Fascinating brain studies indicate joy is at the center of God's plan, not a peripheral bonus.
Of course, this Biblical truth is obvious, yet impersonal doctrines and boring churches might unconsciously convince us otherwise. Brain design disagrees.
Much of this discussion about the field of "neuro-theology" is from Jim Wilder's important book Joy Starts Here and the radio shows below.
Frank Pastore Interviews Jim Wilder
Show 1 (39min., MP3, 18MB)
Show 2 (40min., MP3, 18MB)
Show 3 (40min., MP3, 18MB)
Show 4 (62min., MP3, 28MB)
Show 5 (83min., MP3, 76MB)
Show 6 (40min., MP3, 36MB)
Show 7 (22min., MP3, 20MB)
Suprising Brain Scans
1. Your brain is designed to default to joy—that's the normal baseline. Stress, fear, anxiety are all anomalies! When living from joy, Scientifically, when living from joy, we are measurably more effective, healthier, fulfilled, etc. Those other protective reactions are supposed to reset back to joy. Astounding.
2. Joy is relational, not rational; yet our approach to science, religion, and life in general tends to prioritize the latter. In fact, the brain experiences measurable growth from relational satisfaction. i.e., love.
3. Scans can even determine who over their life time has had a deficit of relational satisfaction in the joy centers.
4. Gratitude, appreciation, and thanksgiving all enhance brain neuron connections! Love actually makes your brain more efficient and healthier.
5. Animals can actually smell your oxytocin release and tell if you authentically enjoy their presence.
6. Happiness between persons is quantifiably deeper and more central than mere bodily pleasure.
7. Jim reports that a we can even measure the difference between a polite, social smile and a genuine, authentic smile because they occur in different parts of the brain. For example, we easily notice between a bad actor's fake smile and a good actor's convincing one; since a good actor treats the role from "inside" first—and viewers can tell the difference.
What is Joy?
The evidence shows it's the experience that "someone is glad to be with me." It's not a religious abstraction. It's giving and receiving satisfying personal connection. And of course, this delightful shalom peaks with God.
Paul: "I have learned the secret to be content whether in lack or plenty—the presence of Christ. (Phil 4)
False Joy: Addiction from Trauma
Thomas Aquinas: "No man can live without joy. That is why one deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures."
When we don't have the core joy need met, we can't help but to seek substitutes, which result in addictions.
The trauma of joyless relationships with God and others causes the brain begins to shut down relational circuits. This is so important! Joy-less praying actually trims neurons back, numbing them, and their capacity to function.
For example, Facebook tends to activate the task neurons rather than the relational neurons; yet deceptively gives the promise of social fulfillment.
So when praying, start with God's joy for you, over your joy for God. You're His kid.
More Good News from Scans
The brain can be re-stimulated with the practice of joy, and you can never get too old to restore it again! Astonishingly, it's actually the one part of the brain that will continue to grow throughout your life span. Brain design allows for healing of your greatest need.
Easy Exercise: Joy Memories
A really quick way to activate joy is simply to bring to mind joyful memories of God's happiness with you—those memories actually strengthen brain neurons. "Focus on what is good, true, noble, beautiful, etc. and the God of satisfaction will guard your heart." (Phil 4) So surround your environments with good movies, fun photos, testimonies of God's goodness, etc. We move toward and become what we focus on.
If you think of things that you brought you joy, you can have the same joyful feeling in the present moment, just as you would with trauma.
This is like a piece of music you heard years ago, that you can always return to. King David sets his memories to music in the Psalms—and now we remember them too.
Those moments pre-heat your relational brain circuitry, helping set up encounters in the present. If we practice this, then a high-joy environment becomes our natural state. It's good to support this by Keeping a Journal. Even if when you can't remember the good times, God does. Or just ask Him to bring them to mind and give you a "five-bar moment."
Since the brain is coded to naturally mirror another person's emotions and amplify them, we can do this in prayer: see the face of God—and amplify His emotion! In fact, the word "Praise" literally means to party. God celebrates us and we celebrate God
Joy is the natural climate of Heaven. Does your prayer time bring you freedom and release you to joy? Or does it create deeper worry and concern? Prepare your heart as you come to Me, knowing that I am a loving God who awaits your plea. “…for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Like the father of the prodigal (Luke 15), I am looking out for you, expecting your arrival. And once I see you, I will come running to you, My beloved.
Trust that I am your God. Trust Me to be your God. Let our time of communing be one that brings light to your darkness, joy to your heart, hope for your journey.
I am looking for you to lead in with your spirit. Let your soul be refreshed; walk away with renewed vision into the life of victory I have called you toward.
Whatever your trials, you can still rejoice and find joy in My presence. Know that I walk before you and beside you at all times. Your thoughts are incomplete glimpses of the true spiritual, heavenly life and need constant submission to prayer. Let Me be your guide and I will sustain in you My clear vision for truth and life.