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spiritual walk

How Prayer Taps Your Brain and Promotes Better Health

If you think prayer is only about something spiritual, think again. Through brain research, scientists are finding out that prayer has tangible effects on many of the brain’s systems - effects that can actually sculpt the brain and make you a better, calmer, more compassionate, and overall healthier you.

The effects of prayer are numerous, and studies have shown that people who engage in prayer and meditation can see great health benefits - both mentally and physically. In the end, a relaxed body produces a relaxed brain, and the mind-body connection helps to promote overall well being. In fact, researchers have pinpointed that certain areas in the brain are stimulated during prayer and this is how we feel calmer, more emotionally connected, and generally more well during and after prayer.

WebMD offers a cool overview of how the brain reacts to prayer. They use the research of Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, MD:

As an individual goes deeper and deeper into concentration, intense activity begins taking place in the brain's parietal lobe circuits -- those that control a person's orientation in space and establish distinctions between self and the world. Benson has documented a "quietude" that then envelops the entire brain.

At the same time, frontal and temporal lobe circuits -- which track time and create self-awareness -- become disengaged. The mind-body connection dissolves, Benson says.And the limbic system, which is responsible for putting "emotional tags" on that which we consider special, also becomes activated. The limbic system also regulates relaxation, ultimately controlling the autonomic nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, etc., says Benson

All of this works together to calm and relax the body, and to make it become more emotionally engaged. It’s easy to see how one’s mental state can be greatly impacted by prayer.

But it’s not just about the mind. The body is clearly affected by these brain changes. Lower blood pressure can help the cardiovascular system. Stress can kill. It can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and other medical complications. Regulating stress with prayer can have a profound influence on one’s overall health.

When it comes to the healing power of prayer, doctors and scientists aren’t arguing that prayer can cure cancer. What some are saying is that prayer can play a crucial role in the brain’s ability to help the body heal.

"We see not only changes in the activity levels, but in different neurotransmitters, the chemicals in our brain … there's evidence to show that by doing these practices, you can cause a lot of different changes all the way throughout the body, which could have a healing effect.” Dr Andrew Newberg told NBC News.

Prayer is no doubt powerful for those who believe in its power. Now, science is studying how it actually affects brain chemistry, which in turn can improve mental health. This makes for a powerful alternative to substances people often use to cope, which can become addictive. The physical health benefits should cannot be overstated either.

Some scientists believe that we can shape our brain, much like we can shape our bodies - and that prayer and meditation can help. Through “neuroplasticity,” prayer might helps us mold our brains to be more mindful, compassionate, and connected to the world as a whole. With prayer, one might be able to sculpt their brain and teach themselves to be a better, more healthy human.

Jason Lewis has a BA in Human Performance and Exercise Health Science.  He is a personal trainer and caregiver to his elderly mom. He enjoys sharing his fitness knowledge on his website. He is passionate about helping seniors stay healthy and injury-free. He created StrongWell to share his tips on senior fitness.

Where Is God When The World Doesn’t Make Sense?

“I just keep thinking about my students. What about them?”

It was my first time at book club, and as we sat around the table of a local gastropub, the tone of the table was not nearly as upbeat as the conversations that surrounded us. It was the day after the presidential election, and the results were heavy on everyone’s minds. 

As a teacher, one member was worried about her students’ futures. After a campaign marked by negativity, violence, sexism, and discrimination, what would this outcome tell them about who they are? How would it shape their trust in our democracy? Would the new administration’s decisions affect her students’ rights and opportunities?

In a nation divided over the election’s outcome, not everyone will relate to her concerns. But the unsettledness she experienced is a feeling we all know too well. 

The great myth of humanity is that if I can just control the outcomes, I’ll be at peace. But the truth is that trust, not control, leads to peace. If I’m in control of everything, I’m worried about everything. But when I learn to trust God with everything, I can find peace in anything. 

“God, do you see what’s happening here?”

It’s the question we’ve all asked at some point when life didn’t go as planned. God’s answer in those moments is simple: “I’m right here. I always have been, and I always will be.”

In God's eternal plan, much of what happens on Earth won't make sense. The key to peace is not trying to understand but choosing to trust.

God reminds us throughout Scripture that He is present to everyone and far from no one. His throne might be in heaven, but He is intricately involved in affairs here on Earth. Nothing surprises God or catches Him off guard because nothing happens without His knowledge. 

One of my favorite descriptions of God comes from Isaiah 40

“So — who is like me?
    Who holds a candle to me?” says The Holy.
Look at the night skies:
    Who do you think made all this?
Who marches this army of stars out each night,
    counts them off, calls each by name
— so magnificent! so powerful! —
    and never overlooks a single one?” (Isaiah 40:25-31, MSG)

Isaiah, a prophet, wrote these words during a troubled time in Israel’s history, a time when many of God’s people were probably asking the same question: “God, do you see what’s happening here?”

Israel was supposed to be special, favored, protected. The problem is many took that to mean infallible. But when Isaiah wrote those words, the Assyrians had already taken the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity. In another 90 years, the southern kingdom of Judah would be conquered by the Babylonians, too. 

Isaiah’s words were not an arm flex from the Almighty so much as a reminder that — despite all the chaos and all the ways things weren’t going according to plan — God could still be trusted. He had never lost sight of His people, and He wasn’t going to start now. 

“Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
    or, whine, Israel, saying,
‘God has lost track of me.
    He doesn’t care what happens to me’?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
    He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out.” (Isaiah 40:27-29, MSG). 

His majesty is greater than my fear

God is both intensely personal and incredibly majestic. It’s easy to focus so much on how God cares for us that we can forget He’s not one of us. Genesis 1:27 says I’m like God, but He is not like me. And I love that about Him. 

Psalm 93:1-2 describes God like this: 

“The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
    indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
    you are from all eternity.”

I find comfort in a God who loves me intimately and still reigns supremely. I don’t want to put my life in the hands of a person I can outsmart. What if He gets it wrong, like I so often do? What if He forgets about me or drops the ball, like I’m inclined to do? The only reason my life is secure in God’s hands is because He is greater than I am.  

The trade-off in this arrangement is that I don’t always know what God is doing or understand what’s happening around me. He has seen more than I’ll ever remember and understands more than I’ll ever learn. If God thinks like Sherlock, my understanding is on par with Mrs. Hudson. 

Later on in Isaiah, God reminds His people of this, saying, “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work. For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think” (Isaiah 55:8-9, MSG). 

Trust > Control

In any situation life throws our way, the difference between peace and panic is where we place our focus. Instead of analyzing our circumstances, God invites us to look to the Bible to analyze who He is. How has He responded in these situations before? What promises does He make to His people? What guidance does He give us to follow?

As I drove home from book club that night, I was struck by how five women could share similar concerns about Donald Trump’s temperament yet experience vastly different emotions after his election. What I realized is our emotions in that moment were a reflection of where each of us had placed our trust. 

If our trust is in the Lord and not in our political system, we have to believe that God is not surprised or panicked by the outcome of an election. After all, God tells us in the Bible that:

  • He raises up leaders and brings down leaders (Daniel 2:21). 

  • He accomplishes His plans for His people, regardless of who is in charge (Proverbs 21:1, NLT). 

  • He can work through all things, even our struggles, for the good of His people (Romans 8:28). 

  • His desire for us is to continue sharing our faith and praying for our leaders (Jeremiah 29:7).

When disappointments come — and they will come — there will always be an initial sense of shock and disbelief. Choosing to trust in those moments starts with remembering who God is: “the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6).

this article courtousey of NewSpring Church and written by Heidi Charalambous

Girls vs. Boys

Recently I had an interesting experience in KidsView Worship, our kids worship service, that caused me to realize our Christian lives are not always what they should be.

We were playing a game that pitted the girls against the boys. The girl’s team had the lead for most of the time and delighted in rubbing it in the boys faces. The boys would complain that the girls were “not being good sports and were acting all proud!” However, as soon as the boys scored they would gloat just like the girls and the girls would complain about the boys.

Isn’t that the way we often live? We never see the wrong in what we do, but we are always quick to point out the wrong in others. If only there was a Bible scripture that addressed that - wait, there is!

LUKE 6:39-42

As I pondered my experience with the kids I thought that maybe the Christian life needs to be more like a game of football. In football, if a player is having an unsportsmanlike attitude or action he will get a 15-yard penalty. What would church be like if we all had yellow flags and tossed them if we saw a fellow Christian displaying un-Christ-like behavior? We could toss the penalty flag and have them drop and give us 15 push ups! Imagine how fit we would all be! But to be true to the Scripture, before we could toss a penalty flag on another believer, we would need to assess our own walk as a Christ-follower and deal with the un-Christ-like stuff in our lives. Quite honestly, by the time most of us deal with our stuff, we won’t have the time or inclination to throw penalty flags on others. Does anyone have a pair of tweezers that will handle a log?

Written by Pastor Randall Hosea