Originally posted at: http://applyingmybeliefs.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/rewiring-the-brain-part-two/
This is the second part of the Merimnao (the ministry I run) educational advisory on this subject. Yesterday’s post covered the introduction and first four brain rewiring activities we can get involved in. This post covers the last three activities and has a summary.
Have you ever been around ungrateful people? We all have, and we all know that ungratefulness is a highly negative attitude that can breed other negative attitudes like unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness. Even though we may never consciously think this, we all instinctively know that ungrateful people have some measure of what we call in our culture “mental illness.”
God prescribes gratefulness. Here we see it in the form of a command:
Col 3:15 – And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. ESV
Being thankful instead of the opposite helps to rewire our brains away from the negativeness that can so easily creep in from the world. Let’s look at an example.
There is a modern trend in our culture to put down fathers within families, this is found in so many sit-coms. The devaluing of fatherhood in this way is a sign of non-appreciation of the role of a father, which leads to not being grateful for even having one in a family. The wives who watch this, and the children who see it develop some negative attitudes toward their actual husbands and fathers, ungratefulness being one of them.
Within Merimnao we recognize that one of the signs of a person who has been healed to any extent is the outward demonstration of gratefulness. We see this in those that talk about what God has done, those that appreciate what the group leaders do, those that serve, those that give back and those that support the ministry in some way. These are people whose brains have been rewired.
Voluntarily serving people rewires a person’s brain. Involuntary service does not.
If you are not serving then your mindset is all about “me”, or put another way, all you do is for yourself. Even when you are forced, as a teenager might be made to do chores, or an employee in a job, it is still for your own sake. The brain wiring we have when we’re born and continue to develop as we grow is such that we are auto-programmed for selfishness. This is not healthy for any person; in fact self-centeredness leads one to the place where we are the god of our lives. We are effectively our own idol. This is mental illness, and it is why God says this very clearly:
1 Cor 6:19-20 – Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ESV
Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ESV
Gal 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. ESV
God says that we are not our own (we are His), that He came to serve as our model on how to do life and that service is a great way to avoid being “fleshly”, meaning in this context, that we operate for our own self-oriented purposes.
These scriptures are all encouragements for us to serve as a way to rewire our brains, and service to others from our own hearts has to be voluntary, meaning we choose to do it ourselves, for it to be effective in rewiring.
As an aside here – it is possible to rewire in a negative sense if we are forced to serve others on an involuntary basis. This is because we internally respond or react with resentment or something similar to being commanded to do something against our will, something that we haven’t chosen to do.
Music seems to have a supernatural ability to change our mood. We can probably all relate to the idea that music can rewire the brain because we know it can affect how we feel. In scripture we see music play an integral part of many things:
- (2 Chron 29:25)
- Celebrating Triumph over enemies. (Ex 15:20)
- The battle for Jericho. (Josh 6:4)
- Lifting Saul’s depression. (I Sam 18:10)
- Prophetic inspiration. (2 Kings 3:15)
- (2 Chron 35:25)
- In the Psalms. (Ps 47:6)
All of these applications of music can be thought of in the context of brain rewiring. In the New Testament we see perhaps the clearest instruction of all about using music to rewire our brains.
Eph 5:19 – Address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart. ESV
This is, of course, a very narrow instruction when we consider the massive breadth of music-related sound we can let into our personal world. And therein lies the problem.
As every parent knows, it matters what a child is listening to. I doubt if any parent who loves their children doesn’t worry about this issue. Some parents have guidelines or rules for their kids on this matter. Now, translate that to God being our heavenly parent. While none of us can speak for God, it seems obvious to me from how He worded Ephesians 5:19 that He is very concerned about the music we listen to.
Let’s define music to help us finish this last of the seven activities we can engage in to rewire our brains. Music is anything with a melody. This is not of course the classic definition of music but it is a good definition in our context because it gets at the issue of rhythm. Here is a list of the most common types of communication that fits our definition:
- Most “classical music.”
- Most modern music, such as country, rock, rap etc.
- Words without instrumentation such as poetry and acapella singing.
In looking at this list, which is tremendously broad, we can see that there is likely to be much out there that doesn’t fit the Ephesians 5:19 description. So here is a way to do a “quick and dirty” evaluation of what we ought to allow into our soul for the purpose of rewiring the brain and for better mental health.
- If the music glorifies God it is probably okay. (Such as hymns and modern praise and worship songs.)
- If it glorifies anything other than God, for example an alternative god, it is not. (Such as most modern love songs.)
- If it celebrates God’s creation without glorifying it, it is most likely acceptable. (Songs about the majesty of the earth, the stars, the heavens etc, these indirectly glorify God.)
- If it denigrates God’s creation it is not. (Things like modern rap music that puts down other people.)
Mostly we must use our common sense on what we ought to listen to if we want a positive rewiring of the brain. If in doubt, ask some godly people to read the poetry or listen to the music before your do, and take their advice.
Music in the church is often contentious, but this aspect, brain-rewiring, ought not to be. How a person treats this subject is very important. If we are closed to inappropriate music and open to God-glorifying music it can aid our recovery or our spiritual maturing processes.
Even though some of us might enjoy some hard rock, some country, some hip-hop or rap or even the more edgy things like punk rock, grunge or gangsta rap, these are not always good for us.
Within Merimnao we have a significant group who are engaged in good recovery practices such as listening to music. While we don’t know what each individual listens to, we do know that they at least occasionally listen to songs that relate to subjects such as drugs, alcohol, sex, abuse and emotional pain. For the most part these are healthy to listen to as they deal with the truth of addictions and recovering from them. We would therefore consider them acceptable as they celebrate God’s creation with glorifying it (as in III above). This is true because even though God didn’t create the trouble, that was the result of the fall, He did create the processes that we go through to get out of our compulsions and addiction. These are all designed to point us back to Him. So, in an obtuse way, the songs glorify God. What we do like about some of these songs is that they remind us of where we have come from, what we’ve been through and that we don’t want to go back there.
There is a small caveat to this acceptance of recovery songs. That is that some songs might seem to be acceptable but when we look at the lyrics and hear how they are presented we notice that they glorify some form of worldly culture. An example of this would be the songs lauding the use of hallucinogenic drugs from the late 60s and 70s. The simple rule for us here is to know what we are listening to. Use common sense.
The physical brain is a complex part of the body that God designed for humans, the only creature that is made in God’s image, to use while they inhabit the earth. It is only been in the last 20 or so years that we have started to really understand this. The rewiring of the brain, even up to the moment of death, is now an undisputable fact. For those that are recovering from something this is a very encouraging truth; it provides hope.
We tend to think of brain rewiring as a physical process, but this cannot be true, as it comes after we have done some psychological work. The body and the soul work together in this. As our soul works to gain knowledge, understanding, wisdom, beliefs, values and attitudes the brain rewires. We start to think, feel, choose and then behave in new ways. This is the basis for all recovery, for all counseling and for all the preaching we ever listen to.
If our brain could not rewire, we could never change. BUT, since the brain can rewire, all of us can change! As Christians we ought to celebrate brain rewiring, for it is a gift to us from God.
Brain rewiring, Neuroplasticity, is a healing mechanism that is available to all individuals. However, it is not automatic, we must work at it.
For victims of accidents, or those with certain medical issues, brain rewiring may involve both physical and psychological therapy.
For those that are grieving losses, psychological therapy or support groups may be helpful along with the seven activities listed to help with brain rewiring.
Those that are struggling with life, the seven activities and support groups might help with brain rewiring.
For those in recovery, brain rewiring can be speeded up if they work on their programs and fill their lives with the seven activities.
The results of brain rewiring can be astounding, here are a few examples:
- Emotional pain can be diminished.
- New thought patterns develop.
- Depression and anxiety can be lessened.
- Dysfunctional behaviors can be stopped.
So, let us pay attention to this subject and speak of it when it is relevant and appropriate.
Dr. Caroline Leaf is a Christian Cognitive Neuroscientist from South Africa. She specializes in this field of rewiring the brain. She even has a “Statement of Faith” on her website. If any person reading this MEA wants to learn more, her works might be helpful. Her site address is:
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