Faith and the Mind

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine [think], according to His power that is at work within us

–Ephesians 3:20–

What happens in your mind is one of the most important factors in your faith capacity. Rational study and understanding is sometimes forgotten in Christianity today. Our focus has been more on connecting our beliefs with the heart and less on discipline and conscientiously studying God’s Word or logically understanding our faith and beliefs.
An important foundation to understanding the role of faith in the mind is realizing the difference between the brain and the mind. The brain is a part of the body. It is physical, material, and visible. It can be seen and touched (although you probably wouldn’t want to!). The brain works through electrical and chemical means, through interactions of chemicals and synapses. It receives information from the physical senses and from your self-embedded memory. The mind, however, is a part of the soul, as we discussed last week. It is immaterial and invisible; it cannot be seen or touched. The mind, contrary to the brain, works through psychic and spiritual means. It receives information from the brain, as well as from the emotions and Spirit.
Faith works in and with the mind and the brain. When you disbelieve or doubt that something is possible, the brain immediately slows its workload and reduces its “firing capacity,” which short-circuits faith. As a result, the mind’s ability to believe is immediately reduced, resulting in unfaithfulness. When your mind is not being controlled by the Spirit, it stops thinking supernaturally and downsizes what God can do. As a result, it begins to be “pressed into the mold” of thinking, which shrinks your capacity to believe God (Romans 12:2).
Our choice: To BELIEVE God – to trust fully in Him, His promises, His ways, and His purposes or DISBELIEF – our refusal to accept something as true.

WHAT WILL YOU CHOOSE TO THINK?

Faith: How does it Work?

This week we’ll begin the main discussion on the psychology of faith, the interaction of our faith with our minds and emotions. In discussing this, it’s important to consider three key truths first.
First, faith doesn’t work how we think it works or how we would like it to work. Faith doesn’t work perfectly, as God originally intended, but it does work. It is to have a significant role in our lives. Secondly, faith only works as God ordained it to work. We cannot manipulate how faith works; we cannot manipulate how God works and make things work how we want them to. We must seek to discover how it works. Understanding faith and understanding God are vitally important in our Christian lives. Thirdly, our ignorance of Biblical faith greatly minimizes God’s work in and through our lives. A lack of understanding may limit how God can work in us, to transform us, and through us, to carry out His will in the world.
Forming a psychology of faith first requires that we understand the field of psychology. ‘Psychology’ comes from the Greek word psyche, which means soul. In our Biblical understanding of personhood, the soul is the center of each human being. A person is made up of a body, a spirit, and a soul. The soul itself is then made up of the mind, the will, and emotions. Psychology seeks to study the soul of a person, to understand how the mind, will, and emotions interact and make a person into who they are.
Much psychology is fundamentally flawed and ungodly because it miscalculates human nature and, as a result, the human condition. Those who seek the services of such well-intentioned people tend to fall deeper into the morass of hopelessness and addiction because they are being treated in ways inconsistent with how God made us.
What happens in the soul tells us whether or not faith is Biblical. Biblical faith involves the whole soul and is played out through the mind, will and emotions. Faith must be logically understood, connect with your feelings and your heart, and it must be lived out in your actions. ‘Feeling’ spiritual or connected to God matters little if you do not truly and deeply understand God and faith. Logical study and understanding is insignificant if you don’t connect with your emotional, affective side or show through your actions. In the same way, the right behaviors show nothing without the beliefs and convictions to back them up.
In the next four weeks, we’ll look at how faith plays out in our mind, emotions, and will as well as practical ideas to put together this knowledge with our lives.

Five Facts about Faith

Ryan McGuire, credit, gratisography

Five Facts About Faith

In seeking to understand faith, which is vital as we discussed last week, there are some foundational ideas to understand and apply. I’m going to introduce and explain five realities of faith which must be understood.
1. Your belief that God will act does not obligate Him to do so. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul describes his affliction, his “thorn in the flesh.” He writes that he asked God three times to remove this hardship, but that God told him instead that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God does hear your prayers and requests, but even a firm belief that God can and does heal, does not mean that He has to because you ask Him to. God’s purposes are not our own and His will may differ from ours.
2. God sometimes acts apart from your exercise of faith. God may act and heal those who do not have faith in Him. As stated in the past point, God’s ways of acting and His purposes may be different than what we expect and different than what we want. In Matthew 8:16 and in many other instances, Jesus healed many who were brought to Him, without considering the faith of those whom He was healing. God can have compassion on those who don’t have faith in Him as well as those who do.
3. Sometimes God does require us to exercise faith before He acts. In other stories in the Gospels, Jesus heals people because of their faith. For example, He heals the woman in Matthew 9:21-22 because she had enough faith to reach out and touch Jesus’ cloak. She believed that touching His cloak would heal her and it did; His power ‘went out’ without Him being aware of it. He knows, of course, but it was her strong faith in the power of Christ that healed her.
4. Sometimes God wants to act, but our lack of faith keeps it from happening. When teaching in His hometown, many people doubted Jesus’ power and saw Him only as a carpenter’s son. Matthew 13:58 says that “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” While God can act apart from faith, sometimes He does not act because we lack faith.
5. Whether or not God requires us to exercise faith before He acts is His business. How God chooses to act is an essential part of His divine prerogative as God. If God was dependent upon us to have faith, He would not be an omnipotent sovereign God. If He needed us for anything, He would not be our divine Creator. God needs humans for nothing; it is up to Him to choose to act or to choose not to act. We can be sure that His ways and His purposes are above ours, that they are for our best, but we do not dictate the plans of God. Our faith can change God’s mind, as Moses’ plea for the Israelites did in Exodus 3211ff, or allow Him to act in our lives differently than if we did not have faith, but we are not in charge.
 
Human faith plays a central role in our Christian lives. Understanding these five realities of faith is also vital to a correct understanding of the role of faith. God can act in spite of our lack of faith or He may require our faith in order to act. It’s up to God to act or nor; it’s up to us to have faith and to trust in His ways and His purposes.

Thinking About Faith…

Have you ever ‘believed’ God would do something but still been disappointed when you didn’t receive what you hoped for?  Have you ever shown half-hearted faith and, somehow, still saw God work?  Why did faith work one time and not the other? Is it possible that God’s Will is for something to happen but our lack of faith keeps it from happening? Are there times when God works apart from our faith– meaning, times when our faith isn’t required for God to act? And does that mean that God is completely unpredictable and arbitrary in how He acts?  Is the Christian life a complete “wild card?” Does God want us to be completely confused about one of the most important issues in the Christian life or are there things we can know?
It’s not that faith always makes sense, but nor is it that faith never makes sense…it’s that it sometimes makes sense.
Faith in the Christian life requires that we think about these issues. We should live out the Christian life, but we also need to reflect on it, to think deeply about issues of faith. Metacognition is thinking about how you think, the mind reflecting upon itself, being aware of your cognitive processes, and understanding one’s own thought patterns.
As humans, created in God’s image, we are capable of personal reflection and analysis. As Socrates taught, we should know ourselves. Failing to think about faith and about ourselves doesn’t mean that there are not issues we need to understand. Just as being ignorant of scientific laws, like the law of gravity, doesn’t mean that they don’t apply to us. Likewise, failing to understand how the laws of faith work doesn’t exempt us from understanding them either.
Generally, does God want me to understand how He works? Yes! God “made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel” (Psalm 103:7).
God wants you and I to think about our faith, to deeply ponder and contemplate issues and laws of our faith. To better understand the role and importance of faith, I encourage you to read Hebrews 11 this week. Read about faith in the lives of the ‘heroes’ of the Old Testament, and how the law of faith applies to us here and now.
I’m going to spend the next six weeks discussing faith, studying five foundational facts about faith, a psychology of faith, and how faith interacts with our mind and with our emotions. Faith is foundational and vital in our Christian lives and is something that all Christians should take the time to think about.

Listening in Prayer

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One of the least known elements of prayer is that of listening.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 tells us to “let our words be few”, not to be quick with our mouths of hasty in our hearts. Because God is Lord and King, we are to listen to His Words before seeking to promote our own interests or petitioning for our needs. As Jesus commands His disciples not to pray with useless repetition and meaningless words, we are also to listen first.
Listening is another aspect of the receiving end of our dialogue with God. It is different than waiting, which is preparing for God’s coming and letting Him love you. It is different from meditation, which is pondering spiritual themes and asking God to illuminate them for you.
Listening is to seek to hear God speaking to You, to allow Him to apply Scripture to your life, to allow Him to give you an insight about life issues, and to seek to see what He has laid upon your heart
The person who doesn’t learn to listen is the person who doesn’t really have a clear direction in his life about what God wants him to do and doesn’t pursue aggressive things for God. When we listen, we will hear God’s words, hear His directions, and we can act in obedience to Him.

Petitioning God in Prayer

Petitioning is an additional aspect of prayer that we can consider and practice. Praise and confession are foundational in prayer, but petitioning is also an important piece of praying to our God and Father.
What is petition? Asking God for one’s own behalf.  Technically, only yourself– not your family or anyone else falls into this category. It’s significant that petition falls after many other topics in prayer.
Asking is symbol of our desire, yet sometimes He won’t give that which we want or need until we ask for it. As James 4:2 says, “Ye have not because ye ask not.” God may still answer with a ‘no’ or ask us to wait or tell us ‘later,’ be He cannot answer if we don’t pray and we don’t ask.
Petition is not unbiblical or necessarily selfish. We do rely and depend on God and for that reason, we must ask Him for that which we need. As Jabez cries out in 1 Chronicles 9, who asked with sincerity for God to protect Him. We have but one Father and He must grant our provision. Petition is a confession of our helplessness, reliance, and desperation. When we ask with wrong motives, God does not grant our selfish requests (James 4:1-3).
It is spiritually healthy to take a need apart, piece by piece, during prayer.  Analyze it from every angle and express it as a petition. The more specific and complete a petition is, the more faith is generated when the prayer is answered. Specific prayers are also good because you know when they are answered (Matthew 7:7; Mark 11:23).  Don’t escape the spiritual tension by asking vaguely and then wondering if your prayers were answered.  Sometimes we ask vaguely because we’re so afraid they won’t be answered and that indicts someone– God or ourselves.
Asking God with faith and with pure motives for ourselves is not selfishness, but is trusting God with all of our needs and with our future.
Prayer begins with praising God for who He is and what He’s done. We must also confess and repent of sin, as unconfessed sin hinders our petitions for ourselves. Waiting for God and watching for His work are also vital to making our own petitions. We must look for where God is working in the world already before making a request for ourselves.