There has never been a time in history where we know more about the human brain than we do now. There are numerous articles, blog posts and videos scattered all over the Internet. Here are a few of the things that we know about the brain and its effect on our spiritual life:
1. Where focus goes, connections grow. The more we focus on something, the greater our brains connections and expansion on that topic. Colossians 3:2 reminds us, “set your minds on things that are above.” Intentionally commit your mind to God. Ask Him to direct your thought process. In consciously making this commitment, you begin to search for things to help your awareness of God to grow.
2. Lack of sleep inhibits brain function. Most Christians would never consider driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving while sleep deprived, however, has the same effect as on the brain as DUI. Studies tell us that on average we need 8 hours a night. Yours may vary slightly but if you believe you can function effectively on five hours a night, you might be deceiving yourself. Sufficient sleep is not a luxury, rather a necessity.
3. Take at least one day a week to avoid difficult mental tasks. This is why people working 7 days a week for days on end will impair their neurological performance. Taking time away from difficult tasks allows our brains to rest and prepare for the challenges of another day. Even God rested one day following creation.
4. Prayer and meditation increases brain activity. Prayer increases the flow of blood into specific areas of your brain. Focused, intentional, quiet time not only improves your relationship with God but also has a way of focusing and re-centering our brain to do the things that matter the most. It has been said that prayer changes our perspective. That is only part of the truth. It changes you neurologically. This short video on the science channel explains in greater detail how prayer affects the brain.
5. Active bodies create active brains. In the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John J. Ratey provides multiple examples of exercises effect on the brain. Exercise is not just caring for our bodies; it is caring for our brains. The increase in cardiovascular activity increases the blood flow to your brain and improves your brains ability to function efficiently. There is a reason why you have a clear mind during and after exercise. Next time you have a difficult problem, go do a cardiovascular activity.
6. An extremely low emotional state inhibits rational brain function. Emotionally charged brain function will always over-ride your rational thought process. If you are angry, bitter, or distraught, it can be very difficult to learn or concentrate. This is why we are instructed to never make long term decisions in moments of crisis. The Bible would remind us to “guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23 There was a reason why you could not remember what you wanted to say in the argument, you are operating from a different part of the brain.
7. Learn new things. Learning new things not only creates new neurological connections but it also strengthens existing ones. In the article, Novelity and The Brain: Why New Things Make Us Feel So Good, Belle Beth Cooper shares how brain activity spikes when we see something new. Combining old material with new material increases retention rates. Taking what you already know about God and adding something new to it will increase God’s influence in your thoughts and decisions.
8. Strengthen existing connections. Continue to practice the things that you know you should be doing to make your spiritual life healthier. Continue to study the Bible, other Christian writers, and practice spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s, Celebration of Discipline is a great resource on this subject. These habits will only increase the quality of your spiritual life and your neurological connections. Spiritual disciplines practiced consistently over time become a part of your sub-conscious routine. You do them without thinking about it.
I have learned that during times when my spiritual life is suffering, it is often due to one of the points listed above being violated. We are not spiritual creatures living outside of a body but spiritual creatures living inside of a body. Take care of your body. Take care of your brain. You are stuck with both of them as long as you are on this earth.