May 14, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Genesis 12:10-13 (NRSV)
Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.”
Our imaginations will dream up all sorts of things in our minds. Some will lead to blessing; others will lead to suffering. Our responsibility is to take what our imaginations conjure up and consider it in light of God’s grace and truth. We mustn’t let our lives be governed by imagination-inspired fear. Rather, we must learn to trust God in all things.
This devotion is part of the series, Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive.
In last Thursday’s devotion, I introduced the notion of “the downside of imagination.” Though human imagination was part of the goodness of God’s creation, it had the potential to lead human beings away from faithfulness to God. That’s exactly what happened in Genesis 3, when the first woman “saw” goodness in the forbidden fruit, an imaginary moment that led to sin’s entrance into the world.
A few chapters later in Genesis we see another striking example of the downside of imagination. In the opening verses of Genesis 12, Abram is revealed to us as a person of extraordinary faith in God. He trusted God to such an extent that he took his wife and his possessions and left everything to go to a land God had promised to him.
But when famine plagued that land, Abram led his wife, Sarai, down to Egypt so they could find food. As they were about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account” (12:11-13). When Sarai did as Abram had said, she was “taken into Pharaoh’s house,” either as one of his wives or as a member of his harem. Abram was spared, but Sarai’s life was profoundly jeopardized.
Now, you may know that this story ended happily enough. God afflicted Pharoah, who then discovered the truth about Sarai’s marriage to Abram. She was delivered from her bondage and her family escaped unscathed from Egypt. God has a way of graciously delivering us from all sorts of terrible situations we bring upon ourselves.
What strikes me as I reflect upon this story is how it reveals the downside of imagination. Why did Abram ask his wife to lie so that her honor and marriage were imperiled? Because of his response to his imagination. He imagined that Sarai’s beauty would lead the Egyptians to kill him. This imaginary vision caused him to be afraid for his life. Thus, he chose to put Saria at considerable risk.
I have never done anything quite like this in my life, thanks be to God. But I can think of many times when I imagined bad things happening and responded by acting in ways that were neither wise nor helpful. For example, I think of a time early in my pastoral career when someone told me about a decision my boss had made that greatly distressed me. I was angry and disappointed. I imagined all sorts of things about my boss: what he was thinking, how little he cared about me, and so forth. I worked myself into quite a tizzy that lasted for a couple of days. When I was finally able to speak to my boss, I was ready to let him have it.
But thanks be to God, before I unleashed my wrath I asked him about the situation. He reported to me what he had actually decided. It wasn’t at all what I had been told. I was relieved, of course, and glad that I didn’t let loose all over my boss. Later, I reflected on how I had let my imagination run wild and how unhelpful that had been to me. I spent hours and hours worrying because I let my imagination run wild.
It was not necessarily sinful for Abram to imagine what might have happened when he and Sarai went to Egypt. Our minds can conjure up all sorts of things. But how much better it would have been for that man of faith to steward his imagination more wisely, indeed, more faithfully. When fearing that the Egyptians would take his life, suppose Abram had said to himself, “I am afraid they will kill me. But God has been faithful in the past. I’m going to trust God once again to protect me and my family when we are in Egypt. Lord, I trust myself to you once again. Please protect me.”
Our imaginations will consistently present to our consciousness all sorts of possibilities. Some of these may lead to blessings. Others may lead to suffering. Our responsibility is to take what our minds imagine and present it before the Lord. We need to weigh its truthfulness, to examine its validity. Our actions must follow, not from the free exercise of our imaginations, but rather from the thoughtful, prayerful choices of our Scripture-guided, Spirit-inspired will. Unlike Abram, we must continually ask ourselves, “If God is faithful, what does it mean for me to act faithfully in response?”
Can you think of a time in your life when your imagination led you to make a poor choice? If so, why did you follow your imagination in that situation?
When you imagine painful or scary things, what do you do? How do you evaluate what your imagination conjures up?
Given how faithful God has been in the past, why is it sometimes hard for us to trust God for the future?
Talk with a wise friend or your small group about how your imagination can lead to good things or bad things.
Gracious God, thank you for the honesty of Scripture. It would be so easy for the Bible to be “cleaned up,” with stories about biblical heroes scrubbed clean or eliminated. I am grateful for stories like the one we find in Genesis 12, where we see a person of great faith making unwise and unfaithful decisions. I can relate to that, Lord.
Help me, I pray, to weigh rightly the things my mind imagines. Help me to reject that which is contrary to your will and your faithfulness. Help me to be governed, not by imagination-inspired fear, but by wise trust in you.
Also, I ask that you would inspire my imagination for good. May I see goodness that I might otherwise overlook because your Spirit is active within me. Amen.
Banner image by JR Korpa on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Abraham’s Journey Begins with Disaster in Egypt (Genesis 12:8-13:2).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.