My prayer is that you will find hope and comfort in this deep dive- How To Connect With God: A Biblical and Psychological Perspective. May the Lord reveal Himself to you, granting you wisdom through revelation by the power of the Holy Spirit.
A Divine Connection
For centuries, people have sought to understand and connect with God, the Divine.
In the Old Testament, we read stories of people crying out to God as they seek to overcome the insurmountable. We read accounts of Him showing up in burning bushes and parting seas. Sending warnings and ushering in judgment.
In the New Testament, we read several different accounts of the same gospel. Stories about those who traveled miles and miles to see Jesus- some just to touch the hem of his garment. We read of His humanness, how he hungered and wept. Unexpectedly arriving in complete humility, ushering in grace and tearing the veil.
We can see all over the pages of Scripture His desire to connect with His creation, and more specifically, with His people. Considering all of this, it is safe to say that humanity hungers for connection with God and He desires to commune with us. If we believe this to be true, why is it so difficult sometimes?
Connection Vs. Correction
As human beings, our brains associate everything with something else. Do you remember playing that old “association” game in elementary school? Your teacher would say a word and ask you to respond with the first thing that comes to mind? There it is- association!
In fact, our hippocampus does this as a full-time job. Nerve cells in the hippocampus are constantly creating new associations in our brains, like a new friend and her name. (It is all really quite fascinating. Read more here!) With this in mind, doesn’t it make sense, then, that we would make associations about God?
Lets revisit that elementary game mentioned above. I am going to say a word, and I want you to truly just stop and think of the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?
- Holy Spirit
Now be honest, did you associate any of those with “Father”? I am going to assume many of you reading this did. I promise there is a method to my madness here, so even if you didn’t make this particular association, just follow along.
Let’s play the game one more time. This time, the word is “Father“.
What did you think of?
This is where things are going to start to get really eye-opening, friends.
The Role of Father
For many in today’s world, the word “father” may be negatively associated. Working full-time with kids who have grown up in our home (a residential group home), I have seen this play out firsthand. Even for those who have had a wonderful example of of a Father, there can still be associations made with this term that are not synonymously true about Abba Father, God.
To truly connect with God according to His perfect design, we must get outside of our associations. Once more, we see the importance on what is written in Romans 12:2.
Maintaining a constant awareness of our thoughts is vital. We must be self-aware, disciplined, and emotionally intelligent enough to remind ourselves that our thoughts, on their own, are influenced by feeling and emotion. Emotion from the heart. The heart, influenced by the flesh. (More about that here if you want more info!) We must take every thought captive, as stated in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. We must be in control.
Let me summarize this:
- Autopilot thoughts = emotional/heart/flesh driven, sin-influenced (Luke 6:45)
- Thoughts taken captive = Disciplined, Holy Spirit-powered, aligned to the mind of Christ (2 Co. 10:4-5, 1 Co. 2:16, Phil. 4:8, Isaiah 55:8-9)
Defeating the Flesh
Going against our flesh is one of the hardest things to do. Especially in a world that preaches “live your truth” and “do what feels right”. But, if we keep going in this direction, we could very well become another Sodom and Gomorrah! Big yikes, friends. BIG yikes. Read Genesis 19 for more insight into that mess. You’ll find that much of it feels all too familiar.
Additionally, in living enslaved to the appetites of our flesh, we miss out on God’s best for us.
Romans 8:6-8 says:
There is so much hope in three verses that come next:
There is life in abundance to be found in Jesus. Pressing in, doing the hard work, and remaining steadfast will undoubtedly pay off. He is faithful and has promised to provide a way out of temptations (1 Co. 10:13). He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22). He will protect us from the schemes of the evil one (2 Thess. 3:3). He will fight on our behalf, we need only to be still (Exodus 14:14) and meditate regularly on His Word (Josh. 1:8)
Rewiring Thought Patterns
I’ve heard it said “neurons that fire together, wire together.” For the children I work with, we focus a lot of our time, energy, and resources on helping them to heal. One of the many interventions we utilize for that purpose is therapy. Specifically CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), and Neurofeedback.
Each of these interventions help the individual to rewire those neural pathways in varying capacities. It is completely understandable why someone who has experienced trauma would benefit from these techniques. In fact, I would say outside of immediate physical medical treatment, therapies (like those listed above) are the first line of defense for many when seeking a path to healing from trauma.
What is a trauma, anyway? Our brains tell us (by association) that trauma is snonymous with “bad things” that happen. to us. That is definitely true, but the definition can be simplified.
Natural disasters, losing loved ones, experiencing a car accident- these are all definable traumas. For a small child, though, trauma can look as innocent as taking a wrong step and falling on a familiar playground unexpectedly.
We must take into account that everyone’s experience of what is “deeply distressing or disturbing”will be different. We all have thresholds of what we can tolerate. For some, that threshold is much lower than others.
Let’s look at these facts from a slightly different perspective.
The Power of Biblical Transformation
This might seem like a stretch at first, but I would consider the experience of suffering the consequences of sin, spiritually traumatic. The idea of spending an eternity in Hell is certainly “deeply disturbing and distressing”, even though I know it is what I deserve.
Think about it. We would never tell someone who has just experienced a major trauma that they deserve it, right? Who would do that?
But the reality of our sin is that we do deserve death (Romans 6:23).
Sin separates us from God. Listen to me, y’all. Lean in real close for this one:
OUR DESPERATE NEED FOR THE SAVING GRACE OF A SAVIOR IS JUST AS DIRE AS SOMEONES NEED FOR PROFESSIONAL INTERVENTIONS AFTER EXPERIENCING TRAUMA.
Arguably, our need for a perfect and sinless Savior is far more dire than the need for finite, human-offered healing.
This might not “hit you in the feels” the same way that discussing more traditional ideas of trauma & healing does. (Thanks to our associations and our desensitization.) But if you think about it logically, it makes sense.
The Connection Point: Mind, Body & Spirit
When someone experiences a trauma mentally/emotionally, their neurons misfire. Healing comes when therapeutic interventions allow for the individual to essentially relive the trauma, process it appropriately, and replace the negative associations. This can result in reconstructed or rewired neural pathways, and more tangible benefits, like reduced anxiety/depression.
Similarly, when someone experiences a trauma physically, they may break a bone or require stitches. In these instances, they will seek medical treatment or First-Aid, right?
From this same perspective, sin is the spiritual trauma we suffer. Jesus, The Word made flesh, is the only possible path to healing. To heal spiritually, we have to cauterize the gaping wound of sin by coming to salvation in Christ. From there, we rehab the injury by reading The Word and by (you guessed it), being transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Communing with God and staying connected to biblical community could be considered the post-injury lifestyle modifications (for purposes of this analogy.)
Once we’ve experienced such trauma (sin) we will develop a natural vigilance, watching cautiously for the flaming arrows of the enemy and the snares of sin in the future. When we are aware of the trauma (sin), we have a new perspective and cultivated awareness of what the initial experience of sin felt like. We will make it our subconscious mission, then, to warn others who are about to fall victim to the same traumatic injury, helping them avoid the pain of what we suffered through.
Isn’t that the Great Commission? Isn’t that the way we are called to live?
The Need for More
It would seem foolish for us to say “physical health is the only aspect that matters” when we know we also have minds that need tending to. Why, then, are we so desensitized to our need for soul care when we know we are all three: mind, body, and soul (1 Thess. 5:23)?
Attending church weekly or asking for prayer when times are hard are simply not enough. Just reading a one page daily devotions is not enough. We need so much more than some eloquent words of encouragement peppered with Bible verses. (Please don’t be offended by that.. I am not knocking these things– I love a good daily devo and am a blogger for goodness sake! I love encouraging words!)
It would be like living on fruit alone; delicious, full of nutrients, and imperative. But, not enough to sustain us alone. We need protein to strengthen us and healthy fats to satiate us. I am simply saying that we need a feast. The only place to get all three macronutrients in a spiritual sense, is the Word of God. We could survive on the fruit between meals, but for optimal health, balance is key, right?
Reactive vs. Proactive Approaches to Healing
That brings me to this idea of reactive vs. proactive approaches to healing. Over the last several years, I have learned more and more about the differences between traditional medicine and functional medicine. My family started seeing functional medicine providers years ago when we realized that the goal of this approach is finding the root cause of ailments and disease.
Reactive healing is more about addressing the immediate symptoms and remedying those to bring relief.
Please hear me when I say, neither approach is “better” than the other. Both are necessary and have a place. I believe both are a byproduct of the mercy of God.
Regarding trauma, a reactive approach is always going to be required first. Whether physical, mental, or spiritual, we have to essentially “make the pain stop” before we can dig in and find the root issue.
For example, someone unaware they are suffering with cancer may not know the stage or the cause. They do know, however, that something is painful or off in their physical body. Enough that is cause for concern. They visit a doctor to receive medication or fluids. The doctor may then order some sort of scans or imaging. From there results, the patient may then receive a referal to a specialist if necessary.
The first line of defense- treat the pain. Manage the symptoms. A temporary “bandage” of sorts, until a cause is identified.
Mentally, the same idea applies.
For example: A child is severely neglected and abused. Authorities are aware. The first step? Removing the child from danger, meeting the immediate needs (clothing, food, shelter, safety). Later, therapies and other resources can be utilized.
The first line of defense- Meet the immediate needs. Manage the symptoms.
So what does a reactive approach to healing spiritual trauma (sin) look like? Well, it can look like a lot of things.
An old professor of mine from college, Dr. Tom Bergler, used to passionately shout “Getting you fire insurance card isn’t enough!”
Asking Jesus into your heart is the first step, but there has to be more that follows, right?
Let me VERY clear here: I firmly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him! (John 14:6). Jesus is ALWAYS enough. More than enough. In fact, if we have Jesus and nothing else, we truly have everything. I am not (and could never) say that salvation isn’t enough. I believe that, once we are truly born again (which is accompanied by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. A direct result of receiving salvation– being covered by the blood of Jesus, believing wholly in his crucifixion and resurrection, certain of His awaited return), NOTHING can separate us from Him (Romans 8:38-39).
I am saying, however, that if we just stop there, we are only putting a tourniquet on a severed limb and expecting it to heal on its own.
For Born Again Believers
For one who is already a born again believer, this could look like diving into the Word “after the fact”.
Take a look at this example. A mother goes to tuck her sick child in at bedtime. The child asks “Mommy, did Jesus really heal sick people?” The mother replies with confidence “He absolutely did!” The child then replies “Will you tell me one of the stories?”
The mother smiles and prepares to start telling the story, when suddenly, she realizes “Oh no, I can’t think of one!” The mother then realizes that she has heard references to these stories for years about Jesus as the healer. She knows them to be real and Jesus as the Healer is a foundational truth she relies on.
It then occurs to her “Perhaps I should read these stories for myself, directly from the Word, instead of relying on those around me to teach me.”
Oof. Y’all. This is a real thing! We have all been here, right?
Proactive Healing in the Spirit
So what does Proactive healing look like from a spiritual perspective? Proactive healing is preventative healing.
Spiritually speaking, then, I think the answer is simple. Jesus, The Word made flesh, is the only possible path to healing. To prevent trauma (sin) from reoccurring or becoming triggering, we must take preventative measures to combat it. We must:
- Recognize potential triggers (Romans 7:14-25)
- Intentionally make changes to break repetitive patterns and cycles to ensure sin is not perpetuated (Romans 6:1-11, Matthew 5:30, Hebrews 12:1).
- Constantly be prayerfully asking the Spirit to reveal any wayward ways within us (Psalm 10:15, Psalm 139:1 & 23-24, Romans 8:27).
Amazingly, he is the answer to both reactive and proactive healing. The way, the truth, and the life.
Uprooting the Old
We must discipline ourselves to be in a daily rhythm, feasting on the Word, allowing it to take root. When we know the Word, we live by the Word. We cultivate wisdom and set ourselves up to succeed. A “from the ground up” approach of sorts.
In doing this, we begin to proactively stand firm on the unshakeable foundation that is Jesus.
I love David’s heart cry in Psalm 139 23:24. He prays:
The movie The Shack also shows this process of being transformed and sanctified beautifully. The character, who depicts the Holy Spirit, is a gardener. Together, the gardener and main character go and tend to his garden (the garden of his heart).
The metaphors, as you can imagine, are plentiful. Some things grow beautifully and bear much fruit. Sometimes, weeds grow and try to choke out the good growth. The thorns and thistles must always be removed from the root.
This brings us full circle.
We need to be aware that we are broken people with broken perspectives. We have spent our entire lives learning and associating things around us with experiences and individuals, both positive and negative.
Now, we must learn to increase our self-awareness, surrender our pride, and unlearn the things that have been associated incorrectly.
To truly connect with God, we need to start untangling the associations we have made. Those that connect our infinite and transcendent God to our finite and immanent experiences. And those that connect our immanent and omnipresent God with what is out of reach and absent.
We must know, that we know, that we know, that we simply do not know. **brain freezes & eye twitches**
From there, we must proactively be preparing, feasting, studying, meditating, and living the Word of God.
Like healing in the bones, we must be further broken down, so that we may be built back up better and stronger.
We must seek to pursue Him proactively, like an apprentice to a master. May the things we have associated with God be restored to health. May He mercifully draw near to us and teach us the reality of who He is a little bit more everyday.
If you’ve followed my many thoughts and made it to this point, thank you! I hope you feel that this has been worth your time. Blessings as you continue down your own path of becoming more like Him.