Pray Grooves in Your Brain

You can teach your old brain new tricks–with prayer!

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Posted in , May 8, 2015

The brain (Thinkstock)

Once upon a time, scientists believed that once the human brain finished developing in early adulthood,  it was more or less set for life—immutable. They don’t think that anymore.

In fact, research indicates that frequent and repetitive thoughts actually change your brain’s physiology. They etch neural pathways in your brain. In other words, the more you think a specific thought (and especially reinforce the thought by speaking or writing it), the more you groove a path in your brain, making it easier, perhaps unavoidable, to have that thought again.

This helps to explain, for example, why that negative message you heard repeatedly while growing up (such as, “Don’t be so stupid!” or “You’re so clumsy!”) keeps popping up in your thoughts. It helps to explain why some people find it hard to think positive thoughts, while others seem to do so with ease.

But that doesn’t mean you and I are stuck with the “grooves” our thought patterns have etched in our brains. Research also indicates that we can create new neural pathways by changing our thought patterns, a process like that recommended by the great church planter Paul, who said to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, ESV). In other words, you can teach an old brain new tricks!

And prayer is the best way to do this.

When you pray, of course, God hears. John, the “beloved disciple,” wrote, “This is the confidence that we have toward [God], that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14, ESV). This is the first of the many blessings of prayer. But there are more. 

When you pray, your prayer renews your mind. It etches new neural pathways in your brain. It “teaches” your brain new tricks. Whether you’re praying “breath prayers” or “presence prayers,” The Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer—or something else—you are praying grooves in your brain, pathways that with repeated use will become pathways to peace (see Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:6-7).

Why not start today? Determine what neural pathways you want to cultivate—what thoughts and prayers you want to be commonplace to you, say, a year or two from now. Then start regularly praying such things, daily—even several times a day—and “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2, NLT).

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