This week we're going to engage with Scripture in a different way through a practice called "Imaginative Prayer." Bear with me, it's not that weird. Developed by St. Ignatius in the mid 1500s as one of his Spiritual Exercises, Imaginative Prayer provides an opportunity to enter specific moments in Jesus’ life and thereby share his experience.
Imaginative Prayer is not the same as Bible study. It is more an exercise of the imagination than of the intellect. It involves allowing the Spirit of God to help you imaginatively enter an event in the life of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. By creatively placing yourself in the story, God may reveal to you insights you've never seen before or speak words of truth in a new way.
Follow these steps before you read today's passage:
- First, take a moment to quiet yourself in God’s presence. Take a few deep breaths and set aside any distractions.
- Close your eyes and ask God to take the Scripture and by the power of his Spirit, make them God’s Word to you.
- Then slowly read the following account several times-preferably out loud and pay attention to any details you notice. Are you a bystander? Or are you a certain character in the story? What resonates with you as you read the passage and put yourself in it?
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the welland drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
So what was that experience like for you? What did you notice as you imagined yourself in the story? Was there a detail, word, or phrase that seemed to resonate more than others?
God has been bringing me back to this passage for the last 4 years- at church, during random small group Bible studies, at conferences, and in books I've been reading. At first, I thought it was just a coincidence that John 4 kept showing up in my life. But the more time I spent engaging with the passage, the more I realized that God was inviting me into something deeper.
As I've read this passage over and over, the words, "You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep," strike a chord every time. What the heck is that all about? As I've spent the last several years talking with God about this phrase, I realized something important about myself.
The last 4 years have involved a lot of disillusionment and shattered hope. Over that time, a dear loved one walked away from their faith. Shortly after, I discovered that I might not be able to have children. And in the last year, my parents (after over 35 years of marriage) abruptly separated and divorced. Many of my tender hopes and dreams for the future seemed to die. My deep well of longings- for family, for love, for God's Kingdom to come- felt like a gaping hole with no hope of being filled.
God was revealing that I had been saying the words of the Samaritan woman to him,
"God, you have nothing to draw with and my well is so deep. How can you meet these deep longings- for family, for a legacy of faith, for love- when you have taken them away?"
"God, you have nothing for me."
Through Imaginative Prayer in John 4, God exposed my deep pain and anger. And he didn't do it to shame or condemn me. He did it so that I would face him with honesty. So that I would hear him say in response, "Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
So that I would receive lasting healing and fulfillment from him and nothing else.
God will care for my deep longings in his way- but perhaps not in the way I think it should look. He promises to fill me with his "water" that brings eternal life. And no one and no "thing"- not family, not a child, not titles, not substances- can make that promise.
So what about you? Are there things or people in your life that you are expecting to fill your deepest longings? How's that going for you? Is it really working?
What would it look like for you to receive God's promise of eternal life, eternal fulfilment of our deepest longings?
To continue to engage creatively, watch this video of John 4 from Twentyonehundred Productions: