The subconscious areas of the brain are in control of the majority of the survival of the human body. This is what controls breathing, the cardiac muscles, blood pressure, and the smooth muscles of the digestive system, though it can also take control of our skeletal muscles when it needs to. The subconscious is in full charge of pain and exactly how much pain it wants us to feel. It is here where most information is processed and stored (whether we want it stored or not). The subconscious can process 11 million pieces of information every second! This stands in stark contrast to our conscious mind, which can only process about 40 pieces of information per second. It is this tremendous amount of information that is processed unawares that plays a major role in the changing and shaping of our lives, how we think, what we believe, how much compassion we have for others, and how much pain is expressed emotionally and physically. Past troubles stored unwittingly in our subconscious have been linked to some of the most terrible and painful physical disorders. I say all this to demonstrate the power and effect that the subconscious has on our lives and the amount of control it wields. So, I want to discuss how we can utilize the subconscious skillfully and effectively grow in our walk with God.
Just because the subconscious has a mind of its own, so to speak, that does not mean that we cannot influence it to create new neurological pathways that are healthier and more aligned with God’s word. Habits, for example, are mostly the work of the subconscious, but it is the conscious mind that deliberately does something several times over to begin forming this pathway in the subconscious. Reading the Bible every day and praying throughout the day does not come automatically after we are baptized. These things become habits by deliberate choice and conscious effort; only after this period of forming new neurological pathways will we be the kind of person who doesn’t forget to pray or go to God’s word. So, the conscious mind feeds information into the subconscious, and, because of the amazing plasticity of the brain, the subconscious will pave new pathways from the information received from our deliberate actions in diligent activities. Learning to ride a bike, for example, took diligence and practice, but once it was learned, the subconscious formed new neurological pathways that would allow us to jump back on a bike even decades later without needing to relearn the skill. This is why diligence is so critical in the Christian (1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 4:11; 2 Peter 1:10). There is no room for laziness. James calls the word of God “the implanted word” (James 1:21), what he meant by that is well defined in the context: the word should not go in one ear and out the other (“not hearers only”), but we must be “doers of the word”. Practicing the will of God in our lives does not come particularly easy, and it will be met with many challenges, but as Jesus said, a disciple who is like his teacher has been “perfectly trained” (Luke 6:40); practice makes perfect. But if we never do it, or if we are never diligent, it will never be “implanted” within us, our brains will never change, and we will not have the neurological pathways that make us skilled in godliness and quickened unto righteousness. Fathers are told to train their children in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), from a neurological perspective, this means that fathers must diligently and consciously work with, teach, and discipline their children in accordance with the word of God. A father consciously working in these things will lead to children whose subconscious has been paved as a highway of godliness.
As I mentioned, the subconscious processes much more information than the conscious areas of the brain, so we must be even more diligent to guide, guard, and protect it from forming bad habits. Studies have found that when a new pharmaceutical drug is advertised on tv, radio, magazines, etc., there becomes a dramatic influx of the very disease which the drug was marketed for. As the subconscious parts of the brain control our aches, pains, and immune system, it is dangerous to allow it to process negative information concerning health. More importantly, as the subconscious mind processes 11 million pieces of information per second, we should be extremely careful with what we allow ourselves to see and hear. There is good research out there on societal contagion, which suggests that, quite literally, society is contagious. This includes changing the way we think about something, what we believe, what we should tolerate, etc. Knowing this, we should be cautious of what we allow ourselves to watch and listen to. What our society sees and hears from advertisements, movies, tv, social media, books, and more, is not training in godliness. We cannot allow ourselves to be trained by the world, and we’d be fools to think that we can watch these things only as a means of simple entertainment that we won’t allow to change us. Paul spoke to the Philippians concerning how to have their hearts and minds guarded. First, he warns us not to allow anxiety to continue within us; indeed, modern science has conclusively found that troubles of life, trauma, and sorrow cause the subconscious mind to stimulate learned pain pathways, often running down the spine and causing back pain or resurfacing in learned pain pathways from a previously healed injury (especially if that injury happened around a previous period of anxiety, trauma, or sorrow). The most common diagnoses for these stimulated neuropathways are depression, IBS, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and migraines; all of which greatly hinder our lives and keep us from activities of service unto God. Luckily, there are resources today that can help those in these predicaments to allow the subconscious (anterior cingulate cortex and insula) to let go and stop stimulating these habitual pathways that cause pain. As someone who has suffered severe brain trauma and has dealt with some of these problems, I highly suggest this for the benefit of an unhindered walk with God while on earth. Secondly, Paul points to the necessity of prayer and supplication in dealing with our anxieties and cares; and accompanying these, he adds “thanksgiving”. The positive outlook that thanksgiving provides is invaluable for the healthy mind of a Christian. Proverbs 17:22 says “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” Having thankfulness on our minds is a crucial part of allowing God to “guard our hearts and minds” (Philippians 4:6-7); and this leads us into positive thinking, which is well understood today to be essential for a healthy mind and body. Paul’s next point is that we must dwell on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy” (v.8). These are the things that must fill our minds. These are also the very things not found in the news, tv/movies, and the like. These things are not produced by the world, they are the product of God. If we allow the world to be in control of what we see and hear, then we won’t be filled with what we need to be filled with. Let’s not allow our subconscious mind to process 11 million pieces of information per second from the world and its ways, but let it be 11 million pieces of information per second about God, his word, his ways, his goodness, and loveliness. Do we realize that every single second offers an immense opportunity to renew our lives and strengthen our fellowship with God? God has endowed us with an incredible brain with tremendous plasticity. We can be changed for the better, we can daily form new neuropathways for better discipleship, and strengthen the virtuous pathways that we have previously formed, to make us more mature and more resistant to temptation. In a conscious effort to be a diligent doer of the word, we can change to such an extent that we may truly have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).
Article by Tanner Campbell