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Spiritual Growth and “Learned Helplessness”

Spiritual Growth and "Learned Helplessness"

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  • Back in the ’70s, some scientists focused on the trait of “learned helplessness”. This experiment is useful for Christians who long to read the Bible more “accurately” and “effectively”. This experiment has significance for people’s sense of “helplessness” about being able to interpret the Scriptures for themselves.
  • Don’t forget — every Believer’s “favorite teacher” is… the Anointing Who dwells within! [1John 2.27]
  • Now listen, you may not enjoy reading about scientific experiments (especially the first one on “helplessness”) but I promise you, if you grasp their implications, both of them will change how you see people and how you minister. So, don’t skim through “looking for the Bottom Line”!!! Read them both carefully!
  • Back in the ’70s, scientists set up an experiment with dogs. (Now — I wouldn’t have experimented with this, but seeing it was done, there’s some valuable insight here.)
  • They experimented with several dogs and the results were not only astonishing but were the same across the board.
  • Each dog was placed in a wire cage which could be electrified enough to make the dogs very uncomfortable. The cages had six sides of wire mesh. With the current turned on, every dog at first made excited efforts to escape from the cage to no avail.
  • Finally, after many shocks, each dog got to the point where when it felt the current, it simply lay helplessly still on the floor of the cage.
  • Then, the top of the cage would be removed, and the current again applied.
  • But now the dog would just continue lying still on the electrified wire mesh. It did not attempt to jump out the top of the cage.
  • Next, the scientists removed one side of the cage, then another until all sides to the cage were gone.
  • When they threw the current and the dog would whimper, it still wouldn’t move off the wire mesh. Even though nothing held the dog from leaping to freedom, it would continue to lay on the electrified mesh and whimper.
  • It had learned helplessness.
  • People can “learn helplessness” as well.
  • This has serious implications, even beyond the study of Scriptures. If you’ve been involved with ministering to people for any length of time, you’ve probably been confused, astonished, upset or even angry to see people who have been set free by Jesus Christ but who have been unable to appropriate that freedom. You “lift” them and “encourage” them and “stand alongside” of them through thick and thin — but then they turn right back into their lives of helplessness.
  • There are people who totally and radically believe in the freedom that Jesus has won for them and imparted to them, but who cannot stand in this freedom.
  • Understand, some people’s life experiences have engraved “helplessness” into the physical/chemical process of their brains. These “patterns in the brain” are called “engrams” — actual biochemical changes in brain tissue that represents a memory.
  • What can we do for a person who is not simply a bit “doubtful” about God, but truly believes in God and believes in their salvation… but whose brains have been “engraved” with “helplessness”?
  • They need the neural tissues of their brains “healed”, supernaturally.
  • This is illustrated in Scripture. Look in Mark 8:
  • 22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spat on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?” 24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” 25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man/s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything.
  • This is the only instance I know about where Jesus had to pray twice for someone to be completely healed! The first time Jesus “put His hands on him”, He asked, “Do you see anything?” And, yes — the formerly blind man could see… indistinctly. He said he could see people but then said that these people “looked like trees walking around”.
  • It doesn’t say in Mark’s account that this man had been born blind, but it would fit nicely. Let’s speculate a bit. If this man had never seen, then the neural cells involved with sight would never have matured.
  • This is normal. When a person has been blind or deaf for most of their life, and a picture (MRI, et. al.) is taken of their brain, the area of the brain associated with that sense is small, having never received the stimulation necessary for it to develop and mature.
  • When I look at Jesus’ “two-stage” healing, I can’t help but wonder if the first healing was the man’s eyes, and the next healed the under-developed neural tissues in his brain.
  • Here’s why I suspect this may have happened: When his “eyes” were opened, he processed the new “signals” in terms of what was already familiar to him. He “saw” people, but he “saw” them as “trees, walking”. Trees, now — he was familiar with trees. He’d probably stood by them and held onto them for years. And his brain tried to process the unfamiliar, visual signals with a part of his brain that was already highly developed — touch.
  • But Jesus “put His hands on him” a second time, and the man suddenly could process the new signals from his eyes correctly.
  • Why do I use this Scripture as an illustration? This Scripture at least allows for the possibility that part of a person’s healing may include healing neural pathways inside the brain
  • And “learned helplessness” may require that healing.
  • One last example about “learned helplessness”: Have you ever tried to teach someone how to do something — say, algebra — if they’ve “learned” that they are “helpless” to do it? You can hold a conversation like this one:
  • “Now — remember that the little asterisk [*] means to multiply the numbers?”
  • “Of course!”
  • “OK — so we have 3*6…tell me in English what that means.”
  • [Complete silence.]
  • The problem is that when a person has “learned helplessness”, their brains can’t get past their belief in their helplessness!
  • Let’s wrap up this experiment and apply it to Believers and how they read the Bible:
  • Let’s say that someone doesn’t read well. Or they’ve been told by their dad that they’re “stupid”. Or that they’ve listened to “Bible teachers” many, many times with the thought, “How do they understand the Word like that — I’ll never be able to understand the Bible for myself — it’s too difficult for me to understand.”
  • Well, the Bible’s not too difficult for anybody of normal or near-normal intellect to understand for themselves. But as Believers, there are times we’ll run into people who simply won’t try to interpret the Bible with the simple study skills needed for accurate understanding. They won’t even try, because they may have “learned helplessness”.
  • If we encounter people who stare blindly when you try to share the skills and techniques of studying the Word or hearing the Voice of the Author in respect to the Bible, stop and consider if they may be hindered by “learned helplessness” — and if so, the healing ministry may be needed to create new, neural paths in the brain before success can ever be achieved!

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Source by Emil Swift

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