June 16, 2018 • Life for Leaders
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him…
Conceiving the inconceivable. Like the creation story, what once was “formless and empty” (Genesis 1:2 NIV) is given shape and content in our minds and hearts. Our imagination springs to life and something comes out of nothing. At its core, our imagination is the incubator of the Spirit. In the language of the Genesis account, “God’s Spirit brooded like a bird” over a “bottomless emptiness” (Genesis 1:2 MSG).
Perhaps nothing is more human than our ability to imagine. That should not surprise us. After all, humanity is created in the image of God. We are made in the likeness of the One who loves to create things out of nothing. Our core identity as God’s image bearers resonates like a plucked string when we create something new and original, something for the glory of God that serves the common good.
And, there are many ways for us to express our imagination. My wife is an artist. Her works of watercolor delight and amaze me with their beauty. It’s not hard to see her imagination at work, creating stunning paintings out of a blank sheet of paper and an ordinary palette of paints. It’s not so obvious in my work in business. Yet, whether it’s designing a new product, developing sustainable strategies to build a business, or figuring out ways to organize a group of people to work well together, all these require imagination too. In the myriad of human vocations, innumerable works large and small, multitudes of tasks mundane and extraordinary, imagination is the spark of life.
“How are you at bringing order out of chaos?” It’s one of my favorite questions for people interviewing for a new job. For me, that’s not just about a person’s ability to deal positively with rapid change, although that’s part of it. More importantly, it’s a question about the quality of their imagination, their ability to envision and embody a constructive future, rather than succumbing to the inherently disruptive and often destructive forces of change. In leadership, the importance of being a non-anxious presence in times of upheaval is well established. It is part of how we bring order out of the chaos of disordering change. Still, what gives us the ability to sustain a non-anxious presence? I would suggest that it’s our imagination that roots us in chaotic times.
But, there is another sense in which imagination is conceiving the inconceivable. In the way I’ve used the word so far, “conceiving” is the ability to envision. Another way to understand the word is to see it as the beginning of new life. Our imagination is a living receptacle, by which we bring something new and alive into the world, in response to the work of the Spirit. That insight is helpful for at least two reasons. First, our imagination is intended not merely to generate ideas, but to result in life. Ultimately, the purpose of the human imagination is embodied formation, not disembodied information. Second, the fruit of our imagination is not just the work of our own minds and hearts. It is the consequence of a relationship initiated by the Spirit of God, even when it goes unacknowledged by us, and even if we are unaware of the Spirit’s work within us. As today’s text reminds us, the good gifts that result from our imagination by the Spirit come from outside of us: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived.”
For those of us called into leadership, a vibrant imagination is not optional. It is essential to the way we serve those who follow us—that is why it is part of our leadership vows. Of course, we each express our imaginations differently, which too is the gift of God. Nevertheless, being those called to lead people into “the things God has prepared for those who love him,” we each must participate in conceiving the inconceivable.
Something to Do:
“The first step toward a more creative life is the cultivation of curiosity and interest, that is, the allocation of attention to things for their own sake” (Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by M. Csikszentmihalyi, p. 346). Take a few minutes today to stop and give deliberate attention to something in your life and work. What have you not noticed about it before? What about it surprises you?
Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life, we are grateful for your work of conceiving the inconceivable in us. First and foremost, we are grateful for the indescribable gift of birthing Christ in us, the hope of glory. Along with him we are grateful to receive all the needed wisdom, insight, skill, and virtue to live and work for your glory and the common good in this generation.
Help us to attend to the brooding work of your Spirit in the imagination of our hearts and minds this day. We ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
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