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.

5. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2133032/There-God-spot-new-research-claims-instead-spirituality-exists-brain.html#ixzz1ucDwfC6W


© 2012 Laurie Collett

40 comments:

  1. Hi Laurie,
    This was a wonderful post! Oh how I love to learn more about Christ and His in-workings in our lives! Thank you...I will even re-read your post! ♥♥♥

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  2. Another interesting post...I love it!
    Christa

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  3. How interesting to know that test show these results. I love the fact that genuine prayer causes our sense of self to disappear since self is responsible for so many of our problems. Thanks so much for sharing this and thanks for sharing on Bible Love Notes B&BB. I'm praying God will bless your week.

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  4. Thanks, Cathy, for your kind words! How awesome that our Creator designed us to know Him!
    Have a blessed Memorial Day!
    Laurie

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  5. Thanks, Christa & Denise, for your encouragement!
    God bless,
    Laurie

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  6. Amen, Gail -- pride and selfishness are at the root of so many of our problems. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.
    May you have a blessed week in Him!
    Laurie

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  7. WoW! Thank you for sharing this. Amazing!

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  8. Thank you for inviting me to follow this blog... that's me on the end now ;D

    Thank you for following ECTaS too :D

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  9. Thanks so much, Wendy, for your encouragement and for following!

    And you're very welcome -- ECTaS is a blessing and so are you!

    Laurie

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  10. This blog is an unusual combination of prayer and scientific research! How amazing how you can put two together to make a wholesome one, when most academics would dismiss prayer as a fallacy while at the same time exalt the virtues and truthfulness of science.
    A brilliant article!

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  11. Thanks, Frank, for your very kind words! It is sad when men and women of "science" ignore true wisdom as found in the Bible. The profound lack of science behind evolutionary theory is truly disturbing. The creation speaks for the Creator, and only the fool says there is no God.
    God bless,
    Laurie

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  12. Love how you explained the rewards of prayer -- tangible and intangible. Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Lyli! Prayer is such an awesome privilege, to be able to meet with our Creator one-on-one, 24/7!

      God bless,
      Laurie

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  13. Very interesting. I love when science proves our God's design and interaction with us. Thanks for a scholarly post.

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    1. Thanks, Ruth, for visiting & commenting! The more we learn from science, the more it confirms what God's Word has said all along.
      Blessings,
      Laurie

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  14. Great read! This is my first time to your blog and I look forward to reading more about what God is revealing to you! I echo Lyli's comment about the rewards of prayer! I hope to have you stop by seasontheday.blogspot.com to encourage believers with the truths God is teaching you on "Taste Truth Tuesday" Keep up the great work!

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    1. Thanks, Amber, for your visit, comment and encouragement!
      Hope you'll come back soon!
      God bless,
      Laurie

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  15. This is all quite intriguing, Laurie. I love to see the physical workings line up so perfectly with God's creation. Science is often trying to prove the opposite yet, in reality, it hits God's nail on the head.
    "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)."
    I am encouraged. Thanks.
    May your day be filled with delight in the Lord, ~ linda

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    1. Thanks so much, Linda! Only a fool says there is no God, and the great scientists, like Newton, realized that their discoveries were confirming God's Word rather than contradicting it. Love your post on Joy! Would have commented but couldn't find a comment box.
      Love in Him,
      Laurie

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  16. Laurie, So many times we find physical science supports the biblical statements. Unfortunately, while some deny these physical effects others are like the Sadducees, focusing totally on the physical effects and denying any spiritual component. The physical and spiritual are so intertwined they cannot be completely separated by natural means. The study of creation and the giving of the law has made me increasingly aware that all of our life is inter related.

    Good post

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    1. Thanks, dfish, for sharing your insights. The creation reflects the glory of the Creator.
      Blessings,
      Laurie

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  17. This is truly amazing, thank you for sharing this information!

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    1. You're very welcome, Alecia, and thanks for the kind comment!
      God bless,
      Laurie

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    1. Hi Brandee,
      Thanks so much for your visit & comment! Hope you're having a blessed week in Him!
      Laurie

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  19. This is fascinating science. Thank you for sharing this in community at GettingDownWithJesus.com.

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer, for your comment and for hosting the link-up!
      Love in Him,
      Laurie

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  20. seriously every time i read one of your posts i am just blown away...it is def fascinating...

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  21. Wow, Brian, I'm blessed and honored by your comment! So glad you liked the post.
    God bless,
    Laurie

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  22. That was so interesting Laurie. Thanks. Great to read your blending of neurology and theology. I'm a psychiatry trainee, so will come back and read more...

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  23. Thanks, Kath, for your visit and encouraging comment! Best wishes for your studies & training.
    Blessings,
    Laurie

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  24. An Awesome post and some good thoughts here. Our brain, (mind) and body do interact when in prayer. Even a rote prayer or one that is from the heart and simply poured out.

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  25. "I believe that God endowed His favorite creation with the neural circuitry, or hard-wiring, needed to fully appreciate and fellowship with Him" Well, of course He did!

    This was a great post, even to the point of explaining the reason why repetitive prayer enhances our worship experience. Thank you for this.

    Visiting from Grace Cafe.

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  26. Thanks, A Joyful Noise! Praise God that He hears us, whether we pray out loud or from our mind and heart.
    God bless,
    Laurie

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  27. Amen, MrsP -- of course He designed us to know Him, for His good pleasure! Thanks so much for your visit and encouraging comment.
    Love in Him,
    Laurie

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  28. This is amazing, but then again, we serve an amazing God - the Creator of all.

    Blessings,
    Joan

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  29. Amen, Joan! Have a blessed week in Him!
    Laurie

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  30. first got to say...I love that picture and also what you said...I love how He made us...everything has a purpose..

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  31. Thanks so much, Sarah, for your encouraging comment!
    Have a blessed Lord's Day!
    Love in Him,
    Laurie

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