Encode truth & embed in Big-pix categories.
What an amazing brain our infinitely creative God designed to bless us with!
Our brain craves novelty. It is always searching, scanning, looking, waiting for something unusual. Notice, for instance, how we respond to the unexpected in a movie thriller or a surprising twist to a well-written mystery.
We receive millions of impressions each day, many of which are trivial. So, God also designed our brain to automatically filter the commonplace. In these arenas, our habits kick in and semi-automatically bring into play what’s needed. No wonder it’s so crucial to build good habits. Our brains take much of the routine and ordinary and filter out the normal to keep it from interfering with the brain’s primary purpose…to record what really matters.
This cuts both ways.
This selective attention allows us to focus on what is essential without all the minutia of daily life flooding it. However, this filter may also block out important information if our filters are off kilter.
Our brain therefore carefully encodes what we take in, marking certain as “can’t forget.” I’m encouraging disciples of Jesus to intentionally tap into how God designed the functions of our brain to accelerate learning. Deliberately work on encoding what’s crucial to us.
Once it’s encoded, our brains transfer and store this in our long-term memory in categories until needed. That’s why it’s so crucial to soak in a passage for a whole week and put weight on doing God’s Word so our mind encode as: “This is memorable!” “This is can’t’ miss stuff!’”
Here is a bit of layman’s understanding of how God fashioned our brains to process.
Each brain processes information using networks built from at least 100 billion cells called neurons. Neurons are cells in your brain link together like a super internet. Yet more. Neurons do the creative work we call thinking. Neurons send rapid signals to other neurons through the synapses, that is, the points where neurons connect. One single neuron can form thousands of communication connections through branching or linking structures or network called dendrites.
Every new experience, new action, new thought, new sensation, forms new connections through networks. God explicitly designed our brains to be our ally in learning. However, we must choose to access this feature. I’ll be chatting with a grandchild and casually say: “I wish my I-Phone could….” Immediately my grandchild grabs my phone and says, “Watch, Poppo. Let me show you.” A function is useless if it’s not utilized. No wonder we emphasize soaking in a passage and learning together in community “by doing.”
As neurons strengthen new connections, they develop networks. The first time neurons link up, the network connection is fleeting. If we link up again by study and reflection, by doing and experiencing the same concept, the link strengthens. The more times the pathway is used, the stronger the connection grows and the wider the network spreads.
How does all this relate to how we learn best in community by engaging life with truth?
Dendrites strengthen from these stimulating experiences. On the other hand, a newly formed dendrite will shrivel and disappear if we don’t quickly put into practice what we have learned. A key to becoming lifelong life-learners is for us to fully engage ourselves to store the most important concepts of Scripture as “must remember.” God designed our brains to function similar to a muscle. The more we use our brain, the more networks and branches we grow and the better we get at storage and retrieval.
How do neurons become even more effective?
One other more recent discovery about the brain fills out this picture. The myelin sheath is a layer of cells that grows on the outside of neurons. Myelin allows you to speed up your brain, like we can super-charge our computers. We build myelin around our neurons through “deliberate practice.” How do soccer players or singers improve? Certainly, they may have natural gifting, but they also master their skill through many hours of “deliberate practice” aimed at continuous improvement through incremental changes. Deliberate practice occurs best under the watchful eye of another or others who aid the training process. For us, those in our natural learning SmallGroup.
Work on a skill every day with incremental learning toward continuous improvement and we get better and better. Release the unbridled creativity in God’s image-bearers. Involved learners increase the neurons that fire.
Build layer upon layer of myelin in crucial areas. With fifty layers of myelin on each neuron, the signals may increase from 20 miles per hour up to 200 miles per hour. Our neuron network can then send 30 times more signals down the same neuron network. The overall processing in your brain can become 3,000 times more effective.
…is for other mature people to help us to process good and bad experiences. They come alongside so we can discern the healthy from the unhealthy, the life-releasing from the life-stifling. And a certain “chaos” exists in creativity. Creativity is not something rare or neat or packaged in an orderly way. Creativity is messy. Flashes of insight come at inconvenient times. It’s enhanced by a fun, fast-paced, uncritical exchange in a cooperative group that functions more “right-brained” in its earlier stages.
Join a host of others as lifelong life-learners, turning truth into experience. The head works by “knowledge gathering,” by observing, thinking, problem solving and correlating new information. Our heart is the core of our being and learns differently. The heart (affections, mind, will) works by “experience gathering” as we put truth into practice. Like digesting food, we digest experience. We walk through an event, take in what is usable and eliminate the waste.
How do insights on our brain help us grow spiritually?
First, learn how to encode what is crucial for our spiritual adventure with Jesus. Without these encodings, we are doomed to process most of life’s events in a manner that is difficult to retrieve. Centuries ago, Ezra had learned God’s creation design to store truth in our brain (Ezra 7:10). “This is ‘must remember’ stuff! Store as high priority!” Let’s learn to align with our design. Here’s one from among many internet articles on our amaz’n brain!
Second, develop a “catalog system” to embed in your brain that reflects large categories for storage and easier retrieval. Retrieval seems to be the largest problem. Just like when you seek a book in the library, you go to their catalog system to find it most easily.
TIP ONE: “Encode Crucial Ideas as ‘MUST REMEMBER’”
Experts say an average adult has somewhere around 50,000 thoughts a day! God designed our minds with filters. We automatically filter out what is crucial from what is inconsequential. Over time, we train our minds to focus on what is crucial for us. Have you ever heard some criticized for having “selective hearing?” How do we train our mind to know what the crucial Scriptural “must remember” ideas are to accelerate learning by enhancing retrieval?
Our brain must believe, “this material is ‘can’t forget’ stuff” in order to bypass our God-given filters. In recent decades, educators have begun to grasp this. They teach us to design a wide range of creative, novel learning ideas to jazz up the drab classroom teaching. The problem is these artificial techniques are Band-Aids to an outdated adult learning philosophy.
Our 20th century learning philosophy needs major surgery.
Be careful here. Novelties by definition are “small ornaments.” To partner with the Triune God for authentic, from-the-inside-out LifeChange, we need more than ornaments or Band-Aids plastered on the outside. I believe God is calling us to a revelation in learning! Here are a few ideas to encode the main-&-plain, what is clear and crucial. Develop more of your own.
1. Put the Word into practice to tap into your amazing brain.
Why does the Bible put so much emphasis on doing the Word of God, rather than simply studying or hearing? When truth intersects life, reflecting on this encounter brings about true learning. We don’t learn simply by studying. We learn as we put it into practice and reflect on how that truth looks in life. Stated another way: the sequence for learning is: study, do, then reflect to know. Active learning files crucial truth as “must remember” stuff. When we put truth into practice so it intersects life, retention and retrieval increase from 10% for only reading or hearing to 70%. And if we pass it on to at least one other person, it increases to 90%. Lets become “90% Learners.”
2. Review the lesson to align with how your amazing brain works.
Review shouts “This is ‘must remember’ stuff!” This includes the skill called “practiced retrieval” that significantly increases our ability to retrieve over the long term. One of the responses in “DiscipleMaking Companion” when we get together is to review the key points we remember as a group from last week.
3. Learn the Word in community & tell stories how truth encountered your life.
When we learn together in community and come back the next week to share a fresh story how truth intersected life, hearing these encounters helps us to see truth differently. Our minds have now received this several times and files the truth as “must remember” for easier retrieval.
TIP TWO: “Embed Categories in your Memory”
Certainly, we could use the excellent, recent insights regarding how the brain works to patch the old learning philosophy. My encouragement, though, is to view this research as signposts pointing to a different philosophy and practice of learning. In other words, I believe these recent studies simply point back to God’s creation design. When we shift our philosophy of learning to orient with how God formed us, we will no longer depend on a patchwork of outward techniques to artificially stimulate learning. We will become lifelong life-learners.
OK, so where do we store or embed this “must remember” truth from Gods’ Love-Letter?
Our Team-of-Three is very well organized. Just gaze at the breathtaking universe. Or at the marvelous way the human body functions. God created us in His image. So, it comes as no surprise to me that scientific studies reflect that a mental filing system with clear categories improves our retrieval.
Have you ever been in an office where some temp filed important documents randomly?
What a horror to retrieve valued information! Some of us in the past have been operating like this with the most essential truth in our life, spiritual truth. In optimum mode, our minds work with a well indexed filing system. As you read the Bible, what are the categories you presently use to store information in from its sixty-six books inspired over millenniums?
How is your system working for you?
We learn new things by relating the new to previously learned information. Our categories act as the skeleton on which we attach a myriad of detailed truth. The better our mental filing system, the easier to retrieve. Over the years, scholars have proposed many excellent storage categories. In the past, I have learned categories so complex that I need another storage container to remember them! In a few moments, I want to pass on simple, broad stroked categories that I now use, even though they are fairly comprehensive.
Keep your categories as few as possible, yet as many as needed (KISS, Keep It Simple, Servant). The following categories are not exhaustive, simple yet not simplistic. I suggest you begin here then let need draw you to ones that are more complex. Print this out and rehearse these until you make them your own. As you study Scripture, file the “neons” that that Spirit floods into your heart with bright light from Scripture under one or more of these categories in your mind as “must remember” truth.
As we move from one book in the Bible to the next and put truth into action, our brain connects this new information with previous learning in these categories. Without these encodings, we are doomed to process most of life’s events in a fragmented manner that is isolated and difficult to retrieve. Retrieval seems to occur best when important bits of information are both encoded as memorable, and connected together and embedded in categories, like in a catalog system in a large library for important books. Here are my suggestions in an expanding sequence.
Level ONE Category: Two Essential Questions.
The source of all is the Father, Son and Spirit, reflected in my two essential questions. “What is God like? “How does this God see me?” It’s crucial for our growth to learn to discern “God’s part” and “our part” in this adventure of faith.
1. “What is God like?”
In short, God is a relational Trinity. Although this fries my mental circuits, it also ravishes my heart. He is intrinsically good, great and generous (see Genesis 1). He is a Being far beyond our ability to fully comprehend yet ravishes our hearts with what we do grasp. What He reveals to me draws my heart even more to Him in love (Ephesians 1:17). Much of what I write explains and points out how knowing God accurately leads to transforming LifeChange. Of course, God is much, much more. We are searching now for large categories. You have a lifetime to expand more detailed levels beneath.
2. “How does this God see me?”
Our Family-of-Three created us in His image, after His likeness, as much like God as any created being could ever be (look at Psalm 8:5 in the NASB Bible). God did not create because He was lonely or lacked anything. He has been a completely satisfied SmallGroup of three since before creation, loving and being loved. But life and love long for additional outlets to pour into, so God created humanity to bless.
Even with the horrific breach humanity created by going rogue in Genesis 3, the relational Trinity had a plan, a costly one. God’s eternal plan calls for investing the very life of the Son of God into humanity. The incarnation of the Son of God (God becoming man without ceasing to be God, oh mystery!) belongs here. Not only did Jesus come to open up a way back to God through His death, resurrection and ascension, but He also fully embodied humanity. He demonstrated to us both how to live as restored humanity (our second question) and also what His Father is like (our first question).
Through faith in Christ, this God restores us, bringing us home, to the home we have been longing for all our lives. Now he builds and trains us up to send us out on His God-Assignments. He is “with us,” partnering in all we do. My website, as well as many great Christian books amplifies this. A sub-category, when you want to break this out is: “What are my God-Assignments in this season of my life?”
Level TWO Category: Three Dynamic Pictures.
God designed us with core-needs for intimacy and adventure that require more than we often believe we have.
Have you stopped to think how difficult it is for created humanity to relate with an infinite, uncreated Being?
We are created beings, fallen, restored yet still in-process beings, even after giving our wholehearted allegiance to Him. God transcends our ability to fully comprehend Him. Therefore, our gracious God has given us powerful pictures to begin to bridge the gap, three of which I see as primary. Now we will better enjoy and experience, respond to and pass Him along to others. The following are the three great pathways from which we receive and through which we freely and generously give away His love. Both/And.
In summary, as intimate allies, our good Father and our great King prepare His people together as His son and daughter, His prince and princess. We now take our rightful place as co-regents over this world as His Bride alongside our Groom, Jesus. These three fabulous word-pictures stir our hearts. The OT explores the first two, then adds depth and breadth in the NT. When Jesus came in His incarnation, He changed the game (Hebrews 1:1-3)! The NT clarifies that Jesus also came as the generous Groom ravished by love for His people as His Bride. Our heart is unhinged by such intimacy! Progressive revelation in Scripture waited until the coming of Jesus to clearly reveal such an astounding relationship (Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 19:7).
1. “God is FATHER and I am His Beloved Child” –Family of God – Community:
The Family of God interweaves itself from Genesis 1-2 before the Fall through Revelation 22. This is God’s presence as it relates to His beloved children, those who have come to Him through faith in Christ, His people. This picture depicts us as much-loved children (1 John 3:1-2) who turn to our Father for everything in our lives. He grows us up and trains us for His Family Business through His presence. He fulfills all the needs that He designed us with in Genesis 1 and 2. Provision. Relationship. Companionship. Protection. Love and compassion. Character and ministry training. Every family on earth is an imperfect expression of this eternal Family of God.
2. “God is KING and I am His Servant-Warrior” Kingdom of God – Mission:
The Kingdom of God also stands prominently in Scripture, referred to as eternal in the OT. I view the Kingdom of God as His presence reflected through His people towards the world to make right what is not right. Jesus embodies God’s Kingdom right to rule. When we came to Christ, the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom presence transferred us out of the dominion of darkness and escorted us into the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13-14). As servant-warriors, we carry the same authority that Jesus did (Matthew 28:19-20; Ephesians 1:19-23). The Father sends us into the world of people in the same way He sent His unique Son, Jesus, to do the same things His Son did (John 20:21). Read the Gospels to see the full extent of our call (except for Jesus’ unique atonement for our sins, which only One who is both God and man could do).
3. “God is GROOM and I am His Precious Bride” – Marriage – Worship:
The picture of Marriage also spans the entire Bible, yet not nearly as clearly in the OT as the other two. I find the first allusion before the Fall in Genesis 2:21-25 (compare Ephesians 5:25-33). This picture brings me to my knees in adoration! What an awesome privilege to be invited into such friendship as God’s intimate partners. Except for a few scattered OT illustrations, the culmination of the intimacy of our relationship with the relational Trinity could not be grasped until Jesus came. Jesus revealed the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). The Marriage Feast of the Lamb culminates this great picture of full partnership in Revelation (Revelation 19:9+17 with 19:7; 21:2; 21:9; 22:17).
Summary: These are the three great pathways of discipleship through which we receive God’s generous bounty and pass it along freely and generously to others in love. 1 Thessalonians chapter one give them in this order. Worship (2-3). Mission (4-5). Community (6-10).
Level THREE Category: Amplifying community with one more layer.
In my mental file cabinet, I also now add three additional categories from 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 to clarify how we develop disciples in community. DiscipleMaking in community is my primary ministry call. If your particular ministry call is worship or mission, if needed, add one more layer to yours. Within 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 on “community,” I see three “nutrients” for a soil conducive to releasing life in SmallGroup community interaction.
How do we raise up our spiritual children toward maturity?
1. Relational belonging (“You became imitators” plus 1:5b):
Young Christians need authentic, though imperfect, models of what this Christian life looks like in real life (incarnational living). God was burning into Paul’s heart the need to walk with these young believers, life-on-life. They had the potential to become generational leaders…to set apart their past from their future and make a difference now. Paul and his team came alongside to invest all they possessed to help them get to that place.
2. Biblical responsiveness (“…in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit”).
Experiencing promised freedom comes through the pathway of knowing and doing His Word. Make disciples who hear and obey the Word of God, and quickly make other disciples who multiply disciples. What these new believers learned, they went out and immediately gave away to others (1:7-9). This obedience-focused learning accelerates their own personal growth. Spiritual experience arising out of response to the Word illumined by the Spirit connects faith to our whole lives. “Word & Spirit.” Both/And.
3. Intentional mutual-ministry (“the Lord’s message rang out”):
From day one, these young believers possessed an eager, joyous, almost happy-go-lucky expectancy as they put their faith into daily practice. First, they did it in their own lives. Then as contagious carriers of Jesus, they passed Jesus along to others as they went about doing life in the surrounding regions of Macedonia and Achaia. They lifted up Jesus in the forefront, joining what the Father was already doing in their region.
The lub-dub heartbeat of God is “receive & give.” Whatever we receive, freely and generously give away because God is generous. We grow as we pass it along as servants, like Jesus. If we receive forgiveness, give it away. Acceptance, give it away. If love, kindness, grace or insight, give it away. Upward toward God, outward toward the needy world, and inward to build up this faith-community. We are not only changed in the giving, but our city and region is also impacted by God’s presence, one heart after another (1 Thessalonians 1:8-9a). We learn as we reflect on encounters with truth, not just by study. Intentionally doing the Word builds on the rock, not the sand (Matthew 7:24-27). If we do not respond, we deceive ourselves (James 1:22). The DiscipleMaking process happens through our obedience of faith (Matthew 28:19-20), thus the “I will…” choices we encourage.
DiscipleMaking is more than education that teaches knowledge, more than coaching/training in a discipline, more than a director or counselor, although we will help and support one another. The end-result of DiscipleMaking in the 1st century was a follower whose life reflected the life and thinking of the Master. It’s holistic. Yes, convey knowledge and training, yet continue on until disciples think and respond like the Master (Luke 6:40). LifeChange. And our chief Discipler is Jesus, even though He uses us as flesh-&-blood examples.
Much of our transformation happens in the alternating rhythm of our private time with God and our time with others in SmallGroup life. So, as we intersect the lives of others, deliberately align ourselves with the Spirit. He forges together relational belonging with biblical responsiveness and intentional mutual-ministry to develop radical disciples or learners in community to influence the world.
Some learn best visually. In the chart below, I attempt to integrate both levels of categories. However, I still encourage you to begin with Level One (Know God and know ourselves) and let need draw you to expand.