show mercy to this person…” It’s the same thing when you’re doing your personal devotions, you’ve studied something and then you pray. What do you do? If you were maybe in a Presbyterian, High Baptist, or Anglican tradition, you’d have a nice, summarized prayer that encapsulates everything, and honestly, after you say that prayer, there’s not much else to say. Why is it though that when you go into Pentecostal circles somehow, mercy is the theme, but you don’t just say God make me merciful, you now start saying more things like, “… for blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy; Lord, don’t just make me merciful, enable me to obtain more mercy; Lord I pray that in your mercy you will bring me close to you…”How many of you have entered prayer where all of a sudden, it seems like vistas of things just are opening and there’s a clear difference? Have you also noticed that oftentimes – not necessarily all the time – that this happens when there is music around?

Have you often noticed how sometimes when you play music and you’re worshipping, when you start to pray, all of a sudden it seems like there are more words, you know why? Because you are not using your prefrontal cortex! Your music actually focuses on the part of your brain called the limbic system which is more focused on your emotions and imagination. So, sometimes people come and say, “Why is it that you are playing music when we are praying? Are you not just trying to manipulate?” No, we’re not trying to manipulate you, we’re just trying to hit you the way God has designed you. 

So, imagination is important because as we said, if I have focused so much on breaking things down and then it’s time to pray; when it comes to praying that Jesus actually intercedes for us, all I’m just going to remember is that I have an intercessor that is interceding for me, so Lord, help me intercede.” When our imagination is stirred up, all of a sudden you close your eyes and what do you see? You actually look and you almost see Jesus at the right hand of God interceding for you and then you are inspired. Imagination has everything to do with prayer, we see this when Stephen was being stoned. He was praying to God, but he said that he saw the heavens open.

If you want to improve your prayer life, I will say put the things around you that enable imagination. This is why I literally look for pictures and I have some particular songs that help me. So, let’s say I was listening to Phil Driscoll – I Love Phil Driscoll’s “I Exalt Thee. You know, Phil Driscoll was Nathaniel Bassey before Nathaniel Bassey, there’s the voice and then there’s the trumpet. And when he does “I Exalt Thee”, it just opens up Revelation 4 and 5, and Isaiah chapter 6 – the visions of the throne room of God. But if I simply just go there and read it, you know, it’s okay o, but there’s something when he starts doing that I Exalt Thee” and ah it’s something!

So, I’ll say guys if you want to improve your prayer life, if you want to extend it, use the things that fuel your imagination – music is one of those – and engage your limbic system. And once you start seeing pictures, all of a sudden you can extend your prayer time. Now, please don’t get me wrong I’m not saying the Word doesn’t matter or that thinking doesn’t matter, I’m saying that thinking matters and our imagination also matters.

Answered by Femi Osunnuyi lead pastor of City Church, a gospel-centred urban church in the city of Lagos. Because of his passion for church planting and leadership development, he also serves on the Lead Team of Acts29 and the Advisory Team of City to City Africa. He is happily married to Tosin and is father to Tofunmi and Timilehin.