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More than I (Can) Imagine

Updated: May 8

This post is humiliating to write, but let us see if glory waits on the other side of mortification.

I came across these phrases in the Book of Common Prayer this morning:

Photo of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, mentioned by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

“O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding . . . . Your promises . . . exceed all that we can desire.” So says the collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

In this prayer, Thomas Cranmer echoes scriptures such as these:


“To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us . . .” (Ephesians 3:20).


“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ [Isaiah 64:4]—the things God has prepared for those who love him . . .” (I Corinthians 2:9).


It’s funny—and by “funny” I mean “pitiful, even contemptible”—that throughout my life when I have read or heard God’s promises of “such good things as surpass our understanding” prepared for his heirs, my mind has immediately gone to—well, where does your mind go?


My imagination has instantly and always conjured up grand houses on gorgeous properties: Château de Chambord meets Fallingwater meets Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild meets Three Forks Ranch on Lake Como meets Lake Louise meets Iguazu Falls meets the Maldives. (Yes, I have a flexible imagination!) Those houses naturally were equipped with garages stuffed with fabulous automobiles and motorcycles, and kitchens staffed with angelic chefs turning out gourmet meals from morning ‘til night.


Where my mind has never gone, until today, was to a very different range of possibilities “beyond what I could ask or imagine”: the fruit of the Spirit, the beatific vision, true fellowship with my co-believers, evangelistic successes, and shalom for all creation.

Sure, I would sometimes think of heavenly choirs and the great throne of God when I thought of the life to come. And I have taught at length on the new creation ahead of us as depicted in Revelation 21-22. But somehow these verses triggered in me very specific, very material aspirations.


Not once, until today, did “surpassing expectations” mean anything regarding personal growth, relational health, or the healing of the world. Instead, my mind would play some version—sorry, some personally curated version—of the execrable old TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Ugh. So awkward to confess.


Still, however belatedly it has come—and it is shameful for it to have come so late in life—it is a lovely thought:


• to be more confident and expectant of the Lord’s faithfulness than I can imagine;

• to be more thankful for God’s goodness than I can imagine;

• to be more joyful, no matter what, than I can imagine;

• to be more intimate and constant in my walk with God than I can imagine;

• to be more committed to holiness, justice, and love than I can imagine;

• to be more powerful in the Spirit to advance the Kingdom than I can imagine;

• to be in closer and happier fellowship with my wife, my kin, my friends, and my neighbours than I can imagine;

• to be more content than I can imagine....


For human society to be truly cooperative in every way; for all of creation to be brimming and humming and laughing without fears or tears; and for God to be fully, finally, and always all in all—the imagination reels in wonder, even disbelief, and barely dared hope.


If I had only traced the quoted scriptures back to their original contexts, however, I would have seen that the Apostle knew very well what mattered most. And he said so in the verses on either side.


How much better are these hopes than mere creature comforts! And how lovely it will be to have those comforts “added unto you,” in whatever version our loving, creative Parent sees fit to bestow when I finally have my priorities straight and my loves properly ordered. Then I will enjoy them in the proper way, amid the greater glories of the spiritual and relational.


Even so, come, Lord Jesus—and come today afresh into my heart to purify, correct, and enlarge it with the values and virtues of the world to come. I dare not rest content with aspirations to wander around the houses and grounds of the great King when I have been invited inside for an audience—and even supper!

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