Science has proved intelligence is fluid, not fixed. Our brains have an astounding capacity for growth, even as we grow older. This topic has intrigued me ever since I read the book “Who Switched Off My Brain” by Dr. Caroline Leaf. She is known as a leader in the field of neuroscience. She also did a great job showing how brain science lines up with Scripture as we see in the New Testament,
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Dr. Leaf identified ways our minds can be renewed and toxic thoughts can be swept away. There are times in our lives when we all have felt discouraged, unfocused and/or overwhelmed. My answer during these times has generally been to workout at the gym. But that’s only part of the solution. Dr. Leaf explained the mind-body connection in an understandable way.
One of my favorite authors in Kenneth Boa, President of Reflections Ministries. His writing on relational evangelism and discipleship have helped countless thousands in their spiritual journey. I am going though his latest book, “Life in the Presence of God” as part of my learning focus in The Master’s Program this year. Here are some excepts from his book along with some of my thoughts on the best ways to rewire our minds for spiritual growth.
Dr. Boa has two doctorate degrees from NYU and the University of Oxford yet he really lays out the cookies on the bottom shelf as Howard Hendricks, his late professor at Dallas Theological Seminary would say. Boa identifies neuroplasticity as the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, functionally and physically, especially in response to learning and training or following an injury. The brain is like a collection of muscles. The more you exercise and strengthen those muscles, the stronger they get. Just like Dr. Leaf shared, with training, we really can train our negative habits of thinking and doing, whether it’s believing lies we’ve heard over and over since childhood or maybe an ungrateful attitude, or a habit of gossiping. Neuroscience research teaches us that we can even change our desires, since our brain is involved in shaping not only our intellect but also our emotions and appetites.
Practice Tips: Spiritual Training and Neuroplasticity
We can apply the four principles of neuroplasticity to spiritual practices. Here are some ideas on how to do that.
*Focused Attention. Fix your mind on God. Find a place free of interruptions and distractions, away from your phone or email. Pray as you read your Bible, a physical one.
*Experience. God’s Word isn’t only meant to be read but to be cherished, hidden in our hearts and applied to our lives. I was discipled by The Navigators in college and an illustration which has reminded me of the active, balanced Christian life is the Wheel Illustration. Developed by Navs founder Dawson Trotman, the hub represents Christ with four equal spokes connecting into the source of life and power. Trotman believed this was a graphic model of the kind of disciples Christ wanted. Each part of the illustration represents a crucially important component of a vibrant Christian life—from the rim representing obedience to Christ, to the hub of Christ-centeredness, to each of the four spokes of witnessing, prayer, fellowship and the Word.
*Emotional Arousal. God created us as emotional beings and He commands us to “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires. What kinds of things do you love to do, drink or eat? Where’s your favorite spot to hang out? Do you have a favorite kind of music? Plan on combining these activities in fellowship with other believers or friends who are at other places on their spiritual journey. This releases the power of anticipation, when excitement over a future experience gives you a spring in your step today.
*Repetition. Make daily time for God, even just 10 minutes to start. You will find that your hunger to learn God’s Word and do what it says increases greatly. We are part of a new church plant in Fort Worth, Texas called Vibrant Church. Pastor Marco Johnson has artfully led the church to follow the 10/10 Plan: spending 10 minutes worshipping God and talking with God (through music, prayer) then 10 minutes reading or listening to your Bible.
I trust these habits will help you develop a vibrant relationship with Christ. Just like a young eagle initially spreading their wings, we may lift up for a time. Many times, after a few tries they are back on the ground. But through repeated practice the young eagles soar. May you experience what our Lord described as the reward of waiting on God through His prophet Isaiah more than 2,700 years ago:
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NLT)