Romans 12:2 is one of the theme verses for this series: “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” God is far more interested in changing our minds than He is in changing our circumstances. We always want God to change our circumstances. God wants to change your mind.
Have you ever noticed your mind doesn’t always obey you? That is the world of a teenager. There have been many discoveries in the last decade about brain development in young people. Thanks to the invention of the MRI, the ability to take noninvasive, real time scans of these young people’s brains, they discovered their brains are not done developing.
Before we had the MRI, everyone thought the brain was developed by age 6 or 7. It wasn’t until this new science that allowed us to see that the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid to late 20’s. There are parts of a young person’s brain that are significantly underdeveloped that make it difficult to do certain things and better at other things. There are two areas of the teenage brain that are underdeveloped. One area that is underdeveloped is the prefrontal cortex found right behind your forehead. This is where your brain’s office is and it’s responsible for critical thinking. This is where you have impulse control, wisdom, prioritization – you can do things in order, figure stuff out and follow directions, decision making, empathy – you can put yourself in someone else’s positions and feelings. These are just a few pretty important things. Right? Those things are difficult for teenagers.
Pause and think about this question, do you see young people as a problem to be solved or as a wonder to behold? You hear that the prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped. It’s easy to draw the conclusion.“Look! They’re broken. They’re dysfunctional. They’re incapable. We should isolate them and treat them like they are children.” Which of course is counterproductive to their growth in every way, especially to their spiritual faith. But if you embrace a “Wonder to behold” biblical perspective, that’s God’s view of young people. A Wonder to behold view is rooted in the understanding of Creation. God creating the universe and man. You begin see the underdeveloped area of the prefrontal cortex as an opportunity that was lovingly created by our wonderful God.
You start to notice things like a young person is not really good at risk analysis, but really good at taking risks which is critical to their development and their understanding of themselves and their world. A young person is naturally wired for passion. A passionate young person is a gift to our ministry, church and their families.
The other area that is underdeveloped is called the Temporal Lobe. The Temporal Lobes are responsible for emotional understanding and interpretation. They are underdeveloped in teenage girls and way more underdeveloped in teenage boys. Teenage boys have a real hard time understanding the emotion that someone else is expressing.
Two more things to point out about the teenage brain. The first one is neuron growth and pruning takes place before and after puberty. In the couple of years that lead up to puberty, the brain goes through a growth frenzy. Somewhere between 11 and 16 years old, millions of neurons are cut. Neurons are the information superhighway of the brain. It’s how information moves around our brain. The ones that are eliminated are the ones that are not used during the young and middle teen years.
This brings up a huge question for our student ministry. There are many forces that shape a young person’s brain for their life. We want to be one of those forces that God uses in the faith development of young people. How are we using that opportunity to shape and hard wire these brains for a lifetime of exciting faith?
We need to learn how to manage our minds because our thoughts control our life. You have good thoughts, you’re going to have good life. If you have sinful thoughts, you’re going to have sinful life.
“Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” Proverbs 4:23
We control what we eat. We control what we believe. We control what we drink, but we don’t always control what we allow in our minds. The Bible tells us that every action in your life starts with a thought. Your mind controls and shapes your life.
We need to learn to manage our minds because our minds are the battleground for sin. It’s where every temptation happens. It’s where every sin actually starts. The sin of pride, lust, hatred, fear, resentment, jealousy, envy, worry all start in the mind. The battlefield for sin is fought not around you, it’s fought in your mind. In Romans 7:22-23, Paul talks about this battle that’s constantly going on in our minds. “I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there’s something else deep within me that is at war with my mind and it wins the fight and it makes me a slave to the sin within me.”
Paul says, “In my mind I want to be God’s servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.” Satan knows that whatever gets your attention gets you, and so he starts with the mind, not with your behavior, not even with your emotions. He starts with your thoughts.
We need to learn to manage our minds because it’s the key to peace and happiness. An unmanaged mind leads to tension, a managed mind leads to tranquility. An unmanaged mind leads to pressure, a managed mind leads to peace. An unmanaged mind leads to conflict and chaos in your life, but a managed mind leads to confidence. “If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, then there’s life and peace.” Romans 8:6
How can we use this time during these amazing years in helping young people wrestle with deeper questions? How can we help them to be honest about their doubts and seek better truth to replace those doubts. How can we develop a spirit of serving others and notice other people’s needs? These are questions we want to work on when it comes to brain development.
Hold your hand in front of you. Tuck your thumb under your fingers and close your hand. You’ve made a little brain model. The front part is the Prefrontal Cortex where logical and rational thought takes place. The thumb knuckle is a little almond shaped and sized gland called the Amygdala which is the fear center of the brain. The amygdala often overrides the prefrontal cortex. The underside of your curved fingers is like a blanket called the Anterior Cingulate. The Anterior Cingulate acts as a buffer between the Amygdala and the Prefrontal Cortex.
Think of it like a teeter-totter, on one side we have rational thought – Prefrontal Cortex – and on the other side we have the Amygdala – the fear center. In the middle you have the Anterior Cingulate. Whichever part of those three is dominant for you will have a huge part of your faith. If you have a highly developed Amygdala you will have a fear based faith. If you have a highly developed Prefrontal Cortex you will have a really rational faith. If you have a highly developed Anterior Cingulate it allows you to understand and experience God as compassionate, personal, and other than yourself.
How do we develop that part of your brain? Neurology has just recently caught up to what the Bible has been telling us – through prayer, meditation, and spiritual singing. Those are the dominant ways we develop that part of our brain.
We must feed our minds with truth. Matthew 4:4 says, “People need more than bread for their life; they must feed on every Word of God.” We‘ve got to feed our minds on the truth, which means we’ve got to feed our minds on this book. How often? All the time. “I rise early… to cry out for help and to put my hope in your words.” Psalm 119:147 There are over 7,000 promises in the Bible. If you need hope and if you’re feeling hopeless, it means you’re not spending enough time in this book because if you get these promises into your life, you’re going to be a hopeful person.
“Lord, how I love your Word. I think about it all day long.” Psalm 119:97
Psalm 16:7 says this: “Even in the darkest of night, your teachings fill my mind.” There was a time when David had so many enemies, he was actually a fugitive. He was hiding in caves, and no matter what happened in his life, he balanced his mind with the truth of God. Psalm 119:95 is one of the Psalms that he wrote during this time, and he says this: “Even when wicked people hide to ambush and kill me, I quietly keep my mind on your decrees.”
If you’re going to strengthen that Anterior Cingulate we must free our minds from destructive thoughts. Your mind has to be liberated. You have to fill your mind with the truth on a daily basis. Satan’s going to fight you on it, he’s going to battle you and you’re going to have to fight to free your mind. Why? Because of these three enemies. The first enemy of our mind is our old nature. In other words, you have an old way your brain wants to work. “I see in my body a principal at war with the law of the mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells inside of me.” Romans 7:23 In other words, I’m a hostage to my thoughts. Do you often find yourself doing things you don’t want to do? Your old nature is not your friend. It is the source of all your bad habits.
Your mind lies to you all the time. Just because you think something is true doesn’t make it true. Just because you feel something is true doesn’t make it true. Your mind and your emotions often lie to you. Part of growing up is learning to know the difference between what you think and what is true? “Those who are dominated by their old sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit, think about things that please the Spirit.” Romans 8:5
The second enemy of our minds is Satan. If you have Christ in your life, then you have power greater than Satan and he cannot force you to do anything. The only way he can influence and control your life is by suggestion. When he puts the suggestions in your mind, we call that temptation. When you don’t learn how to balance your mind, you don’t know how to manage your mind. 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul talks about a guy who had sinned in the church. He says, “I’ve forgiven that man… [I didn’t hold onto a grudge. Why?] so that Satan won’t outsmart us. For we’re very familiar with his evil schemes!” Did you know that anytime you refuse to forgive anybody, you’ve fallen for Satan’s trap? God is not the one who wants you to hold onto hurt, Satan is. He wants you to hold a grudge and be unforgiving.
The third enemy of our minds is the world’s values. “All that is in the world …[and then it lists what’s in the world] the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not the Father, but is of this world.” 1 John 2:16 The world is crazy. It was all give in to the lust of flesh, the lust of the eyes, give in to the pride of life, passion, possession and position, give in to sex, salary, status, give in to living for yourself. Now the world demands perfection. You had better not given in to passion ever in your past and we’re going to comb through every social media post to find where you messed up.
“Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons that we fight with are not the weapons of this world. [The weapons of the world today are primarily political. We don’t use those weapons. The Bible says our weapons] have divine power, and what do they have divine power to do? To demolish strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 We’re in a wrestling match with our thoughts and we got to pin them down. It’s a mental battle. Now, it says that in your mind you have what are called strongholds. A stronghold is a lie that we believe. Satan is the father of their lies. Anytime we believe a lie about God, that’s a stronghold. Anytime we believe a lie about ourselves, that’s a stronghold. A stronghold can be a personal attitude. People can have a stronghold in their brain of worry, depression, resentment, envy or pride.
If we are going to balance our Anterior Cingulate, we must focus our minds on the right things. There are three simple steps to balance your mind. First, think about Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:8 says, “Keep your mind on Jesus Christ…” Hebrews 12:3 says, “Think about Jesus’ example. He held on while wicked people were doing evil things to him. So do not get tired and stop trying.” What gives you the power to keep on going when you feel like giving up? Think about Jesus.
Number two, think about others. “Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.” Philippians 2:4 Stop and intentionally think about others. Use that Temporal part of your brain. Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us think about each other and let us help each other to show love and do good deeds.” Anybody who starts thinking about other people is going to shine in this world because most of the world isn’t thinking about other people, they’re just thinking about themselves.
Number three, think about eternity. “Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth.” Colossians 3:2 Heavenly minded people always have done the most good in this world for thousands of years. So think about heaven. Think about eternity. “No eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 Those spiritual songs coming out of your mouth make a difference. Make it a priority to develop a practice of daily prayer, meditation, and spiritual songs so you can experience God as personal and compassionate.
Remember that important question we asked earlier, do you see young people as a problem to be solved or as a wonder to behold? Can you see from the stuff we talked about that God sees young people as a lovingly, perfect wonder to behold. Yes – annoying at times but “A Wonder to Behold”.
Briefly check back on your discussion from the last week, “Think Again” and the six reasons we need to think about what we think about.
It’s important that I manage my mind: (1) because my thoughts control my life! (2) because my mind is the battleground for sin, and (3) because managing my mind is the key to peace and happiness.
Three daily choices for a healthy mind include:
1. I must feed my mind with truth,
2. I must free my mind from destructive thoughts
3. I must focus my mind on the right things.
Read Romans 7:7-25
Discussion & Application
• Start with a little fun. Describe a time you were relieved to finally learn the right way to do something after persisting for a time doing the wrong thing (for example, pressing the wrong button on a remote or the wrong key on a computer)
• What stood out to you about this message?
“Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. (Our weapons) have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish any argument 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 Corinthians 10:3-5
• A stronghold is a lie that we believe such as a hedonistic or materialistic worldview – or an attitude of worry, envy, or pride. What does 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 above say is the result when we confess to God that our thoughts have gone off in directions we don’t intend?
• Share how God has freed you from strongholds in the past.
• What strongholds do you need freedom from today?
Ask how you can pray for and support one another this week. Pray for one another in your group and ask the Holy Spirit to help you feed, free and focus your mind.
Begin nailing down your SERVE Day project. July 18th. You can get ideas and/or register your project https://rockbrook.org/serve