Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Changing the Heart and Brain- A Spiritual Process

 The purpose of this article is not to reduce the Christian plan of salvation to a scientific explanation, but rather to show there is an actual physical change in the individual.  The steps of salvation are in a sequence that is important to bring about a change in the individual.  The plan of salvation starts in the mind.  Conviction is a process that starts one thinking about their wrong actions.  An individual must first realize they are a sinner.  Repenting is a change of the mind.  How we think is how we act.  To change those actions, we must repent.  Changing the mind will change our belief system, bringing about a new person. 
When Paul said we would become a new creation in Christ, he was correct.  Salvation brings about a physical change as much as a spiritual change.  Looking at the scientific research that has taken place and the discoveries of how the heart and brain works are proof of Paul’s statement.
Neuroscientists have discovered the strategy for rewiring the brain.  Contrary to popular approaches, this strategy involves more than just positive thinking or working hard.
In fact, there are pathways that must be activated in order to create new neural networks in the brain.  There are a few principles from the science of the brain that successfully activates these pathways.
First, the act of thinking sets in motion a chemical reaction in the brain similar to plugging in a string of lights.  As you think about something no matter what, you turn on the string of lights related to that topic.
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Proverbs 23:7
Second, the more you think, feel and act the same way, the faster the lights turn on and the brighter they glow.  The longer the same action takes place the faster the response.  We have trillions of brain cells, resulting in millions of strings of lights correlating with our habits in all areas of life.  The best explanation of this process is “neurons that fire together wire together.”  That is why the more you lie the easier it is to lie the next time.  It soon it to the point you will have a hard time unraveling your own lies from the truth.  One pathway alone is not enough to rewire your brain.
Prior to taking action or deciding on something, you do so using your conscious mind.  Yet our lives are filled with different actions at every moment,  Those actions are not always a result of your conscious decisions.  Your subconscious mind plays a major role.  Actions controlled by your subconscious mind are beyond your control.  Your brain has been wired to act based on your prior thinking, feeling, and actions.
When you were first learning to drive a car you were taught a sequence of events.  Your focus when first learning was on adjusting the mirror, fastening the seatbelt, adjusting the seat, putting the key in the ignition, starting the car, checking what is around the car, putting the car in gear and driving.  As you become a skilled drive, your subconscious mind registers your action and you drive without making a conscious effort. You automatically avoid obstacles, change lanes, pass cars all while listening to music and talking with your passengers.  As your proficiency increases your driving process becomes natural and your decisions are automatic.
As you gather the knowledge you are wiring your brain to automatically act a certain way.  If your experiences are repeated, your beliefs and actions are wiring your brain to act to reinforce those beliefs and actions until they become automatic responses.
Your behavior is driven by the subconscious mind or how your brain has been wired.  When the subconscious mind takes control, your conscious mind is unaware you responded to the subconscious stimuli.
The way you have wired your brain will determine how you behave.  There are triggers that turn on our “string of lights” our thinking, feeling and actions will determine how quickly we react to situations.  You go through many experiences and incidents in life, but few incidents touch your subconscious as your belief system. When you experience incidents that involve your belief system, you are overpowered and your response is without your control.
Paul in writing to the Church of Rome in the 7th chapter explained what happens when our brains are wired for sin.  Paul starts out by saying sin is the ruler and he is the slave.  In his conscience mind, he wanted to do good but the subconscious mind controlled his behavior.  He said I want to do good, but I am not the one doing the evil.  Paul was not making a conscious decision he was acting on his subconscious mind that was wired for sin.  In his conscious thoughts he wanted to do good but his subconscious mind he was a prisoner of his past thinking, feeling, and actions that were programmed by sinful actions.  He goes on to say, I see another law working in my body. That law makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and that law makes me its prisoner. What a miserable person I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death?  I thank God for his salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So of my (conscious) mind I am a slave to God’s law, but in my (subconscious mind) sinful self I am a slave to the law of sin.
We all have our idiosyncrasies. Whenever an experience, positive or negative has touched us it has a major input on how we are wiring our brains. Since the thinking, feeling and action will vary from person to person, different people respond to the same stimuli in a different manner.  There are some sins that do not have any influence on some people while others are in chains of bondage that seen unbreakable.
How does this knowledge help to understand the act of salvation?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Cor.5:17
Change begins with you making a choice to change and that starts with being humble enough to realize that the events of your life are the direct product of your belief system and decisions.
The first step is repentance.  Repentance is properly understood to mean a change of mind--a change of the intention from wanting to sin to not wanting to sin--that results in a change in action. It involves the decision to make a change of behavior and/or attitude about something.

It is important to realize that the brain must be re-wired in order to change your behavior.  Repentance is the changing of the mind.  Our brain must be rewired to see a change in our behavior.  The mind must become a new creation, old thinking, feeling and actions must pass away.

The next step in salvation is belief.  Our belief system must change.  That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8

When you change what you think, say or do in response to an event or situation, you change inner emotional states. As emotions are molecules that transmit the “what” to fire and wire” messages, whenever your felt experience of event changes, accordingly, this physically restructures the gray matter of your brain.
There are many who will testify to the fact their life was bound by addiction that controlled their life but when they came to Christ and accept His salvation old habits were gone. 
Research has found even deeply entrenched behavior problems, such as addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been shown to respond to treatment that follows proven methods of rewiring the brain by altering current thought-response patterns.  However, there is more to salvation than just “rewiring the brain”.
One question that goes unanswered is how was the brain wired for sin?  You do not teach a child to lie, steal, or hurt someone, they instinctively know how to do these things.  Why?
Traditionally, the study of communication pathways between the head and heart has been approached from a rather one-sided perspective, with scientists focusing primarily on the heart’s responses to the brain’s commands. However, that communication between the heart and brain actually is a dynamic, ongoing, two-way dialogue, with each organ continuously influencing the other’s function. Research has shown that the heart communicates to the brain in four major ways: neurologically (through the transmission of nerve impulses), biochemically (via hormones and neurotransmitters), biophysically (through pressure waves) and energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions). Communication along all these conduits significantly affects the brain’s activity. Moreover, our research shows that messages the heart sends to the brain also can affect performance.
There is much that is written about the heart of man.  In scriptures we are taught:
Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Mark 7:21 - For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

Romans 3:10-18 - As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 1:21 - Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Psalms 51:5 - Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
It is not the brain that conceived the knowledge and actions of sin, but rather the heart.  Many believe that the heart is spoken of in the scripture as symbolic of the emotions of man.
Ezekiel 36:26 - A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.

Psalms 51:10 - Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Jeremiah 17:10 - I the LORD search the heart, [I] try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, [and] according to the fruit of his doings.

Matthew 5:8 - Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Ezekiel 11:19 - And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh:

Proverbs 4:23 - Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.

Hebrews 4:12 - For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

James 4:8 - Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse [your] hands, [ye] sinners; and purify [your] hearts, [ye] double minded.

Proverbs 21:2 - Every way of a man [is] right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.

Psalms 34:18 - The LORD [is] nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

Proverbs 3:5-6 - Trust in the LORD with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  

 Here is what researchers have found about the heart.  This only verifies what the scriptures have said all along.
“A small group of cardiologists joined forces with a group of neurophysiologists and neuroanatomists to explore areas of mutual interest. This represented the beginning of the new discipline now called neurocardiology. One of their early findings is that the heart has a complex neural network that is sufficiently extensive to be characterized as a brain on the heart.  The heart-brain, as it is commonly called, or intrinsic cardiac nervous system, is an intricate network of complex ganglia, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells, the same as those of the brain in the head. The heart brain's neural circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain to learn, remember, make decisions and even feel and sense. Descending activity from the brain in the head via the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS is integrated into the heart’s intrinsic nervous system along with signals arising from sensory neurons in the heart that detect pressure, heart rate, heart rhythm and hormones.
The anatomy and functions of the intrinsic cardiac nervous system and its connections with the brain have been explored extensively by neurocardiologists. In terms of heart-brain communication, it is generally well-known that the efferent (descending) pathways in the autonomic nervous system are involved in the regulation of the heart. However, it is less appreciated that the majority of fibers in the vagus nerves are afferent (ascending) in nature. Furthermore, more of these ascending neural pathways are related to the heart (and cardiovascular system) than to any other organ. This means the heart sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. More recent research shows that the neural interactions between the heart and brain are more complex than previously thought. In addition, the intrinsic cardiac nervous system has both short-term and long-term memory functions and can operate independently of central neuronal command.”]
The heart is the first organ to form during development of the body. When an embryo is made up of only a very few cells, each cell can get the nutrients it needs directly from its surroundings. But as the cells divide and multiply to form a growing ball, it soon becomes impossible for nutrients to reach all the cells efficiently without help. The cells also produce waste that they need to get rid of. So the blood and circulatory system, powered by the heart, together form the first organ system to develop. They are essential to carry nutrients and waste around the embryo to keep its cells alive.
The neural output or messages from the intrinsic cardiac nervous system travel to the brain via ascending pathways in the both the spinal column and vagus nerves, where it travels to the medulla, hypothalamus, thalamus and amygdala and then to the cerebral cortex.
Had the existence of the intrinsic cardiac nervous system and the complexity of the neural communication between the heart and brain been known sooner there would have been a clearer understanding of the heart-brain connection.  Understanding the heart/brain connection is vital in understanding the plan of salvation.  When the scriptures speak of the heart/mind it is not symbolic but the reality of how man is created.  Even researchers agree that the connection between the heart and brain tell us what makes each of us a whole person.
Having a pure heart and a mind fixed on Christ can restore a sinful person back to their rightful relationship with God. You always have the option, once you realize this, to choose the thoughts, emotions, actions you want to express in your life.  All automatic thoughts, emotion- or action-patterns that cause guilty in your life are based on misguided understandings, mostly subconscious, between your heart and mind.  This is from the old hard wiring of the brain.
It is important to see a transformation of the mind.  Paul understood the importance of changing the mind, “. . .be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”Rom. 12:2
Repentance is changing the mind, certain thoughts or behavior patterns must change so you can clearly see what is true and what is not true. That is why the prophet said, You will keep in perfect peace the mind [that is] dependent [on You], for it is trusting in You. Is.26:3
To consciously shift your focus on something opposite from what your brain has been automatically trained to do to ensure your survival will require you to come at this with determined force, to understand and accept that this will be quite a challenge, incredibly so.  We grow in our Christian experience.  Daily we take up the cross and follow Christ. The process of repentance is the process of changing how our brain is wired.  We change our behavior by changing our thinking, feeling, and actions.  We have been admonished to have the mind of Christ.
To see a change in the way we think and act is to have a clear vision of what we should prioritize and value. To the extent you have a clear vision of your life and what you most value, your heart and mind subconscious galvanizes, and sharply focuses, your emotional energy to create thoughts, ideas, and actions that align with your highest yearning changing how your heart and brain changes your long-term behavior.
It’s not an option. It’s how your brain is designed to work. You need a clear vision of what you really want, who you want to be, what you’re willing to do and not do, clear enough so you can see it, preferably involving most or all of your senses, that is, you picture it, taste it, smell it, hear it, and feel it as if it were already a present reality—in other words, Faith.
When your vision is a passion, the part of your mind that is in control of forming and breaking habits, the subconscious, is more quickly persuaded to let go of and replace the patterns that have been causing problems. To influence change, you must gain the cooperation of your subconscious mind. You need the vision to energize your mind and body and focus the direction of change. You can achieve what you want, more easily and effortlessly, when your conscious and subconscious mind works together toward common goals.
This no doubt the reason many who start to follow Christ give up and fail to see a change in their thinking, feeling and actions.  Their behavior has not changed.  They have not worked out their own salvation with fear and trembling.  They have not counted the cost of following Christ.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.2Cor.7:10

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine HEART that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9
The toughest work is repentance because it’s the actual changing of behavior. You have to perform another behavior instead of the old one. Once you recognize that you are a sinner, and why the cycle of sin is re-occurring, you now have to replace the old behavior by giving your brain new things to do. This is where the change in brain chemistry occurs, where you are creating new neural patterns, with your new mindset. By refusing to be misled by the old carnal nature.  Action seals the deal. When you consistently take action, going opposite the emotional response you used to respond with to a triggering situation, you are consciously self-directing changes in your brain. These changes will make it increasingly easier for you to train yourself to respond, for example, with relative calm and confidence to a situation that is normally triggering for you. The more you exercise a Christ-like behavior, the more likely your subconscious mind will integrate it as a learned pattern that becomes more and more automatic. 
Eventually, old thought patterns and intense emotional responses fade in intensity, and your brain is not highjacked by the old nature. You’ve developed the capacity to accordingly maintain an optimal emotional state of mind and body. Extensive studies say that, when you determinately decide to change your mind, you cause physical changes to your brain
 It has been scientifically shown that the brain is structurally altered by changes in your behavior patterns. You can put off the old ways of thinking patterns and old limiting beliefs by the transforming power of Christ.  Salvation offered by Christ is truly a change in our thinking,feeling, and actions.