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Thoughts and Commentary on Today's Reading:Having completed the Book of Job, we return to Psalms today. Psalms 42 is a Chapter on hope. Notice the despairing context, and the Psalmist's hope-filled conclusion:
Psalm 42:1-3, 11 - "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? ...Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."So today, I'd like to focus on Psalm 42 and the healing power of hope in God. When we hope in God, we find peace to weather any storm. And we find the keys to mental health as well.
What does hope have to do with mental health? Well... let's start at the beginning...
Scripture tells us that God gives a "sound mind" to His people.
What does it mean to have a “sound mind?” According to Wikipedia, a “sound mind” is equated with sanity and “…refers to the soundness, rationality and healthiness of the human mind, as opposed to insanity. A person is sane if he/she is rational. In modern society, the terms have become exclusively synonymous with compos mentis (Latin: compos, having mastery of, and mentis, mind), in contrast with non compos mentis, or insane, meaning troubled conscience.”
If someone is asked to define a “sound mind,” Most would explain that sanity and rational thinking were included. But it may be less commonly known that a clear conscience is connected with mental health.
Without a clear conscience, our lives are destroyed, like a shipwreck, as it says in 1 Timothy 1:18-19:
Much more than mere synapses firing efficiently, the human conscience is more connected with the spiritual realm. It is formed by our thoughts, feelings, actions and awareness of God. Since our characters are ultimately comprised of our thinking, feelings, and actions, the good conscience equated with a sound mind must also be connected to moral character.
Even the suggestion that humanity may be directly responsible for our happiness and mental health is an astounding and socially unpopular concept in our “victim-mentality” society.
For a moment, let’s set aside concern about making socially unacceptable suggestions. Now let us consider whether there is any provable support for the idea that we may impact our own mental health through our character development. Could it be that the WAY we think, affects not only our relationship with God, but also our mental health? Could mental health be more a character issue than a chemical one?
Following my personal brush with the bi-polar/schizophrenia threat (documented in my book Escaping From the Dragon's Jaws). I began to ask these probing questions. Notably, my own mental health crisis had been averted through spiritual deliverance and my refusal to indulge negative thoughts or emotions, with God’s help. I learned that my brain’s chemical imbalance, which was steadily increasing at the time, was due to my negative thinking. In other words, I was unwittingly creating my own mental illness through indulging negative thinking and depression. Over time, continued negative thinking actually caused my brain to chemically react and change!
Is it scientifically provable that the way we think and feel actually physically changes our brains over time? Yes! Leading Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Newberg explains:
“Brain-scan technology allows us to watch a living brain in action, and what we see is amazing. Each feeling and thought changes the blood flow and electro-chemical activity in multiple areas of the brain…”, (How God Changes Your Brain, p 15).
The Bible clearly connects mental health with how we think. Scripture tells us that the thoughts and feelings which come with having a faith-filled relationship with God are key in having a “sound mind.” (Now we're getting to the connection between hoping in God and mental health.) Mental health is a direct gift from God, in the first place.
God’s people are further counseled to have the “mind” of Christ, as a key to a Heavenly connection, as well as mental health.
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Yahshua," Philippians 2:5.
But what is the “mind” of Christ that we are to let be in us? Looking up the underlined portion of the above verse in E-Sword, we find the following definition:
“Let this mind be” is translated from the Greek word phroneō, which means:
“to exercise the mind… or have a sentiment or opinion… to be (mentally) disposed… to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience): set the affection on… think,” (Strong’s Concordance #G5426).
By definition, letting the mind of Christ be in us refers to holding the same God-centered opinions, having the same Heavenly interests, setting our affections on the same Eternal values, and exercising our minds to have the same mental disposition as Yahshua Christ. Christians certainly know that Yahshua was the picture of mental health. But could it be that if we thought, felt, and lived in the same God-centered, positive manner as Christ, that we too would experience soundness of mind? I believe so!
To demonstrate this, let’s begin by considering the scientifically proven fact that our thinking habits effect lasting physiological and chemical changes in our brains. Dr. Andrew Newberg joined with Mark Waldman to show changes in the human brain brought on by positive, God-centered thinking, prayer, praise and worship.
"If you contemplate God long enough, something surprising happens in the brain. Neural functioning begins to change. Different circuits become activated, while others become deactivated. New dendrites are formed, new synaptic connections are made, and the brain becomes more sensitive…
Spiritual practices… have an effect upon your neuro-transmitters… Contemplating God will change your brain… because it strengthens a unique neural circuit... subduing destructive feelings and emotions… And the underlying mechanism that allows these changes to occur relates to a unique quality known as neuroplasticity: the ability of the human brain to structurally rearrange itself in response to a wide variety of positive and negative events." (How God Changes Your Brain, by Andrew Newberg, MD. and Mark Waldman, p 3 & 14.)
While positive, hope-filled, God-centered thoughts and feelings have a healthful effect on the brain, negative thoughts and emotions also change the brain, potentially undermining mental health.
"Excessive anger or fear can permanently disrupt many structures and functions in both your body and your brain. These destructive emotions interfere with memory storage and cognitive accuracy... Anger makes people indiscriminately punitive, blameful, pessimistic, and unilaterally careless in their logic and reasoning skills… Eventually, it will even damage important structures in your brain," (How God Changes Your Brain, by Andrew Newberg, MD. and Mark Waldman, p 133.)
Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of how our brains instantly respond to, and are changed by, positive or negative thoughts and emotions, was an experiment conducted by Dr. Jerome Stowell. A formerly atheistic scientist, Dr. Stowell lead a five-man team in what turned out to be a study of how praise-filled, God-centered thinking or negative, self-centered thinking, affects the brain and its electrical charges. The story of this remarkable experiment is recorded by Karol Truman in her book, Feelings Buried Alive Never Die.
A team of five scientists headed by Dr. Jerome Stowell, decided to study the wave length of the brain’s electrical charges. Stowell and his research team wondered what would happen in the brain while a person was dying.
As one of their test subjects, Stowell and his research team chose a lady who was still alert in mind but was on the verge of death. They set up their electrical measuring device in her hospital room, along with a quarter-sized microphone set by her pillow so they could hear if she had anything to say, which might help them connect her state of mind with her electrical brain wave measurements.
Their measuring device had a needle pointing to zero in the center of the scale. The right side of the scale was calibrated to 500 positive points, while the left side of the scale went all the way down to 500 negative points
As the last moments of the lady’s life arrived, she began to pray and praise the Lord. She asked Him to be merciful to those who had despitefully used her. Then she reaffirmed her faith in God, telling Him she knew He was the only power; that He had always been and would always be the Living Power. She told Him how much she loved Him.
We (the scientists) had been so engrossed with the woman’s prayer that we had forgotten our experiment. We looked at each other and saw tears flowing down atheistic, scientific faces. I had not shed tears since I was a child.
Suddenly we heard a clicking sound on our forgotten instrument. We looked, and the needle was trying to go higher than 500 positive points, only to bounce against the positive post in its attempt…
Having witnessed and recorded the amazing effect praise to God and prayer had upon the human brain, these same scientists wondered what electrical readings they would get from a negative, self-centered, embittered mind. A man, deemed suitable to this description, was chosen from the hospital patients. With the same technology set in place to register his brain activity and speech, the scientists waited to see what their instruments might register, in this case.
Selfishly focused and unlovely, when this test subject did not get what he wanted, he would verbally abuse the nurses. As he did so, the needle began to register on the negative side. But when the man began to bitterly curse and take God’s Name in vain (he used God’s Name in his cursing), the needle clicked against the negative 500 point post. The following is the account in Dr. Stowell’s words, recorded long after the incident, which he cited as the catalyst in his own conversion:
By actual instrumentation we had registered what happened in the brain, when that brain broke one of God’s Ten Commandments, ‘Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.’ Ex. 20:7.
We had established by instrumentation the positive power of God and the negative power of the adversary.
It is the presence of God in us that gives us Power, of Whose magnitude we have no conception. I am now a scientist who loves the Lord with all my heart, and mind and soul, and might. I want you to pray for me that I will always think and say and do the things a positive God wants-and nothing according to the wishes of a negative adversary who kept me blinded and bound so many years, (Dr. Jerome Stowell, quoted by Karol Truman, Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, chapter 2).
Science is finally catching up with the Bible, showing us the proof that (read slide). Breakthrough neuroscientific research is confirming daily what we instinctively knew all along: What you are thinking every moment of every day becomes a physical reality in your brain and body, which affects your optimal mental and physical health. These thoughts collectively form your attitude, which is your state of mind, and it’s your attitude and NOT your DNA that determines much of the quality of your life.
The great news is that God created us with a brain that is wired for love and positive thinking. We have a natural optimism bias that is wired into us. Our default mode is one of being designed to make good choices. So our bad choices and reactions were wired in by our choices – and therefore can be wired out.
As leading neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf points out in her book Switch on Your Brain, by choosing to hope in God, instead of dissolve into faithless despair, we chemically alter our brains, wiring them for mental health.
Dr Leaf writes, “I was trained in the conventional wisdom of the time that said brain normality was an impossibility for those with mental limitations or brain damage of any kind. Being a student of the Bible, however, I was deeply familiar with and constantly comforted by Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. I knew this famous and fabulous “renewing of the mind” passage was a truth I needed to apply to my patients’ care to help them overcome their deficits. So my relentless search of this truth as a scientist began.” (Switch on Your Brain p 20)
You cannot control the events and circumstances of your life, but you can control your reactions to those events and circumstances.
When you think, you build thoughts, and these become physical substances in your brain (Proverbs 23:7).
Good positive, hope-filled thinking = good choices = healthy thoughts and brain chemistry
Toxic negative thinking = destructive choices = toxic thoughts.
God created you for love and mental health. This is His will for you. Fear is a learned response, which can be unlearned. And mental health is a natural by-product of godly, praise-centered, hope-filled thinking.
Do not look at your circumstances and let those determine how you think and feel, nor whether your trust God or not. God is your reality-not your circumstances. This is why the Psalmist wisely chose to hope in God, no matter the circumstances. And in so doing, we find health, help, and strength.
Psalm 42:1-3, 11 - "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? ...Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."