Last Saturday, many of our women gathered for the first Donuts + Discipleship of the fall (the next monthly D+D gathering will be October 22, 2016). The theme of Romans 12:1-2 was unpacked, and then application of continuing to be students of the Word was discussed through a panel of ladies in three distinct life stages and careers, as well as in small groups. Krystal, a regional director for The Veritas Forum and the team lead for our collegiate ministry, was one of the panelists. We asked her to share more of what God has been at work doing in her life & mind in regards to this topic.
If you’ve spoken to me in the last couple of months, you probably know that I’m thinking a lot about Psychology these days, and have become well, a bit enamored with the way that God built the human brain. Michio Kaku said, “The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.” Certainly this is a significant aspect of our Imago Dei.
In preparing for our women’s gathering, I began to meditate on a particular question, inspired by the specific language used in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
How is it, I asked, that our minds are can be renewed? I was delighted to learn about the fairly new field of neuroplasticity. The plasticity of the brain simply means that what you do and think literally changes your brain, just like how exercise has the ability to literally change our bodies. (As many of would attest, in both cases, this is rather hopeful news!)
“The very connections between neurons that allow us to do something— think a particular thought, feel a particular feeling, perform a particular act, remember a map of city streets— are strengthened each time we do it. This is why things become simpler with practice, why objects become easier to recognize the more often we see them, or why studying something helps us retain the information and recall it when we need it— the brain circuits that regulate these acts become stronger each time we use them. Brain plasticity doesn’t just strengthen the brain circuits we use; it also eliminates the ones we don’t. When a brain circuit is not used, its connections become weaker and weaker. Axons retract, spines die off, and as a result, synapses start to disappear, often to the point that the circuit finally ceases to exist. This process is called ‘synaptic pruning.’”
What this means is that Scripture can actually be the framework – the map – through which our brains and lives can be wired. As we become more familiar with Scripture, it becomes the compass that points us to “true north” when we are disoriented or in new situations.
When the serpent addressed Eve, he pushed her toward a physical act of disobedience (eating) but he led her to that point through an attack on her mind, a complex lie that led her to think that perhaps God is not as trustworthy as he indicated. When we look at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4 we notice the very same tactic with a very different result. He too is tempted toward the physical act of eating (turn the stones into bread) through a mental attack: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” His response is markedly different, and in a deep sense, redeems and undoes the sin of our first parents. He says “It is written ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” This is a doubly powerful attribution to Scripture. He is saying, I live by the word that comes from the mouth of my God, and I do this because God’s Word tells me too, in this case quoting Deuteronomy.
So what does this mean for my life, and more broadly for the lives of Christians? First, we have to be diligent in cultivating deep knowledge of Scripture. A knowledge that is rewiring (or better yet renewing) our brains to a different map, so that as we face sin and temptation the framework is already in place for us to draw on. It means that renewal by God’s word is a lifelong process. I often have a tendency to read something once and be discouraged when I continue to fall into the same patterns or don’t see the transformation in myself that scripture indicates. But as Paul tells us, we are running the long race! Fighting the life fight. Looking toward our eternal end.
I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety, which Scripture has a lot to say about. The key thing though is that our lives and our wills are oriented to narratives and deeply held truths, not commands or admonitions. Anyone who has experienced chronic anxiety knows that it is not going to disappear simply through knowing Jesus’s command, “do not be anxious about anything.” And that’s not where Jesus ends, either.
He says do not be anxious but meditate on God’s deep love for you and His ability to care for all of His creation. Every time you see a lily or a sparrow, think of how much more He loves you. And how His love has been evident throughout your life in the way that He has protected you and given you hope. How his love is different than that of your family, who perhaps was not always able to care for you or provide safety. And of course, most of all, we look at the ultimate manifestation of God’s love for us in Jesus’ own death and resurrection. As we study Scripture, we remember the psalms and stories that have been sung and told through the ages – that we cannot flee from God’s presence, that Hosea loved the unfaithful prostitute to show God’s love for Israel, that God himself clothed Adam and Eve after their sin, and that He will clothe us, the Church, to adorn us in His own splendor and glory for our wedding to Christ.
Having a map that helps us know God’s commands and His heart changes how our minds approach this long race- this life fight- with hopeful hearts and a steady course. So in view of God’s mercies, let us not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds, that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For more info about The Hallows Church Women’s Ministry or our monthly women’s gatherings called Donuts and Discipleship, email firstname.lastname@example.org.