The “Brave New World” of the 21st Century requires a “Brave New Discipleship” strategy.

Can Brain Science Help You Grow Spiritually?

Posted on: October 24, 2017


Dr. Caroline Leaf is a neuroscientist and committed Christian who is taking the lead in revealing how brain science can help Christians grow spiritually. She writes in her book, Switch on Your Brain:

Self-directed neuroplasticity is a general description of the principle that deep thinking changes brain structure and function. It is the key to transformation.

This sentence is loaded with such profound implications for spiritual growth that I want to break it up into its components and look more closely at it, and add additional insights drawn from the book:

Neuro = the brain

 Plasticity = change

“Neuroplasticity”: the brain can change, does change, and always changes in the direction of what you put into it.

“Self-directed”: you can decide where you want your brain to go, and strategically put things into it that will, inevitably, take it there because of the characteristics of neuroplasticity.

“Changes brain structure and function”: the brain grows new protein mushrooms in the brain that house memory and information, it creates new neurological pathways, it connects different pathways with each other to exponentially improve cognitive functioning.

“The key to transformation”: It deepens positive neurological pathways in the brain so that as positive pathways are strengthened and negative pathways degenerate by neglect, we reach a tipping point where it becomes easier for the brain to go in positive directions than negative directions, and the individual experiences a surge of spiritual growth.

Dr. Leaf goes on to write:

When you understand the power of your thought life, you truly begin to get a glimpse of how important it is to take responsibility for what you are thinking. God was so serious about us capturing our thoughts and renewing our minds that he gave us science as an encouragement.

Whatever you think about the most will grow, so the more you think a particular thought, the stronger it grows. You can’t just apply a thought once and think change has happened.

 After a period of repeated thinking about a choice over and over, the new thought moves into the subconscious level, where it becomes part of our internal perception. It is at this level that we are deeply changed.

So… if self-directed neuroplasticity changes brain structure and function, and it is the key to transformation (as Romans 12:2 says), then what do we do to “self-direct” our brain? Well, elsewhere in her book, Dr. Leaf writes:

Structured repetition of helpful information, guided and focused attention, and the strategic feeding of our minds will foster improved cognitive functioning, emotional health, and mental and spiritual perception.

Think of that! Would you like to have improved cognitive functioning, emotional health, and spiritual perception? Well, you can!

You just have to engage in structured repetition of helpful information, guided and focused attention, and strategic feeding of your mind. It’s not easy… but it’s that simple.

When we integrate that information from neuroscience with what we know from Scripture, we see this correlation:

  • Structured repetition of helpful information would include memorization of Scripture
  • Guided and focused attention would include meditation on Scripture and biblical truth
  • Strategic feeding of our minds would include biblical study and additional renewal strategies

Let’s look more closely at those three scientific principles that will help us grow spiritually.

  1. Structured Repetition/Memorization.

Repetition is the key to mental ownership. As we repeat vital information, the mental activity creates protein pockets in the brain that store the information and wears pathways in the brain to make that information accessible to other information stored elsewhere in the brain.

In addition, the repetition drives the information into our subconscious, where it transforms our innate attitudes, values and behavior. We feed our subconscious and then our subconscious feeds us.

  1. Focused attention/Meditation

While memorization of Scripture is a vital and powerful practice, it is made exponentially more powerful by meditating on it. The protein pockets in the brain that house memory become even larger, the pathways that connect that information with other information in the brain become even deeper, and the ability to answer questions, have insight into difficulties and to see options for opportunities become even greater.

  1. Strategic feeding/Biblical Study & Renewal strategies

A third vital component of deploying the mind in helpful ways is to study additional information that will further your biblical goals and purposes in life. All truth is God’s truth, and there is a wealth of information from godly Bible teachers, Christian authors, bloggers and other authorities that is consistent with Scripture and helps us understand how to more fully apply truth to our lives.

There are additional ways to feed the mind that which is positive. Reading good books, watching good movies, and listening to good music can positively feed the mind. An increasing body of research is revealing that spending time alone in nature has a powerful positive effect on the mind. And finally, doing things that one is gifted to do, and passionate about doing, can feed the mind. Playing a musical instrument, painting pictures, and even growing flowers can feed the mind as they are done as an expression of communion and worship.


The value of memorizing (Psalm 119:11), meditating (Psalm 1:1-3) and studying (2 Timothy 2:15) is nothing new, of course, but as we understand the neuroscience behind these three principles, knowing that scientific research demonstrates that they work, and sheds light on how, it can encourage us to be more committed to using them to guide and accelerate our spiritual growth.

If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to read last week’s blog on “Ten Transforming Affirmations” and download my free pdf of ten biblical affirmations which I use in my own personal mind renewal arsenal.

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