Originally posted at: http://applyingmybeliefs.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/rewiring-the-brain-part-one/
I have written what we in Merimnao (the ministry I run) call an “educational advisory”, a item of interest to those of us who serve, volunteer or participate in our work. This on is on the subject of brain rewiring as a part of God’s healing mechanisms. This post will introduce the subject and cover the first four individual activities we can get involved in that will help our brains rewire.
Did you know that the brain can be rewired? In fact there is a whole area of medical science that deals with this; it is called Neuroplasticity. Here is a basic definition of this, (taken from the about.com website), although there are many similar definitions available.
- Brain plasticity, also known as Neuroplasticity or cortical remapping, is a term that refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. Up until the 1960s, researchers believed that changes in the brain could only take place during infancy and childhood. By early adulthood, it was believed that the brain’s physical structure was permanent. Modern research has demonstrated that the brain continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones in order to adapt to new experiences, learn new information and create new memories.
Neuroplasticity goes on throughout our lives and is the key to recovering from physical brain damage, as with stroke patients – and, surprise, recovering from many other things such as a life of dysfunctional behaviors, being a psychological trauma victim and from addictions!
Within Merimnao we deal with individuals who are brokenhearted; that is they may carry wounds, have issues, are anxious or depressed and generally don’t function as well as God designed them to. Our role is one of coming alongside these individuals and assisting God as He does His healing work in them. One of the things we all have to do, in the context of healing, is to educate those God sends to us about His ways. Neuroplasticity is part of God’s created design in humans, and we suspect other creatures too.
We have identified seven activities that any person can engage in that will rewire their brain. Each of these has been proven to work by modern science, and there is plenty of free information on the internet about all the research that has been done in recent years. Of course God has been encouraging us to do each of these since the beginning of time; the scientists are finally catching up! First we’ll list them, and then we’ll discuss each of them.
- Meditation, Prayer, Laughter, Rituals, Gratitude, Service and Music.
The spiritual discipline of meditation is also known as mindfulness in modern psychological literature, in the scriptures it is often called “thinking about.” It has been around for thousands of years and all the major religions that have survived through time practice it at some level. Here are just a couple of useful scriptures:
Ps 19:14 – Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. ESV
Phil 4:8-9 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ESV
There are literally hundreds of definitions of meditation that give us a plethora of explanations for what it is. As Christ-followers we probably ought to ignore all of them, even the so-called Christian descriptions, and concentrate on whatever the scriptures actually say.
Our perspective is that we would be well served to meditate as described in Philippians 4:8-9. And even more specifically acknowledge that all of God’s word fits the criteria the Apostle Paul laid out in that short passage (true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise) so that we can trust it to guide our meditations better than our normal wandering minds might, because they are so susceptible to worldly interference.
So then, our view is that the safest and most healing form of meditation begins with pondering over something from God’s word. The Holy Spirit will honor this, and part of God’s process of healing, the rewiring of the brain, will be occurring.
This is also a spiritual discipline, and is often linked with meditation, but it is different. Where meditation might be thought as a time of trying to experience God in our soul processes, prayer is our method of two-way communication with our creator; it is a conversation with God. God says many things about prayer in His word, here are some of the things He says that are relevant in our discussion of brain rewiring:
Matt 6:6 – But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. ESV
Luke 5:16 – He would withdraw to desolate places and pray. ESV
1 Thess 5:17 – Pray without ceasing. ESV
Jude 20 – But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit. ESV
In this sample of prayer scriptures we see some important principles laid out.
- Pray privately and intimately to God, make it a one-on-one conversation when it is possible.
- Get away from the distractions of life.
- Pray about everything.
- Believe that prayer builds you up in your faith, think of it as exercising a faith muscle.
As we converse with God He will reveal things to us and work with us in our minds and while He speaks with us, He rewires our brains.
This is not a spiritual discipline, but it might be just as important. This is what the Bible says about this:
Prov 17:22 – A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. ESV
This was written about 3,000 years ago, and is just as true today. Laughter has a way of filling us up and helping to redirect our thinking away from areas that get us into difficulty. It helps to reduce anxiety, reduce depression and help us to focus on the joys of life. If we experience laughter often enough we’ll begin to see the fruit of a rewired brain in our attitudes and behaviors.
On the problem side of laughter is what the world offers as comedy is often disguised judgmentalism or denigration. Modern day sit-coms for example are supposed to be funny and yet they often picture certain individuals in demeaning ways. There is a wealth of comedy, produced back when media producers were actually concerned with such things as respect for persons, for us to watch on our TV, computer or phone. Similar things can be said about cartoons or books designed to make us smile.
Laughter is best experienced in the context of relationships. This can be seen at most human gatherings of a social nature. When we think about the good times we’ve had with friends we can remember the best times always involved fun; laughter was present, and although we didn’t know it, our brains were being rewired. Who we hang out with is very important in the context of laughter or having a mirth-filled heart. Scripture reminds of this here:
1 Cor 15:33 – Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” ESV
So, seek laughter for rewiring, but do it with good people.
Of the seven brain-rewiring activities we have listed, this one might seem like the strangest, but read on to see why it makes sense.
Here is one of many pieces of scripture that relate to the subject of ritual in God’s word:
1 Cor 10:16-17 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. ESV
This relates to what we call communion, one of the two great rituals of the church, the other being baptism, although we usually call them ordinances. A similar situation is described in all the elaborate rituals of the Old Testament that were prescribed by God. Notice we are using the word “prescribed” instead of commanded; this is intentional.
Rituals are all about these three features of life before the fall, things that were lost in the Garden of Eden:
- Emotional Safety
- Personal Security
Look at any system of beliefs, commonly called a religion, and you will find rituals, and at the bottom of these rituals are the three lost features.
Before the fall we were connected to God and each other, before the fall we were safe, meaning we wouldn’t come to harm in the garden and before the fall we were secure, knowing that we were under God’s direct protection. While Adam and Eve may never have known that these three things were true because they had no knowledge of good and evil, once they had lost them, they knew.
So then, God prescribed, as a doctor or healer might, some emotional medicine for the first couple, the ritual of offerings as first mentioned in Genesis 4. The early rituals are often thought of as issues of worship, which is accurate, but the worship had a point. It was to stay connected to God, it was so that the people of God would know that God was with them and He would keep them safe and secure.
This is why the church has developed so many other rituals, even though they didn’t know it. Most churches have the basic two, communion and baptism. All churches, and we mean all, have other rituals in their worship services. These are most often seen in liturgical worship services, but even the ones that think they’re free flowing still have them if one looks closely. The rituals we see in churches are all helpful in getting our thinking pointed in the right direction, toward Christ, and that is how they help rewire our brain
Our position then is that rituals are scriptural, but we subscribe to this way of thinking about them:
1 Cor 10:23 – “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. ESV
Applying this here; any person can do any ritual, but not all rituals are good for us. We must be thoughtful about the rituals we engage in. A simple example is that we might get up each morning and read scripture; that rewires the brain toward godly thinking (healthy). However if we got up and read the Koran, that would rewire our brain toward ungodly thinking (unhealthy).
Rituals are very important!
Tomorrow we’ll look at the last three activities and summarize the subject.
©Merimnao 2014 – not to be used without permission.