Scripture has a lot to say about how we use the gifts, talents, and abilities God has given us. Ever consider what that means when it comes to your brain? Well, as Jesus tells the parable of the talents, we see two servants rewarded for good stewardship of their master’s financial resources and one punished for poor stewardship and excuse making.
Question: If God gave us 100,000,000,000 neurons as a gift to manage for His glory, shouldn’t we be found good stewards of them?
Our Clean Slate Workshop provides attendees with a Gospel centered look at productivity and helps them to manage their workload and “lifeload” with greater intentionality, precision, and efficiency. But, it also gives a deep dive into the neuroscience of what’s holding us back and what propels us forward in all areas of stewardship to God. Bottom line, I get pretty geeked out about the brain, give God the glory for it, and love to share tips and inside info about the brain when it’s in the news. The more you know, the better you can “honor God with your body” and serve Him with the brain that makes it all run.
So, in the interest of helping you “improve your serve”, here are recent news articles that showed up (albeit in an entirely secular column) at the intersection of neuroscience and productivity.
This year, we’ve been able to directly reach nearly 40 people in four cities, from Atlanta to Baton Rouge, through Clean Slate Workshops, webinars, and personal productivity coaching. Our “let me know when your next event is coming” list is growing very quickly. To join that list and be invited to our next Clean Slate Workshop, email “firstname.lastname@example.org” and we’ll update you as soon as we have dates & locations.
Enjoy and serve the King!
If you’ve read scripture much, you know that God calls men to the most inconvenient or “impossible” obediences when it’s most… inconvenient and impossible.
But, these were giants of the faith with burning bushes, appearing angels, signs and wonders. I’m just a little guy with a really big question that needs to be answered, right now! This time no man’s answer will do. What do you do when only God has your answer, but the line goes… quiet? Wait on Him and get even “quieter”?
So, here I am. Quiet. Off the radar. Waiting. With a question only God can answer…
The scariest thing to hear from God when lots is happening and “everything” is at stake is “Be still”… for a week?! A big workshop ramping up, webcast publicized, finances tight(est), and the “summer giving slump” ahead. “Something has to be done on a deadline!!! God, this is work only I can do!”
“Really? Did you make the world, Aarron?”
Some would say “do the next right thing”. But, if I were me sitting across from that guy, I’d remind him the wisest place for Elijah (at that specific, faith-shaken moment) was in the wilderness, in utter, Godward dependence – that if God is calling him to quiet his soul and wait, “Shh. Sit still.” I’d tell him that running from God is a place he doesn’t want to go. (See the book of Jonah…)
So, if you don’t hear from me by next Wednesday it’s not personal. It’s deeply personal… for me… to be still. I’m off the radar until then. Cleaning the slate. Pray for me, my family, the ministry. It looks like I’m about to step onto a high, narrow ledge by faith alone. I may find it was a lot wider all along and I was needlessly worried… Or, I may fall… only to be caught by the God who sent me.
(I’d love you to think it’s as glamorous as the cliff diver photo above, but it’s really pretty terrifying. Thanks, for the prayers! – AP)
Lost the Plot, Did We?
Amazing how great and tragic loss gets us asking the right questions, isn’t it? Sad there are so many distractions to take our eyes off the plot. Ever felt so stuck in the swamp you forgot you were sent there to drain it? Then, you must have seen the news on Friday, too… Terrible that we have to lose dozens of precious children to get us to pray more fervently, attend church more faithfully (even at all), or take a break from the busy-ness of business to consider what really matters at the time of year that really matters… Then, as the media cycle dies down… back to our Christmas shopping again, right?
Which is more tragic, the tragedy we saw or the tragedy of forgetting it?
OK, Shift Gears…
In Pursuit of Happiness…
At the intersection of all the newer stuff out there every year – the better, sleeker, smaller/larger (depending on the technology) – the “better deals than ever“, and the constant IV-drip of the marketers’ “you, you, you”, lies what used to be the village of “I really ought to get something for me”.
It was founded decades ago when Madison Avenue discovered that adding a few drops of consumer psychology to our water supply could turn grown adults into whiny, tantruming children who lose their minds when they can’t have what they want when they want it. Today, the town has grown up into a bustling city, renamed “Gimme” and you and I all have hearts that speak its native language.We even have a gift or two on our list that we’re buying just for us, right?
Paul makes in interesting point in 1 Corinthians 1, as he points to the identity of his audience:
“[I am writing this letter] to those who have been set aside/dedicated to serving God – holy by calling”
In fact, the letters God inspired Paul to write are all reminders to people who have lost the plot. “You started out on the right foot. You just got so caught up in the walking, you forgot where you were supposed to be headed. You’re so wrapped up in the men around you, you’ve lost touch with the Maker. You were called out to be holy – turn around and stick with first things in light of what’s been done for you!”
See? You just read half of the New Testament.
To Regain the Plot, Consider the Characters
We were created in God’s image, not a carbon copy of God, though. We are the creation, not the creator, and not endowed with the wisdom of all He knows. We lose the plot constantly because we don’t think like God. Yeah, you’ve been reading the Bible for a decade or two. That’s great. Me, too. That just makes me more prone to the sin of pride. God calls out to His people over and over again – “repent” – change your mind, radically and agree with the ways of God.
God isn’t so busy wrapped up with my deadline, your project problems, her sales quota, their ballet, soccer, karate, and gymnastics schedule. He always knows what the plot is… His glory. He’s totally stuck on Himself, but it’s okay. He’s the most important person in His life, and that’s okay. Implication: we’re not. We’re not the reason we’re alive, not the answer, not the point of the story… So, when we get all caught up in “us”, by whatever device, we’ve hijacked the lead role and lost the plot.
The Good News
The Good News, of course, is Jesus. But, the message of the Gospel isn’t. The Message of the Gospel is something far more offensive to our carefully tuned ears: “repent”. That’s great news – there’s a solution to… us. Repent… Turn away from the way that you used to think when you were, as God calls us, dead in your sin. Take off the old self, what’s familiar to you, “The Pursuit of Me and My Stuff”, and put on new thoughts. Renovate your mind.
But, the news Paul writes in 1 Corinthians is not to those who don’t know Christ. These aren’t people who are “dead in their sin”. These are people who’ve received grace by faith, but are being tugged this way and that by “every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). Know anyone like that?
The great news is, at least we know the Main Character and the plot. At least we have a means to regain the plot once we’ve lost it. And, despite the pain we’re feeling over our loss, their loss, any loss, we have gained something by the tragedy – a painful post it note that reminds us there was a plot in the first place. Go ahead, put your kids’ picture or one of the photos of those victims of the shooting on your dash board. But, don’t let it be there in vain – let it be a reminder of who the story is about and who you and I are not.
Pray for comfort for the families who have lost. Pray that God puts a smile on their face through the comfort that can only come from “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles (2 Cor. 1:3-4)”. But, pray also for the salvation of all around them. No sense in showing up to the gates of Hell with a smile on your face… Let’s not gain a smile and lose the plot. Give the gift of the Plot Writer to yourself and others this Christmas.
Jesus is the reason, not just a season.
Grace, peace, and momentum to you today in Christ!
Doing Two Things at Once… Have you ever been on the phone with someone while you were driving to work, get to work and think “Wow, how did I get here?”
There’s great brain science out there that explains this phenomenon. Without getting hyper-biological, let’s just say that God designed our brains to do really great things. One of those things our brain yearns to do is to embed familiar routines into the “auto-pilot” section of our brain. We’ve subconsciously trained ourselves how to get to work by storing “directions to work” in the routine-function section of our minds (also called the basal ganglia). When we shifted our “full” attention to the phone conversation, auto-pilot is what helped us arrive at work instead of Peru.
Much of what you and I have learned as children has been broken down into easily recalled “chunks” (how to go to the bathroom, how to lift a glass, what to say when someone gives you a toy, how to respond to someone who yells at you, etc.) and stored it in autopilot. This saves us from wasting time and energy rethinking the routine each time we have to do it.
The Old Testament teaching from Proverbs 22:6 is echoed in Jesus’ teaching “…but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)” Which, begs the question:
Who (more often, what) has been your teacher?
We’ve All Been Discipled by Someone
Many of my teachers growing up were contrary or marginally average examples of godly behavior. It took time in the Word and the Holy Spirit to expose to me the places where I’d learned wicked examples of auto pilot. Today, I was interviewing a mental health professional and he reminded me that when men and women are under great pressure they tend heavily to fall into default modes of thinking learned from their childhood/family of origin. The brain science I’m reading right now fully confirms this assertion: while we may have new ways of thinking and be a “new creation” in Christ, we don’t always let go of our old programming. Could this perhaps explain why some of the following passages appear in scripture:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12.2a)”
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil. 4:8)”
All Things New?
When we come to faith in Christ, we do, indeed, become new creations, but this does not mean our most basic programming is completely erased. How much good would we be to God’s kingdom if our mind were erased, personality wiped clean, and we had to learn reading, writing, even potty training all over? We have been “trained up (Prov. 22:6)” for a reason. But, submission to God in all we do, abiding in Christ and walking by the Spirit, demands that we are constantly renewed in our minds. We have much to relearn and the Holy Spirit who is our teacher, but we must dedicate time and mental bandwidth to the process.
- Take an inventory of “pretension that set up against the knowledge of God” and pray – multiple times daily – that the Holy Spirit will renew those old, bad, faulty thought patterns, giving you a “new” auto pilot. But, make sure to do this on paper – soon, I’ll be posting on how your brain isn’t designed to hold too many important things in the forefront – there’s great practical value in getting things out of our heads and onto paper.
- Think on these things – don’t just say “I’m going to not do x.” There’s great truth to “garbage in, garbage out”. Ask God to fill you with new desires and that’s likely what you’ll get. We’re in charge of our minds and what we consciously let in. Memorize the fruits of the Spirit – (Gal 5.22-23) and Philippians 4:8 and actively pray that God leans you toward these new ways. Life in Christ is not about good behavior, rather a changed heart that puts out godly behavior. But, let’s at least have a Holy Spirit Wish List.
- Say “no” to self-condemnation when you “fall off the wagon”. Looking in any mirror can show any of us far more faults than we’d care to think about tackling. But, at least now, we’ve got a more exhaustive list of what to pray for. Remember that while you are imperfect, God is leading you to perfection that will only be complete in His Kingdom reign.While you will make mistakes, Christ already paid the price for them – no sense beating yourself up when Christ has already been beaten for you.
This January, I’ll be running a half day workshop called “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Your Work, and Your Life”, where we’ll be covering how this stuff is just as related to getting your inbox to “empty” as it is to sharing the gospel at work and loving your enemy while you’re under attack.
God wouldn’t have put this stuff in the Bible if He didn’t intend to help us on the journey.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23.4)”
Comfort in the Wood?
I’ve often read through, listened to, even performed in choirs the 23rd Psalm and wondered – “Rod… Staff… Comfort?” Then, my wife and I went through three years of what we pray wasthe most challenging season of our life. Blending a family, learning to live and love more biblically, a challenging pregnancy, a second pregnancy – this time with twins, running a ministry, caring for people, the loss of two good friends in their 30s, tight financial situations that seemed to never end, etc. God stretched us and delivered us.
He still does. Hallelujah.
Rolling in the Deep
Ever been through one of those seasons when it seemed you were barely treading water, putting out only the nearest and tallest fires, catching a breath only to be dragged back to the bottom by the next wave? Yeah, odd mix of metaphors. But, you get the point – “survival mode”?
Sometimes, for God’s perfect will of sanctification to work best in us, we have to go through the worst, darkest of valleys. Sometimes, it’s truly the valley of the shadow of death. A close friend of ours just lost her mom very quickly to cancer. Other friends just experienced a miscarriage. A 37 year old woman with 4 kids ranging 8 to 1 has stage 3 cancer. Not valleys I’d want to go through. You?
Those times, in my mind, never bring up the image of a well carved billy club or a 6-foot tall walking stick, especially when I admit to my need for comfort.
But, Christ is our shepherd. Our authority, guide, protector, and liberator. In those valleys I get weary. In those times, peripheral vision shrinks because of the calamity right in front of my eyes. In those times, I might be stalled and stifled by self-medicating: mouth stuffed with cookies, ears stuffed with buds, zoned out and wandering through life like a… like a… lost and wounded sheep.
Can’t relate? Your time will come. We’ll all find ourselves at one time or another thinking “snap out of it!”, when “BANG!” God hits us in the head with a “reality slap”. I’ve never been hit with a nightstick in literal terms, but have you ever told of a time in your story when God hit you “in the head with a spiritual 2×4”? Rod… Thank you, God. So under the pressure I’d have stepped off the cliff had I not been hit by that blow. Startled, yet comforted that someone was looking out for me when I had no capacity to do so for myself.
Thank God for the rod.
Your Mileage May Vary
I won’t give an example of being stuck in a thicket of thorns, wounded and bleeding by my own wandering – you fill in that blank. You’ve got the scars, don’t you? As Shepherd, He’s shown you the value of a staff that can pry you out of what’s entangled you. It may take patience and struggle and you may keep bleeding while you come unstuck. But, there’s comfort, isn’t there, seeing His staff lift the briars from your path?
As you disciple others, the thickets and cliffs God has protected you from are crucial testimony. We all wander into trouble… too close to cliffs. Trouble even occasionally seeks us. Sometimes, we may even question His authority or sovereignty when He leads us through treacherous territory. Ultimately, the toughest territories turned out to be the best way to the greatest and most lasting life change under His authorship. The muscle and spiritual stamina built by the climbs through the valleys are what bring us the greatest mountain top experiences.
Grace and peace,