Hurricanes Harvey and Irma captivated the news for weeks. In August 2017 Harvey pounded Texas with such violence that it put a large percentage of Houston under water. Irma followed shortly after, crushing the Caribbean islands, pounding Florida, and wreaking havoc on surrounding islands. Aside from the indescribable human and private property loss, these hurricanes inflicted more than $200 billion in damage.
Storm-ravaged cities have two major challenges. Damaged infrastructure such as communication and transportation systems shut down normal operations. The result is weakened defense systems that make the city vulnerable to violence and vandalism. The city goes into survival mode; it needs comprehensive renewal, recovery, and restoration. Have you ever had times you have been in “survival mode”? I think most of us have!
Notice this vivid comparison of just such a city with humanity in its broken and vulnerable condition: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into, and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28, ESV). Yes, that broken city powerfully illustrates the broken brain, a brain that may have been broken down over time by chronic stress, depression, unhealthy lifestyle, and addictions. The battle is for the brain—the seat of our thoughts, emotions, and actions—and that’s where recovery begins. A healthy, well-functioning brain can make better choices and more clearly hear the guiding voice of God.
Three areas affect the brain
Genes. You cannot change your gene structure, but its function and activity are dramatically influenced by diet, lifestyle, exercise, and even the way you think.
Environment. Your internal environment is how you think. Your external environment is what surrounds you. God has a wonderful restoration plan for your life. He’s got the power to change your brain, emotions, desires, actions, environment, and your life!
Choice. Every choice you make, to a greater or lesser degree, affects emotional, mental, and physical health. Every day presents you with opportunities to make choices that will influence brain/body systems and even the activity of your genes.
God has a plan for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual renewal. The great news is that “experiences, thoughts, actions, and emotions actually change the structure of our brains.”1 Rebuilding a broken city requires a plan—and so does rebuilding a broken brain. Your brain is constantly reshaping itself according to what it learns. This is called “plasticity.” Scientists now know that “the brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature . . . has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.”2
Choices make the difference
Behavioral and lifestyle choices build a better brain, better habits, better health, and a better life—for good! Here are some key pieces:
Environment. The internal environment of how you think and the external environment you surround yourself with are critical for achieving and maintaining positive change. Repeating God’s promises replaces faulty internal monologues. His Word is living, powerful, and true. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Focus on what you can change in your surroundings; focus on solutions and the power of God to guide you, not problems and obstacles.
Lifestyle. Lifestyle choices strongly affect physical, mental, and spiritual health. “Physical and mental exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep will help anyone gain cognitive clarity and emotional stability.”3 Nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar dampen immune health, fan the fires of inflammation, and promote stress, addictions, and depression. Food is medicine. Replacing empty calories, unhealthy fast foods, and high-fat animal products with nutrient-rich fresh vegetables and fruits, beans, whole grains, and nuts creates real strength, lowers stress hormones and inflammation, and boosts mental and physical energy. Modest positive choices pave the way for breaking big, bad habits. Daily exercise improves circulation and improves every level of brain function, including learning, problem-solving, creativity, and mood.
Connections. Your associations and interests have a profound shaping effect on your values and goals. Take time to connect with others. Connecting with God through prayer and time in the Bible open the gates of power, guidance, and courage for life’s journey. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will guide you with My eye” (Ps. 32:8).
Managing stress. You need practical strategies to tap into when confronting challenges and stress. A healthy lifestyle lowers stress hormone activity, protects the brain and body from stress damage, and improves problem-solving ability.
Assessment. It is always important to work closely with your physician or health-care provider. Lifestyle changes may reduce or eliminate the need for certain medications over time. Medicine or medical procedures may be essential. God cares about your welfare. He has a plan and the power to renew your heart, recover broken health, and restore emotional and mental strength by practicing self-control in these areas. Grace and strength will be given to you for every trial. For those who trust Him and commit their lives to Him, the promise of heaven and a new earth in which there will be no more pain, suffering, or disease is assured (see Rev. 21:4). Restoration and hope begin now. Will you choose God’s plan? He is waiting to help and bless you.
1 John Ratey, User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain (New York: Vintage Books, 2002), p. 17.
2 Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph From the Frontiers of Brain Science (London: Penguin Books, 2007), p. 26.
3 Ratey, p. 356.