June 8, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
If you wish to develop your imagination, by all means “think differently.” Be willing to think in new ways, to take risks, to unleash your imagination. Let the Spirit of God transform your thinking so that you might not be conformed to this world. As you do this, find companions who are willing to support you and encourage your creativity. Moreover, let your imagination be molded and inspired by the God whose “thoughts are not your thoughts.”
This devotion is part of the series, Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive.
My wife, Linda, and I were nervous as we began our first conference with our son’s kindergarten teacher. Nathan seemed to be doing well in school, but we were about to get his teacher’s perspective . . . the first official feedback on our son as a student.
Things started off well enough with Mrs. Bryant. She liked Nathan and spoke well of his participation in class. She did have a matter of concern, however. She showed us a picture Nathan had drawn of a tree with a treehouse in it. “The assignment,” she said, “was to draw a tree, just a tree. But he added a treehouse. I’m worried that Nathan may have a hard time following directions.”
I could see that my wife, an expert in early childhood education in addition to being Nathan’s mother, was not happy with Mrs. Bryant’s observation. But Linda responded calmly, “Nathan can follow directions just fine. He did draw a tree, as you can see. But he’s very creative. He added the treehouse because that’s the way his mind works. He’s got an active imagination. That’s part of who he is and we want to encourage that part of him.”
Mrs. Bryant listened attentively to what Linda said. “Well, that’s very interesting,” she responded. “If creativity is an important part of Nathan and the way he learns, then we will find ways for him to express it. We’ll work together on a strategy for Nathan to be creative in class. I’m so glad you explained that to me.” Mrs. Bryant followed through on her offer in a marvelous way, coming up with all sorts of opportunities for Nathan to be creative. She consistently affirmed the work he did that represented a different way of thinking. Mrs. Bryant was, in fact, the first of many teachers who helped Nathan realize his potential as an imaginative student.
According to Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, authors of Wired to Create, thinking differently is essential to creativity. “As we’ve seen,” they write, “the one absolutely essential ingredient of any type of creative achievement is thinking differently. In rejecting traditional ways of thinking, successful creative work defies standards and authority, causes trouble, and ultimately paves the way for real change” (p. 163). They go on to explain, “The creative act itself is one of breaking from tradition and routine in order to create new patterns, ask new questions, and seek new answers. Creative people march to the beat of a different drummer—themselves!” (p. 166).
I’m sure that’s true in a way. But I would suggest another perspective. Creativity comes, not only from marching to our own individual beat, but also from marching to the beat of a God who thinks differently. Through the prophet Isaiah God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). We can learn to think differently from the world around us by paying close attention to the thoughts and ways of God. The more our minds – including our imaginations – are formed to be like God, the more different we will think and therefore the more imaginative we will be.
This process of formation – indeed, of transformation – is something God does in us. As it says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” When we are transformed by God’s Spirit, our minds are set free to think differently. This freedom includes unleashing our imaginations to envision how redemption through Christ might take shape in the part of the world in which we have influence, in our workplaces and families, in our churches and neighborhoods, and in our studios and workshops.
Nathan’s imaginative capacity was unleashed, in part, by a wise kindergarten teacher who encouraged him to think differently. This suggests to me that even those who “march to the beat of a different drummer” can benefit from the support and encouragement of others. Without depending on approval from “the crowd,” we can be supported and emboldened by those who give us room to be imaginative and who celebrate our efforts, even when they are not successful.
Fast forward 25 years from Linda’s and my first meeting with Mrs. Bryant. This past week, we celebrated Nathan’s graduation with a Ph.D. in Film and Visual Studies. It was a fitting conclusion to his academic career that began years ago when he drew an unexpected treehouse in kindergarten. In Nathan’s Facebook post after his graduation, he commented on the process that led him to this season of accomplishment. This process, he wrote, “entirely depended on the loving care of family and friends and kind, curious, open and generous faculty mentors, who gingerly guided me from day to day, class to class, paper to paper, chapter to chapter, reception to reception, workshop to workshop, . . . for whom I will be forever grateful.” Beginning with Mrs. Bryant at Los Naranjos Elementary School and ending with his thesis advisor, Dr. Guiliana Bruno, professor of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard, with so many other fine teachers in between, Nathan has been given the freedom and encouragement to think differently, thus exercising his imagination, whether he’s drawing a treehouse or writing a dissertation on, and I quote, “the historical function of ‘media’ as a hermeneutic for relational ethics.”
So, yes, if you wish to develop your imagination, by all means “think differently.” Be willing to think in new ways, to take risks, to unleash your imagination. Let the Spirit of God transform your thinking so that you might not be conformed to this world. As you do this, find companions who are willing to support you and encourage your creativity. Moreover, let your imagination be molded and inspired by the God whose “thoughts are not your thoughts.”
Can you think of a time when you thought differently, using your imagination in a creative and ultimately productive way?
To what extent do you feel free to be creative?
Who are the people in your life who have helped you to use your imagination freely?
As you consider your answer to the previous question, think about how you might be an encourager of others when it comes to the imagination.
Gracious God, thank you for helping us not to be conformed to this world. Thank you for renewing our minds by your Spirit. Thank you for stirring our imaginations so that we might work and live in new, joyful, and productive ways.
Help us, we pray, to think differently. But may this happen because we are in a growing relationship with you. Your thoughts, Lord, are not our thoughts. You think differently in a unique and marvelous way. So help us, we pray, to think as you think.
Thank you for the people in our lives who have encouraged our creativity. Help us to imitate their example as we encourage others in the use of their imaginations. Amen.
Banner image by Josh Eckstein 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: Involving the Community in Your Decisions (Romans 12:1–3).
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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.