Tuning In Part 3: Imagination...or Seeing?
In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens opened and I saw visions of God.
With a certain degree of understatement and attention to chronological detail, the first verse in the book of Ezekiel introduces us to a series of remarkable visions and encounters with the Holy Spirit that whet my appetite for experiencing more of the realm of the ‘seer’. Ezekiel’s vision of the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord (1:28) had a profound affect on him, and echoes those of Isaiah, Daniel and John.
But as strange as some of Ezekiel’s visions are, prophetic ‘seeing’ is a very common way that many of us receive God’s revelation. When the Holy Spirit communicates with us in this way it is usually an internal process, and we perceive the content through our ‘mind’s eye’. This may be a simple still image or it could be a moving picture like a scene from a movie. Sometimes it will be very hazy, as if we have just glimpsed something out of the corner of our eye; at other times it may be incredibly sharp and detailed. Occasionally people receive what could be described as an ‘open-eye’ vision and they will see into the spiritual realm with their physical eyes as clearly as in the natural.
How do we know that what we are seeing is from God and not “just my imagination”? Over time we can learn to recognise the particular quality of God-given prophetic pictures. If the picture brings with it a sense of peace and life, and leads you deeper into God’s presence, then that’s a good indication that it’s from the Holy Spirit. So the next time you are praying or worshipping, pay attention if a visual image pops into your mind, and simply ask the Lord, “Is that you?”
Whatever means God uses to speaks to us (and we will all have a distinctive way of receiving revelation) it’s important to understand that the revelation itself is just the first part of the prophetic process: we also need to seek God for the interpretation and application. Discerning the interpretation of a prophetic picture is vital: it’s all too easy to attach our own interpretations to the revelation we have received. And the application of any prophecy – “What are we going to do in response?” – needs to be carefully worked out in order to ensure God’s words to us achieve their intended purpose.
Prophetic pictures and visions are the primary way I receive revelation from God, and over the years I’ve learnt that, as with all communication, they should be a relational, not functional, experience. If the Holy Spirit gives you a prophetic picture, see it as an opportunity to meet him and go deeper with him, rather than a puzzle to be solved. Visions and pictures are doorways to an encounter with God, and whenever he gives you one remember that this is an invitation to a conversation with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.