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How Prayer Changes Your Brain Structure

I think every Christian believer would agree in saying that we don’t need science to prove the word of God, but you must admit, it’s pretty dope and fascinating to see exactly how and when science supports scripture! You may already know about the many healthy benefits that focused meditation can have on your brain and body, but have you thought about how focused prayer changes the actual structure of your brain?

In a new branch of research called ‘neurotheology,’ scientists are making attempts to understand spiritual experience — and what happens in the brains and bodies of people who purport to be connected with the divine. Researchers have found that the brains of people who spend long periods of time in prayer and meditation are different.

Neuroplasticity

Up until only a few decades ago, the brain was thought to be an organism that could not be changed once we reached adolescence, and that all one could hope for in many psychiatric and neurological conditions was pharmaceutical dependency and compensation skills rather than a total cure. The brain structure was viewed as a done deal, thereby contributing to the hopeless view that such conditions were one’s sealed fate.

Now, with the emergence of the study of neuroplasticity, it has been discovered that the brain is continually changing in response to mental and sensory signals throughout the human lifespan. Our brains are constantly being wired and rewired, for better or for worse depending on the information we are feeding it! After all, why would we be told to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind” in Romans 12:2 if this wasn’t actually possible?

In his book, “How God Changes Your Brain,” director of research at Thomas Jefferson Hospital and Medical College in Pennsylvania, Dr. Andrew Newberg says, “The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain.” This means that with the concept of neuroplasticity is that we can in fact train, sculpt, and fine-tune our brains just as we do for our muscles when we go to the gym. We can literally deactivate the toxic signals that fire in our brains and wire in the transforming power of the word of God directly into our brains and DNA. It’s all a matter of intentionally choosing what we focus on. For more information on how this concept and the word of God alters our DNA, read my previous article, How Your DNA is Altered Through Your Thoughts & Choices.

Focused Attention: Prayer Changes the Brain

Through cognitive scientific research, it has been found that as little as 12 minutes of daily intentional, focused prayer over an 8 week period can change the brain in a very measurable way. On a brain scan, this type of prayer increases activity in the areas of the brain that are associated with social interaction, compassion and sensitivity to others. An increase in frontal lobe activity can also be measured as focus and intentionality in prayer increases.

Although toxic thoughts can cause brain damage, all hope is not lost as prayer can actually reverse the damage and therefore create a sustainable thriving atmosphere for the brain and body to live. Praise God that there is a growing interest in the power of prayer to change our brain! Even though science is just recently proving this in the past few decades, we as Christians have known this for centuries based upon the written word of God and through personal experience.

The key to experiencing this transformational power of prayer is daily feeding on the word until it penetrates your spirit and literally take residence in your heart. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Scientifically, we know that it takes about 21 days to make or break a habit. It also take 21 days of focused, intentional thinking about one thought or behavior to form a neural pathway geared towards strengthening that particular thought or behavior.

Although entire books have been written on the subject of prayer, let’s remember that the overall take-away about prayer is that it keeps our hearts, minds, and dependence on Christ Jesus. Keeping in mind that there is an effective and non-effective way to pray, remember that even the disciples had to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, of which Jesus laid out for them a template of how to model our prayers. Our prayers should ultimately not remained focused on the problem, but rather the problem solver. The more we quote scripture within our actual praying, the more we rewire our brains to apply those scriptures in practical application on a day-to-day basis. Do not be overwhelmed as this is a life- long journey that requires practice. The more we do it, the easier and more natural it becomes.

When the disciples asked Jesus why they weren’t able to drive the deaf and mute spirit out of the boy, Jesus replied, “This kind comes out only by prayer” (Mark 9:20-29). This scenario is a testament to two things:

  1. As a human, nothing more powerful or effective has been entrusted unto us other than the weapon of prayer over our own circumstances as well as those of others (intercession).
  2. Regardless of our own efforts, Jesus can step in at any moment and immediately transform our situation. What we can do in 21 days of intentional and focused prayer, Jesus through the power of God can do instantaneously.

It can be easy to slip into a “works-driven” mentality given this information, and although there are many self-help books and programs designed to produce the very results we’re looking for, we are left to rely on the grace and mercy of God the Father. So, although science is just now catching up to eternal truths that are found in the God word, by measuring the effects of prayer on our brain, let us focus on whom our ultimate dependence for hope and transformation lies in. As we make the wise decision to partner with God by acting on faith in His word through prayer, we will continue to see the fruit of supernatural results in our lives.

For more on the power of prayer as it relates to our brain structure, watch/listen to these videos by Christian cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf:

Prayer blocks toxic thoughts in brain:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAEeCtsn9n0

Prayer overcomes depression:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HmLOGciGFc

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About Chealsea Hayes

Chealsea Hayes, originally from Denver, CO is an addiction counselor, athlete, author and youth mentor in Lafayette, LA where she resides with her husband, Korey. She aims to marry her gift of teaching and writing with her passion for Christ to present biblical concepts in a fresh, relevant and applicable manner.

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