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Spiritual Formation

Training the Brain to be Thankful to God

Below is a reflection from an OC mission worker that provides perfect focus for being thankful to God in this Thanksgiving season. May you be blessed and find time in the season to draw closer to God.

You don’t make fruit.
You cultivate plants.
The fruit is the result of a plant growing and being well-tended.

Likewise, you don’t make the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). You cultivate the life in the Spirit. The result, the fruit, will be love, joy, peace, etc.

In his new book, neurotheologian Jim Wilder combines his studies of the brain (“neuro-”) and God (“theology”) to share how findings from brain science can transform how we cultivate spiritual formation. Wilder quotes a lecture of Dallas Willard’s words that resonate in my heart:

Over and over and over in Scriptures, this [life in the Spirit] is presented. But we normally encounter it not as an opportunity to be explored so much as an ideal no one realizes. So you read 1 Corinthians 13 and just feel bad about yourself. We read “Love is patient, love is kind,” and more often than not, we wind up frustrated and discouraged. But the text doesn’t say, ‘I do all these wonderful things;’ it says love does. And so 1 Corinthians 13 is in fact a proposition: If you will receive love into your life, over time, out will come the things that 1 Corinthians 13 says are true of love.

Renovated: God, Dallas Willard & the Church That Transforms, p. 17.

Sounds like fruit, doesn’t it?

In an interview with Skye Jethani on the podcast “The Holy Post,” episode 412, when asked about what we can do to foster a deeper attachment to God, Wilder said: “The number one thing that forms attachment with God is thankfulness or appreciation. Every time something good comes your way from God, make a point to thank Him about it and then tell somebody you know how grateful you are.”

Thankful to God
My gratitude notebook.

When I moved to the U.S. for college, a family friend gave me this cool-looking notebook. He invited me to write down every time I saw a gift from God. I didn’t realize it then, but that book was training my brain, one entry at a time, to be attached to God. That book smoothed my transition to living in the States in a way I can’t measure. Now I hope to integrate it into all my teaching on transition.

Thankful to God
The start of our gratitude pumpkin.
(“Coconut” is our bunny.)

As a family, we’re trying this together by writing on a plastic pumpkin. It’s a nice autumn decoration and physical reminder of what we thank God for. But the primary goal is building a closer bond with God, training our brains, by regularly acknowledging we are thankful to Him.

What other ways do you build habits that draw you closer to God?

Member Care One Challenge is an international mission sending agency empowering local church ministry in more than 100 countries around the world. One Challenge wants to encourage a high level of care for global workers, providing the opportunity for them to thrive in their countries of service, bringing the best of who they are to the kingdom growth effort. We pursue genuine relationships and accountability in family, friendship, team, ministry, and local communities of faith.

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