Many people like putting together jigsaw puzzles. We like looking at the boxtop to know how it is all supposed to turn out. We like that idea for our life as well. Now, here is the thing about the mystery, the puzzle of human life. We don’t have a box top for our entire life picture. We don’t. We don’t really know what the finished picture of our life is supposed to look like. We know what we WANT it to look like but we don’t really know but God does! God has the box top picture for the entire universe throughout all of time, including every detail of your life and mine. Sometimes we get a bunch of these puzzle pieces that ought to go right there if we had it our way but they just don’t fit and it can be really frustrating. Life doesn’t make sense. It is a mystery of faith.
This is Week Three – Calming Anxiety. This week Greg talks about some Scriptural and scientific wisdom about how we can calm anxiety.
“For now we see only a [PUZZLING] reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12.
… be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. ~ Romans 12:2
We know it’s almost impossible to have a positive faith life when you have a negative mind. How can we actually renew our mind like Paul says when we don’t yet fully know God the way He knows us?
Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you. ~ Philippians 4:6-9 (NET)
Your feet only play follow the leader with your brain. Now, that is really good news if your thoughts are good and helpful and positive and full of faith and trust in God. But it’s incredibly bad news if your thoughts are negative, anxious, or doubtful.
Amygdala- the part of the brain wired for survival. (FIGHT OR FLIGHT) The problem is that the amygdala is not objective. It’s simply hard-wired to protect, so it’s very easily triggered. Our amygdala needs a little help from another thing that God created in our brains called the prefrontal cortex. This is the logical part of the brain that tends to think logically. We need it too! If there’s a noise at night in the house, the amygdala screams, “AXE MURDERER! You’re gonna die!” And the prefrontal cortex steps in and says, “No, it’s just the cat hacking up another furball. You’re not gonna die. Relax. Go back to sleep.”
Neural pathways – When you think a new thought, it’s easier to think that thought again later – it knows the way. The more you think a thought the more ingrained that thought becomes. If we create anxiety pathways that is what will rule our mind. If we create faith pathways that is what will rule our mind.
Do not be anxious about anything. ~ Philippians 4:6a
Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. ~ Philippians 4:6b
And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:7
The secret to calming anxiety can often be found in prayers and petitions with thanksgiving, talking to God, the ultimate therapist, forming new faith neural pathways in your brain. I certainly don’t want to discount counseling with a trained human counselor or the need sometimes for some medication help from a trained physician. Sometimes God chooses to heal our brain chemistry stuff through these kinds of professionals. If you are overwhelmed in life right now, seek that kind of God-given professional help. But also, don’t discount the power of prayer along the way.
The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. ~ James 5:16b
Prayer should always be our first action. AFTER prayer, God might guide us to a counselor or a doctor, but we need to START with prayer.
You do not have because you do not ask; ~ James 4:2b
Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help. ~ Hebrews 4:16
Not only does prayer move the heart of God, but prayer also changes the chemistry in your brain.
Neurotheology/Spiritual Neuroscience – The study of the mind and of God. Research shows that prayer actually changes your brain.
“It’s been found that 12 minutes of daily focused prayer over an eight-week period can change the brain to such an extent that it can be measured on a brain scan.” ~ Dr. Caroline Leaf
Not only does prayer touch the heart of God, but prayer changes the brain. Just as toxic and negative and anxious thoughts harm your brain, prayer heals your brain. It transforms your brain. It literally renews your mind.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things…. ~ Philippians 4:8-9a
Scientifically speaking, Paul is saying, trigger your prefrontal cortex and prayerfully say, “Pre-frontal Cortex and Holy Spirit, take over my thinking from my amygdala.” From a scientific standpoint, we’re gonna let our prefrontal cortex grab the amygdala by the tail and say, “You quit being irrational. We’re choosing to be spiritual, faithful, positive. We’re giving this to God.”
… And the God of peace will be with you. ~ Philippians 4:9b
We need to “GIVE IT TO GOD!” The problem is, we usually tend to take it right back from God. Why do we do this? The reason is that in our faith, our God is too small and our worries are too big. We need to retrain our heart, soul, mind and strength to understand that our God is HUGE and by comparison all our worries are tiny.
Make a little box and label it “GOD.” Keep it somewhere obvious in your home. You are going to unburden your mind:
by casting all your cares on Him because He cares for you. ~ 1 Peter 5:7
Write down your worry and drop it in the box. In this very hands-on material way, give it to God. Cast your cares upon God because He cares for you. And any time you start to choose to worry about it again, what you have to do is walk over to your God box and take that which you’ve already given to God out of your God box to concretely remind yourself that you’re actually consciously choosing at this moment NOT to put your trust in God. You are accepting the responsibility of all your irrational worries again. How do we get to confident faith, the squashing of anxious thoughts?
THREE BIG STEPS
1) I’m gonna do what I can do.
2) I’m gonna give God what I can’t do.
3) I’m gonna trust God no matter what.