There’s a lot written about visualization practices in meditation. From making what you want to happen come about because of visualizing it, to actual possession by demonic spirits, visualization is not something to be trifled with. While imagination is one thing, for Christians to use visualization in its true definition can be perilous.
The Definition of Visualization
John Weldon and John Ankerberg of the Christian Research Institute wrote, “Visualization is the use of mental concentration and directed imagery in the attempt to secure particular goals, whether physical, psychological, vocational, educational, or spiritual. Visualization attempts to program the mind to discover inner power and guidance.”
They continue: “From a biblical perspective there is little reason to doubt that visualization techniques can and do result in the contact of genuine spirit beings, however they may be redefined as part of the human imagination or ‘nervous system.’ Until recent times, visualization had been relegated to occultists and shamans. But now, medical doctors, athletes, teachers, artists, businesspersons, and even clergy are employing new, updated forms of visualization.
“Unfortunately, because many psychologists, physicians, and others have little understanding of the mechanics of spiritual deception, they have unknowingly allowed themselves to become pawns in a battle whose players are invisible to them. … It is important to distinguish imagination and imagery from visualization proper.” (John Weldon and John Ankerberg, “Visualization, Part Two,” https://www.equip.org/articles/visualization-part-two/; updated July 31, 2022.)
In contrast, by using parables, Jesus asked people to use their imagination to more deeply understand the Word of God. The story of the Good Samaritan serves as a classic example. From Luke 10:25-37:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’”
What Jesus said, essentially, is: Imagine this man. Let your mind picture this scene. How does God want you to respond?
But far from being the same thing as the visualization techniques that others tout for bringing about a desired healing, habit change, or some other outcome in your physical life, Jesus’ words open your eyes to spiritual truth about God and his Kingdom.
Where the Power to Change Comes From
Visualization, in its most recognized form, proposes a way for you to connect with your “inner deity”; to that part of you that proponents think can change anything, produce anything, accomplish anything.
Programmed visualization, Weldon and Ankerburg tell us, “is the deliberate use of the power of your own mind to create your own reality….there is nothing too insignificant or too grand for you to visualize. Our lives are limited by what we see as possible….A basic rule of visualization is: you can use visualization to have whatever you want, but YOU MUST REALLY, REALLY WANT WHAT YOU VISUALIZE. (emphases in original).” (John Weldon and John Ankerberg, “Visualization Part One”; https://www.equip.org/articles/visualization-part-one/; Updated July 31, 2022.)
On the contrary, Jesus tells us in John 15: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
Our purpose on earth revolves around building God’s Kingdom. To do all that we can to abide in Christ and let him work through us to bear good fruit.
There are some very concerning teachings out there that proclaim, “If you see it, you can seize it!” Visualize the car that you want, the home that you want, the romantic partner that you want. Visualize your body healing from whatever is wrong with it. Your mind has the power to change things, they say.
Jesus as the Source of Healing
When Jesus healed people, he did so by the touch of his hand. He did not ask people to visualize themselves whole. In fact, when Jesus was tempted by the devil during his 40 days in the desert, Satan took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him—had him visualize—all that could be his if Jesus would only bow down and worship him. Jesus responsed: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Unless your imaginings align with Scripture and show you truth about Jesus, they come dangerously close to opening you up to occultism. Is it okay to put pictures of astronauts on your wall when you’re a kid, and imagine yourself being one someday? Of course. That’s a hope and a dream that you can pursue, leaving the results to God.
Although it may seem like a thin line between imagining and visualizing, Weldon and Ankerburg remind us that visualization differs from imagery. Although visualization uses imagery, the imagery is deliberately aimed at a specific objective.
Holy Spirit-filled imagining will always lead you to a deeper understanding of God’s power, not your own. When we reflect on God’s Word, meditating on his precepts, we allow ourselves to understand more fully that there is a God who is all powerful, all knowing, and loves us unconditionally. We do not have power within ourselves to change our health or our circumstances, but we know the God who does have that power.
In Abide meditations, when you are asked to imagine a scene like a calm forest or peaceful meadow, it helps you release your cares to God, be peaceful in the moment, and hear God’s voice more clearly.
Biblical imagining allows for no outside influences, including spirit guides or “voices”, to enter your mind. On the contrary, biblical imagination and meditation saturate your mind with God’s Word, leaving no space for any other voice to enter.