How the Way You Think about God Can Change Your Brain
- Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Timothy R. Jennings's new book, The God-Shaped Brain (IVP, 2013).
Your beliefs about God affect not just your spiritual health, but your mental, emotional, and physical health as well. How? The way you think about God impacts your brain, which directs all of your decisions in life.
Jesus said that a person’s thoughts will determine who that person is – and brain research now shows how that happens. When you change your view of God for the better, you can transform your life for the better. Here’s how:
Understand how your brain adapts to your thoughts. The thoughts you choose to think are constantly changing your brain’s physical structure. Thinking new thoughts causes new neurons to develop and new electrical circuits to be wired to form new patterns of connections. Letting go of old thoughts causes unused neurons to disappear and rewires the electrical circuits within your brain.
Pray regularly for the Holy Spirit to renew your mind. Make a habit of asking the Holy Spirit often to renew your mind. When you do, the Spirit will bring new thoughts into your mind, reflecting what’s true and healthy. Choosing to meditate on those thoughts will make your brain’s internal structure healthier.
Recognize God’s law of love. God has designed all of creation based on the law of love, which expresses His love through a never-ending circle of giving. The sun gives energy to the Earth, where energy is converted and metabolized throughout nature in cycles where plants, animals, and people constantly give energy to each other and our planet. Thanks to God’s law of love, everything God creates gives freely in other-centric circles. When you recognize that God is the source of all of this love, you can focus on love as the most important concept to consider in every situation – and your brain will grow healthier in the process.
Recognize how sin breaks the law of love. Sin breaks God’s law of love by shifting the focus away from giving and toward selfishness, disrupting God’s design for creation and causing fear to manifest in people’s lives. People who are struggling with fear worship God out of fear of punishment rather than out of love, and lose the abilities to reason well and to make decisions out of a place of freedom and confidence.
Understand how a loving view of God affects your brain. Love, which is the essence of God, strengthens your prefrontal cortex. This is the part of your brain that processes compassion; altruism; empathy; reasoning capacity; judgment; the ability to worship; consciousness; morality; and the ability to plan, organize, and solve problems. The more you choose to think about God as He really is – a loving Father – the more you’ll be able to do everything that the prefrontal cortex of your brain supports, leading to the healthy life that God intends for you to enjoy.
Understand how a fearful view of God affects your brain. The more you experience fear by imagining God to be a cruel or distant being who will punish you for your sin, the more you’ll stimulate your brain’s limbic system, which God has designed to be stimulated only every once in a while to help you deal with occasional crises. Chronically stimulating the limbic system in your brain will lead to inflammation in your body and trigger changes in your brain that lead to more fear, insecurity, selfishness, anger, rage, lust, jealousy, envy, and aggression.
Discover and meditate on the truth about God. Ask God to reveal the truth about Himself to you so you can think about Him accurately. Every day, read the Bible, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you through its words. Meditate on what you learn about God daily, and as you do, your brain will become healthier and more able to receive new insights from God.
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