Jack Nicklaus, possibly the greatest golfer that ever played, said that 90% of his success was due to visualization. He played every shot in his head until he was completely confident that he could physically carry out what he'd already rehearsed.
Jesus said that we should see what we pray for as if we already have it.
So why aren't there more people playing really good golf, or receiving what they pray for?
Simple. We don't do the visualization. We skip that step, except for a cursory "I see myself in this picture."
Not terribly effective, unless you count wishful thinking as a good life strategy.
The whole point of visualization is preparation. In golf, it's preparing your body for a successful shot by preparing your mind for success.
Same thing in prayer. Seeing yourself receiving your prayers - really seeing the result - puts you hand in hand with Jesus in making sure it gets done.
Let's say you're praying for your troubled marriage. You don't want a divorce but your husband is out with his 20-year-old secretary five nights a week and you're looking at the pruning shears with a new eye.
What do you visualize? What do you see, in that healed relationship? Do you see yourself enjoying each other's company, the way you used to? Having quiet evenings at home, just being together?
(Stop thinking about the pruning shears, please.)
Those are the things to visualize, not with an "I wish" wistfulness, but with a Technicolor representation of your husband being the man he promised to be. You need to visualize the details - what he's wearing, how he's sitting, what his voice sounds like, what's on the end table, what lights are on. You need the whole package.
But what good does it do? You can maybe prepare yourself through visualization, but how can you affect someone else?
Turns out, you can. Try this trick - next time you're in the Food Curt at the mall, pick someone whose back is to you. Will that person to turn and look at you. Visualize the head turning, the direction it turns. Visualize the person's face, at least what you know of it.
Chances are that your 'target' will turn, and look in your direction, puzzled. Don't forget to smile back.
To the more complex marriage situation, Norman Vincent Peale (he of "The Power of Positive Thinking") once had a woman in his congregation whose husband was out gallivantin' with his secretary. he wanted a divorce.
She said, "All right - but I want sixty days before I agree."
He was puzzled, but didn't give it much thought as he went out the door. And out he went, night after night.
Meanwhile his wife was picturing him sitting in his old armchair, reading. She saw the curl of his hair, the folds of his clothes, and smelled the smoke of the pipe he smoked.
Night after night, he went out. Night after night, she saw him at home.
And then one night he hesitated on the way to the door, said, "I don't really feel like going anywhere", and sat down.
The next night he was out again, but his wife didn't quit.
More and more often he stayed home, until one night he was reading in his chair, and she said to him, "This is the sixtieth day."
He looked up, and said, "So?"
"After sixty days, I said I'd agree to a divorce, if you still wanted one."
He snorted, turned the page in his book, and said, "Don't be silly."