Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

This week I participated in a Q&A following a 40-minute story and message on the subject of overcoming addiction. The story shared was of a woman walking away from her Haitian family’s expectations of her continuing the business of voodoo. The message shared by a pastor focused on how God speaks into our life’s storms; his focus was the Gospel story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s attempt to do the same.

In prepping for the Q&A by listening to the pre-recording of the pastor’s message and considering the prepared questions, I revisited a book I read several years ago by Dr. Charles Stone. In his book Brain-Savvy Leaders, Dr. Stone wrote this about change:

When we learn, repeated thoughts about the same subject become mental maps that eventually become habits or deeply engrained beliefs. That’s why reading, studying, and meditating upon scripture is so vital for a Christian. The more we focus on God’s word, the more brain connections we make about this truth, thus reinforcing our values and beliefs. It’s as if the Holy Spirit “rezones” our brains with God’s truth. This change is called self-directed neuroplasticity. The Apostle Paul speaks to this change in Romans 12:2: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is-what is good and pleasing and mature.”

Chapter 4, Meet Your Brain’s Parts

What in the world is neuroplasticity? Dr. Stone describes it as the reconfiguring and rewiring of neurons that happens when we learn or when the brain “assumes functions it normally doesn’t do by taking over the functions from a damaged part of the brain.”

These thoughts were helpful to bring to the conversation when this question was asked: “What posture helps us stand against our feelings, to keep us from sinking in the storm?” Whatever our feelings are telling us about the storm we are facing, some rewiring can bring hope. However far we have sank, some reconfiguring how to think and live can lift us up.

Our brain’s zoning can be impacted greatly by traumatic events and addictive behaviors. The reality that our brain can be rezoned brings light and peace into one’s stormy life. As for postures-you might say self-directed neuroplasticity-to keep us from sinking, consider these:

  • How can you maintain a posture for learning?
  • How can you establish a posture of meditating on scripture?
  • How can you resist the posture of having your back turned away rather than your face turned toward God?

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Yesterday’s Manna

“Yesterday’s manna is no good for today.”

Read this quote recently from a pastor. His spin on this Old Testament fact is memorable. It’s also a practical guide.

10 Illustrations:

Yesterday’s sleep is no good for today. Do your best to have consistent sleep.

Yesterday’s calories are no good for today. Manage your eating habits well daily.

Yesterday’s exercise is no good for today. Commit to an ongoing exercise routine.

Yesterday’s fun is no good for today. Laugh every day.

Yesterday’s reading is no good for today. Always have reading material with you.

Yesterday’s affection is no good for today. Those closest to you thrive off your expressions of love.

Yesterday’s prayer is no good for today. Connection with God depends on frequent communion.

Yesterday’s kindness is no good for today. Share kindness every opportunity you can.

Yesterday’s confession is no good for today. The daily screwups are best handled with immediate acknowledgments.

Yesterday’s work is no good for today. Our community thrives as we each provide our daily contribution.

As you meditate on yesterday’s things, what else would be helpful to state is no good for today?

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Into the Silent Land (a book review)

A few days ago I included a reference to Into the Silent Land in a post. When I heard about this book, I thought it was going to be about the spiritual discipline of solitude. To my surprise, it turned out to be much more than that.

Laird shared in the introduction that his objective was to examine two contemplative practices: the practice of stillness (meditation or contemplative prayer) and the practice of watchfulness or awareness. He had my attention.

I won’t be able to compact his descriptions of these practices with justice. What I can do is relay that if you believe you’ve read or heard all there is to know about prayer, you might want to make sure by reading this book. What I thought I knew about contemplative prayer has been deepened. What I practice in meditation has been retooled.

The meat of the book is chapters four and six. Chapter four introduces and outlines what Laird calls the three doorways of the present moment. He describes a method of praying based on utilizing a prayer word. I found it familiar but not. He was putting words to my novice practices and revealing how to mature them. Then in chapter six-my favorite-he makes it real by sharing three overcomer’s stories. Their struggles include fear, pain, and compulsion. The victory in these three human stories support his label of their moving from victim to witness.

You may be wondering if this book is for you. Here are three descriptors to try on for size:

  • If you wonder if the practice of meditation carries value, this book is for you.
  • If you wish your prayer life to be more relational and not just petitionary, this book is for you.
  • If you are looking for a spiritual discipline challenge, this book is for you.

Laird doesn’t write to be quoted, but here are a few highlights worth sharing:

If we are going to speak of what a human being is, we have not said enough until we speak of God.

God does not know how to be absent.

There is a certain wisdom that settles into a life that does not attempt to control what everybody else ought to be thinking, saying, doing, or voting on. Wisdom, health, life, and love cannot be found in trying to control the wind, but rather in harnessing the wind in the sails of receptive engagement of the present moment.

It is very liberating to realize that what goes on in our head…does not have the final word on who we are.

If you want to make fear grow, run from it.

Fear, anger, envy-any afflictive thought or feeling-cannot withstand a direct gaze.

We commonly meet our wounds in temptation and failure.

Divine love doesn’t have to decide whether or not to forgive. Divine love is forgiving love.

Photo by Adam Rhodes on Unsplash

God Hears Loser’s Prayers

Part 5 of Skye Jethani’s book What If Jesus Was Serious is entitled “A Prayer for Losers.” He writes devotionals based on Matthew 6:1-15 where The Lord’s Prayer is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than quote any passages from the devotionals, I’ll share the doodles from the heading of each one.


Each of these six could produce excellent meditation. Up for it this weekend? Or maybe look at one a day this next week.

However you engage them, believe God hears the prayers of all us losers.

5 Ways to Combat Forced Fear

Yesterday I saw the CBS commercial featuring actors from their shows sending this message: “We’re in this together.” Yes, community is important, always but certainly now.

If you think about that message for a moment, you can be more descriptive by replacing “this” with a specific noun. Like…

  • …We’re in economic uncertainty together
  • …We’re in confusion together
  • …We’re in isolation together
  • …We’re in media overload together
  • …We’re in the drive through together
  • …We’re in the grocery line together
  • …We’re in fear fatigue together

I’ll stop there to chew on that one. This “this” is one of the major things we are in together. 

Some of us by nature, personality, or any number of reasons tend to live more fearfully. But this is different. This feels like we’re all in fear together whether we want to be or not. Feels forced, on many levels.

We all have natural tendencies in responding to fear. Generally, we are defined as fighters or flighters. I tend to be the former, which explains why I tend to believe much of the fear we are in together is forced.

Regardless of its origination or our response tendency to it, fear does not get an automatic win. It can be overcome when we choose to combat it. You probably are already trying to combat it, subconsciously or thoughtfully. In case you’d like more help, because we’re in this together, here are five ways I’m combating forced fear.

  1. Created a Playlist…just this morning I decided it was time to create a COVID-19 playlist. My list includes songs that address fear directly, bring God into the picture, and focus on the hope of eternity. Pretty sure I’ll be playing it daily.
  2. Exercising Early…many years ago I had to overcome not being a morning person in order to pursue better running training. I’m not in training mode right now. But I’ve put my mind in combat fear mode, meaning setting the alarm on most mornings to get up and exercise first thing. My guess is, if you don’t already do this, when you give it a try you’ll like it.
  3. Increasing Peace Intake…this “this” is to combat that media overload we’re in together. Here’s a challenge to consider: however much time you spend watching, reading, scrolling, engaging in media that produces fear in you, spend at least that same amount of time or more taking in peace. Whatever produces peace in your heart, mind, and spirit needs equal time. Personally I’m barely looking at Twitter, looking at Facebook less, and pretty much looking at headlines only.
  4. Making Others First…this one can be very simple. Something as simple as letting someone go ahead of you in the grocery line, greeting the cashier by name, thanking them for the extra work they are doing, being empathetic with those you’re together with in the grocery aisles (practiced these Wednesday). For something more impactful, ask God to bring to mind someone to bless and how to do it (doing this today).
  5. Reading>Meditating…in particular, biblical characters that endured forced fear. Examples: Joseph, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, Mary and Joseph, and certainly Jesus. Many of them were forced to face the fear of death. Read their stories. Meditate on how they combated fear. I’m taking a look at Genesis all this weekend.

How are you dealing with forced fear? Got something else to share? Please do. We’re in forced fear together.

How to Turn

“I thought about my ways and turned my steps back to your decrees. I hurried, not hesitating to keep your commands.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭119:59-60‬ ‭CSB‬‬

1) Turning starts by taking the time to think about our ways

The more often this time is taken the less time will be spent on our ways

2) Turning moves forward by getting back in step with God’s ways

Moving forward and growing in life is best found in step with God

3) Turning is completed in haste

Hesitation is a sign our heart hasn’t turned