Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Mind of Christ

As we saw in the previous post, God designed us to know Him and to communicate with Him! Brain imaging during the heights of spiritual experience in prayer reflects a pattern of activity in which the sense of self disappears (1).

More recent research (2) has looked at brain activity during improvised prayers (from the heart, as opposed to memorized prayers) in people who consider God to be a real entity with Whom they interact. Not surprisingly, activity increases in brain areas typically involved in social recognition and interaction exchange – i.e., “fellowship” with God. The involved regions include the temporoparietal junction, the temporopolar region, and the anterior medial prefrontal cortex.

But God’s Word promises not only that we will find Him if we seek Him, but that He will reward us for diligently seeking Him (Hebrews 11:6). These rewards include life (Psalm 69:32), joy (Psalm 105:3), blessings (Psalm 119:2), peace (Philippians 4:6-7), and answered prayer (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Sometimes the blessings we receive from prayer are tangible, and sometimes they are intangible but equally real. We should pray not because we expect God to immediately fulfill our wish list, but because prayer pleases Him and changes us. The peace, joy and fellowship with Him we receive through prayer is its own reward.

Once again, neurotheology is just beginning to reflect what the Bible has shown us all along. Silently praying the Model (Lord’s) Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) or other memorized prayers is associated with activation of the reward system in the brain known as the mesolimbic dopamine reward system, or ventral tegmental area- nucleus accumbens pathways (3). Once these pathways are activated, the rewards perceived by the mind, including pleasure and relief of pain, tend to encourage repetition of the experience. Establishing the daily practice of prayer therefore makes it easier for us to “pray without ceasing”(1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Similar activation of this reward system occurs with feelings of romantic love, but how much better to be blessed by loving prayers to One Who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Just as the natural use of our body, intended for sexual pleasure in marriage, can be perverted to fulfill sinful lusts, the mesolimbic dopamine reward system can be misused by drug addiction or by other compulsive and risk-taking behaviors such as gambling. God’s Word warns us not to seek rewards from mind-altering substances such as alcohol, but to be Spirit-filled by uplifting one another, thanking God and singing to Him in our hearts (Ephesians 5: 18-20).

Jesus asks us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). We can selflessly love one another only because we have the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ enables us to refrain from sin (Romans 7:25) and removes our fear, replacing it with power, love, and wisdom (2 Timothy 1:7). As we pray and give thanks, the mind of Christ allows us to focus on God’s truth, justice, purity, beauty and holiness, which brings us joy and peace (Philippians 4:4-9).

The mind of Christ allows us to communicate with the Holy Spirit, Who instructs us (1 Corinthians 2:9-16), and to have a servant’s heart, losing our sense of self (Philippians 2:5-8) and preferring to serve others in love (Romans 15: 5-7). Simply put, the mind of Christ enables us to love one another as Christ loves us.

When asked to make judgments of themselves or of others, Christians had increased activity in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), which was different from the activated region of non-religious people performing the same task (4). Even more fascinating was that activity in the dorsal MPFC in Christians was directly related to their rating scores of how important Jesus' judgment was in subjectively evaluating a person's personality!

A few weeks ago, breaking news (5) in neurotheology revealed that there is no single “God spot” as earlier researchers had thought, but that many brain regions are involved in spiritual experiences. Not surprising, since we are to love God with all our mind! (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30)

This research showed that decreased activity in the right parietal lobe (photo), which is involved in self-orientation, is associated with an increased feeling of closeness to God. Less concentration on self could also enable believers to concentrate on the well-being of others, having a servant’s heart and putting the needs of others ahead of their own needs. Being faithful to church and participating in religious practices was correlated with increased activity in the frontal lobe governing attention and concentration (5).

In no way do I intend this article to imply that brain regions and pathways could slavishly control believers’ perceived experiences of faith, love, joy and peace. Nor can our precious communion with Him in prayer be reduced to or explained by brain activity. Rather, I believe that God endowed His favorite creation with the neural circuitry, or hard-wiring, needed to fully appreciate and fellowship with Him!

1.Newberg A, D’Aquili E, Rause. V, Brain Science and the Biology of Belief: Why God Won’t Go Away. New York: Ballantine Books, 2001.

2. Schjoedt U, Stodkilde-Jorgensen H, Geertz AW, Roepstorff A. Highly religious participants recruit areas of social cognition in personal prayer. Social Cognitve and Affective Neuroscience. 2009;4:199–207.

3. Schjødt U, Stødkilde-Jørgensen H, Geertz AW, Roepstorff A. Rewarding prayers. Neuroscience Letters. 2008 Oct 10;443(3):165-8. Epub 2008 Jul 31.

4. Han S, Mao L, Gu X, Zhu Y, Ge J, Ma Y. Neural consequences of religious belief on self-referential processing. Social Neuroscience. 2008;3(1):1-15.


© 2012 Laurie Collett

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hard-Wired for God

Not only did God create us in His image (Genesis 1:26), He designed us to know Him!

God is a three-part Being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we reflect that Trinity in our mind (soul), body, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). As amazing as it seems, the all-powerful, all-knowing, self-sufficient Creator designed us for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11), so that His children could have fellowship with Him (Acts 17: 24-28).

About a decade ago, evidence from the field of neuroscience began to reflect these Biblical truths, showing that brain function changes and intensifies during spiritual experiences. It is as if God hard-wired us to communicate with Him! The research used a specialized type of brain scan known as SPECT (single photon emission computerized tomography), in which injection of a radioactive tracer into a vein allows it to travel to brain cells, showing areas of increased and decreased neuronal activity and blood flow within the brain during a specific experience. The photo above shows a “slice” from front to back through the brain using a similar technology, with red indicating areas of most intense activity and blue indicating areas of reduced activity.

Dr. Andrew Newberg and colleagues (1) analyzed SPECT images of Franciscan nuns at the peak moment of their spiritual experience as they entered into deep meditation and prayer, which they later described as “a tangible sense of the closeness of God and a mingling with Him.” Dr. Newberg, who is considered a pioneer in this field of neurotheology, noted the similarities of their description to that of 13th-century Franciscan nun Angela of Folino: “How great is the mercy of the One Who realized this union…I possessed God so fully that I was no longer in my previous customary state but was led to find a peace in which I was united with God and was content with everything.”

To me, these descriptions echo Isaiah 26:3: Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

So what did the SPECT scans show at this moment of perfect peace through communion with God?

There was an intense burst of activity in the attention association area (prefrontal cortex), the area of the brain associated with attention and concentration, near the front of the brain beneath the forehead. At the same time, activity fell sharply in the orientation association area (posterior superior parietal lobe), the area associated with awareness of time and orientation of the body in space, located in the top rear portion of the brain. One of the main functions of the parietal lobe is to draw the boundary between the physical body and the surrounding external world. The SPECT scan data therefore suggest to me that the mind is highly focused and concentrated on God, while the sense of self practically disappears.

At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, making us His temple and dwelling place (Acts 17: 24). If we seek Him with all our heart and soul through meditating on His Word and through prayer, we will find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29), “for in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17: 28). How awesome that He designed our brain with the circuitry to experience being “in Christ” and complete in Him! (Colossians 2: 6-9).

Stayed tuned next week for Part II of this post! God endowed His favorite creation with the neural circuitry, or hard-wiring, needed to fully appreciate and fellowship with Him!

1. Newberg A, D’Aquili E, Rause. V, Brain Science and the Biology of Belief: Why God Won’t Go Away. New York: Ballantine Books, 2001.

© 2012 Laurie Collett

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we honor our own mother and are remembered by our children, but we should also give thanks for all the women in our lives who have inspired, encouraged, supported and loved us. For me, that includes all of you ladies!

As we remember our beloved Sisters in Christ who have served as Godly examples and real-life examples of the Proverbs 31 woman, it should also encourage us to be a Proverbs 31 woman to bless our children, our husband, and all those in our household, community, and sphere of influence. The Godly woman described here is virtuous (v. 10), faithful (v. 11), hard-working (v. 13-16, v. 27), morally and physically strong (v. 17), generous and charitable (v. 20),

She is a blessing to her family (v. 12), has a realistic opinion about herself (v. 18), provides for her family through her hard work and planning (v. 21, 24), and enhances the reputation of her husband (v. 23). She is kind, speaking the truth in love (v. 26).

This kind of woman, although rare, is a tremendous asset to her family and all those around her, and they recognize that the blessings she gives them are priceless (v.10, 28, 29). We can become this kind of woman not by relying on our social skills or our physical charms, but by fearing the Lord – by putting His will for our life ahead of all else (v.30).

As important as it is to provide for our family, even this can become an idol in our lives if we put it ahead of our obedience to God and our desire to please Him. Rather, if we put God first in our lives, He will provide for our physical needs (Matthew 6:33), let us be a blessing to others (Prov. 31:30), enlarge our sphere of influence in this world and give us eternal life in the next (Mark 10: 29-30).

On this Mother’s Day and until He comes again, may our gift to all we encounter be our example of faith in Christ, that they too may accept and follow Him (2 Tim 1: 5; Acts 16:31).

Proverbs 31:10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. 11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. 12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

Proverbs 31:28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. 29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. 30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.

© 2012 Laurie Collett

Photo credit: Mother and child in front of home near Gandhla in Lahaul, June 2004, John Hill

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Once Written, Always Written

On a trip to Washington, DC, a few years ago, I stood in awe in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, admiring the architectural design and vast spaces that sweep the eye heavenward, the unblemished white marble columns and facades suggesting uprightness and security, the intricately patterned ceilings and floors reflecting great attention to detail, and the ornate sculptures and murals depicting all the fields of knowledge stored in the Library’s volumes. When it first opened in 1897, it was described as the "largest, costliest, and safest" library in the world.

Not to mention the books! The original collection of President Jefferson was somewhat controversial because of the wide range of its content, including foreign language works, religion, philosophy, science, literature and other fields not usually contained in a law library. But Jefferson’s contention was that every topic imaginable could be of potential use to a Congressman at some point in his service. His view was upheld to this day, ever since the copyright law of 1870 mandated that all copyright applicants send two copies of their work to be included in the Library. There are now several specialty galleries, each a definitive library in its own field, including one containing only the Gutenberg Bible and other Bibles of historical importance.

The experience got me thinking about God’s library of books in which he records all the details of our physical and spiritual lives. A dear sister in Christ asked me to teach a Bible lesson on the Book of Life. Specifically, her question was if names of believers are written there permanently, as most verses indicate, or if names can be blotted out, as suggested by other verses.

Under the Law, and subsequently in Old Testament times, God kept books of the living, and to blot someone’s name out of the book represented their physical death (Exodus 32:31-35; Psalm 69:20-29). Both the Old and New Testament refer to other books recording each person’s works, with these deeds forming a basis for rewards or punishments (Malachi 3:16; Isaiah 65:6-7; Daniel 7:9-10; Revelation 20:11-15).

This is similar to, but far more extensive than, kings of old keeping records of their subjects’ services to be rewarded and bad deeds to be judged and punished (Esther 6:1,2; 2:23; Ezra 4:15). God’s books are so complete that He even records our every wandering and our every tear (Psalm 56:8), as well as a complete blueprint of our physical appearance long before we are even born (Psalm 139:16).

In the Old Testament, one’s sinful or disobedient acts could merit physical punishment or even death, but faith in God and obedience to His commandments was counted as righteousness and rewarded with being in Paradise. Salvation was based on faith, on the belief that God is Who He says He is and is worthy of trust and obedience (Hebrews 11: 23-29), even though no one except Jesus was capable of keeping the law perfectly. Jesus Christ, Son of God, had not yet walked the earth in the flesh and had not yet died for our sins, so trusting Him as Savior was not how Old Testament saints were saved.

But after Jesus’ earthly ministry, death, burial and resurrection, the New Testament refers to the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3) containing the names of all those who are saved and who will have eternal life with Christ in Heaven. It is more completely named the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 13:8; 21:27) because it was the blood of the Lamb, Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), that redeemed those who are saved. Those names were foreordained and foreknown by God since before the beginning of the world (Romans 8:29-30).

The clear promise of Jesus is to not, for any reason, blot out the names of believers from the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 3:5), but to read their names to God the Father and to the angels. Once a person is born again and places their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15), it is not possible for that person to lose their salvation or to have their name removed from the Lamb’s Book of Life (Romans 8:37-39; John 10:28-29).

Conversely, because of God’s foreknowledge of who would reject His freely given offer of salvation (John 3:18-19) to “whosoever” would believe in His Son (John 3:16) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6), those names were “not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) Those unbelievers still living at the Rapture will be left behind, and at the Great White Throne Judgment, those who worshipped the Antichrist (Revelation 13:8; 17:8) will be cast into the lake of fire because their name was not found in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:15).

As extensive and well-preserved as the Library of Congress is, it will one day be burned to a crisp with the rest of the earth (2 Peter 3:10). But there is nothing we can do that would escape God’s attention or His perfect record-keeping system, and those records will last forever. No one may notice what we do on earth, but when believers face Christ in glory, we will experience the joy of hearing Him say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21,23) for every good deed done with the right motive to glorify Him. Or, we may undergo painful loss as we see some of our works that were praised during our lifetime burn up like hay in the flames, because He saw our wrong motive of pride or self-righteousness (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

But in His amazing promise we can rest secure – once we place our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only way to Heaven, nothing can blot our name out of the Lamb’s Book of Life, because He wrote it there in the indelible ink of His blood since before the foundation of the world! Trust Him as your Lord and Savior today!

© 2012 Laurie Collett