The Life Model for Spiritual Growth
Spiritual growth is a very personal and emotional experience for each of us. Most people have a strong opinion about what it means to be connected spiritually. As human beings, we are complex creatures. Being human involves the intersection of the physical, emotional, relational and this higher ordered consciousness we call spirituality. As I have grown psychologically and relationally, I am even more profoundly impacted by the mystery of myself as a spiritual being. The way that my being interacts with the God who created me has led me to deeper satisfaction, insight and hope. It is my greatest endeavor to live my life in a way that actualizes this part of me above all else and the Life Model opens the door to the path for how to do just that.
My spiritual journey with the Life Model began eight years ago in the fall of 2014. I grew up going to church with my parents and had a sincere encounter with God at 13 years of age. Since that time, I have been devoted and intentional in my faith journey. However, there was always something more I desired. I was looking for a way to connect with God on a more intimate, relational level. In the spring of 2014, I went on a trip to Israel. Of course, the trip was a profound experience in many ways, but there were aspects of the trip that brought out my acute desire to know God in a more personal way. Then a few months later, the book Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You (the first book in the Life Model curriculum) was given to me. Since the moment I opened that book, I have been unpacking the depth of how the Life Model leads me into a deeper and more intimate connection with God. The Life Model has helped me to experience God as someone who delights in me, even in my weaknesses, while at the same time giving me a path to greater maturity and healing from life’s pain. The Life Model has taught me how to have intimate conversation with God that makes me feel fully known, fully accepted and fully loved, soothing my emotions and creating a sense of safety and protection that I had never known.
The Life Model uses a neurotheology approach to understand the relationships we have with ourselves, God and others. This article is the final installment in a series of five articles and havel focused on the application of the Life Model for spiritual growth. The first article in this series focused on my personal experience with the model, the second article focused on the basics of the Life Model, the third article discussed the Life Model as a system for personal growth, and the fourth article gave an overview of the Life Model for relational growth. It is important to note that our counseling practice, The Center for Family Transformation, is considered a Life Model practice. All of our therapists are well studied in the model, and we are seeking ways to implement it in our personal lives and therapy sessions. We are also considering how we can best offer the essence of this model to other therapists so that they can personally and professionally benefit from the wisdom of the Life Model.
As I mentioned above, the Life Model is a neurotheology model. Neurotheology is the blend of neuroscience and theology. These two fields of study compliment one another because “the God who inspired the writing of the scripture is the same One who designed the brain” (Life Model Works, n.d., section 1). Neurotheology brings together the most recent findings in neuroscience and applies these discoveries to what we already know from centuries of scholarly study of the Bible. The Life Model breaks down the following concepts through a neurotheological lens: human maturity and character, the brain’s response to trauma and how to find healing, relational attachments and learning to love God and others well. (Life Model Works, n.d., section 4). In his book, Renovated, Dr. Jim Wilder (the head neurotheologian of the Life Model) also mentions that “neurotheology suggests the value of attaching to God; thinking with God; becoming one of God’s people; and thinking about God” (Wilder, 2020, p. 49). As you can see, the neurotheology field of study is packed full of information that helps us understand how our brains can help us know God more and through that connection find our path to healing and fulfillment in this life.
There is so much to unpack about how the Life Model aids in spiritual growth! I hope to use this article to bring a few concepts into clear understanding for the reader. In my attempt to make these profound understandings concise and immediately applicable, I have chosen to break down some basic Biblical concepts through a neurotheology lens.
The Life Model offers profound insight into many commonly held spiritual terms. As a person who has grown up around the teachings of the Bible, I noticed that over the years many terms became very familiar and seemed to lose their effectiveness until I came across the Life Model. The Life Model gives fresh understanding to concepts such as relationship with God, unity, love, peace and sin. These terms take on a profound depth that causes an automatic growth response in those who receive the understanding and apply it to their lives.
Relationship with God
The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.
The first concept I will cover is intimate connection to God. While the most vital aspect to a Christian life is a personal relationship with God, this concept can feel scary if you don’t feel emotionally safe in relationships. Secure attachment is a term we use in psychology to describe a relational bond that feels safe. If we have a secure attachment with God, we experience God as loving and safe. According to the Life Model, attachment to God is the missing key to lasting transformation.
Dr. Jim Wilder and Dr. Dallas Willard collaborated in regard to this concept in the book Renovated. Here Wilder states that, “the only kind of love that helps the brain learn better character is attachment love. The brain functions that determine our character are most profoundly shaped by who we love. Changing character, as far as the brain is concerned, means attaching in new and better ways” (Wilder, 2020, para. 6). Having a securely attached relationship with God can heal our brain from traumas from our past and give us a sense of clarity about who we are and how we want to live our lives.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
The second concept I will discuss is unity. Unity is being united with others in mutual understanding. The Bible speaks of unity often. This is probably because being united with others is not a simple task! It is very complicated to come into agreement with other humans considering we are all different in so many ways.
In order to understand unity through a neuroscience lens, we must first understand the concept of mindsight. Mindsight is a term first developed by Dan Siegel founder of Interpersonal Neurobiology. Seigel defines mindsight as the “ability to perceive and to understand other people’s minds” (Siegel, 2012, p. 42). Mindsight enables us to reach a mutual mind with others when there is a strong and healthy bond. The Life Model describes a mutual mind as follows:
The human brain is capable of entering into a shared state that is jointly controlled by another mind or brain. This kind of mind sharing is generally limited to people in a bonded relationship when they are face-to-face and open to emotional exchanges. A mutual mind state synchronizes brain activity and chemistry in a matter of seconds, and runs too rapidly to be controlled by conscious thought or choice. Although mutual mind states are mutually produced, they are subjectively experienced as being controlled by the other person and are under the direction of the stronger brain. It is quite likely that God uses mutual mind states to communicate with people (Wilder III, Dr E. James et al., 2013, p. 240).
Furthermore, this neurotheology insight into the term unity helps us understand the way to attain unity with God and others. If we have a strong and healthy attachment with God and others, we can reach a mutual mind which automatically creates unity! Neuroscience blended with scripture gives greater understanding to what God intends for us to know in order to live our lives in a fulfilling way.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
I John 4:7,8
The third concept I will present is that of love. The Bible uses the Hebrew word chesed to speak of the kind of love God has for us. Chesed is “translated as mercy, loving kindness, steadfast love, compassion and goodness”(Coursey, 2016, p. 2). This is a pure form of love that is also known as “sticky love” because it never gives up on relationships. Human love is more fickle than God’s love. When we understand how the brain works in terms of attachment in relationships, we can comprehend that the feeling of love comes and goes depending on how safe an attachment to another person feels to us.
When the Life Model breaks down this concept of chesed from a neurotheology lens, we can see that God gives us this example of His unconditional love toward us so that we can learn to love others in this same way. The Life Model teaches us through the concept of the 19 Brain Relational Skills (Coursey, 2016) that it is possible for a human to learn to chesed God and one another just as God asks us to in the scripture. Prior to this understanding, I had trouble conceptualizing how it was possible for a human to model the love a perfect God gives. Now, because of the Life Model, I understand that it is possible to align myself with God in such a way (mutual mind) that His love is poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). This brings a totally new and exciting spiritual perspective to my life!
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
The fourth concept presented in this article is peace. The Life Model uses the Hebrew word for peace which is shalom. Hebrew words often have a richer descriptive meaning than words from the English language. The word shalom is defined by the Life Model as the experience of “everything [being] harmonized and working together correctly, the right things in the right place in the right amount so everything pleases God” (Wilder III, Dr E. James et al., 2013, p. 243). According to the Life Model, living in a mutual mind which creates unity and joy will bring a feeling of shalom. Life Model authors Chris Coursey and Ed Khouri both talk about the idea of Christians using the “Shalom Test” as an indicator of a right decision or path to take. This is because “our brains are wired to prefer harmony. Harmony is God’s gift to us. When we have lost our way and our connection to God, our shalom is gone” (Wilder III, Dr E. James et al., 2013, p. 19).
The word peace is used so much in the Bible and in church settings. Understanding that peace is something that my brain is wired to prefer is helpful to understanding that there are neurological and spiritual strategies I can use to fill myself with hope. The Life Model actually offers strategies to help the brain connect in attachment with God as a way of finding and maintaining a peaceful state of mind.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
The final concept I will break down in this article is sin. Sin is a tough word for most of us. A lot of people feel guilty when they just hear the word sin! As I have gained more understanding of the word sin through the Life Model neurotheology conceptualization, I have a much better grasp on what sin actually means and how I can use my understanding of this word to grow spiritually. The Life Model model defines the word sin as “a malfunction of identity that causes us to fail to reach the potential God has for us” or “falling short of God’s standard” (Wilder III, Dr E. James et al., 2013, p. 244). The book Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You outlines that when we are living from our hurt, we can’t live from our true heart/true identity.
There are so many difficult things that happen to each of us in life. These difficulties lead to pain and cause us to think and act out of a wounded identity rather than our true identity. From the Life Model perspective, we can live from our true identity when we have a strong attachment to God and others that helps us see ourselves from the lens of our true self. Sin is something that holds us back, but understanding God’s chesed love for us gives us grace for our weaknesses and motivation to become our best self! I love how the Life Model takes a concept as heavy as sin and brings it into perspective. God did not intend for us to be weighed down by the toxicity of shame, but God wants us to be securely attached in his love so we can be free to live out our true identity with Him and others.
Spiritual growth is confusing for most people. Believing in something intangible can create feelings of disconnection and disillusionment. I believe that the Life Model offers a clear understanding of how to embrace our faith in a more profound way. As we unpack the neuroscience research and bring it together with Biblical truth, we find a treasure trove of insights to discover. Personally, I have found the Life Model to be an inspiring way to grow my faith and offer that growth to others.
Finally, understanding the familiar Biblical concepts of relationship with God, unity, love, peace and sin from a neurotheology lens brings greater spiritual growth. If we can grasp the profound depth of these concepts in terms of how we understand and relate to God, we can apply the concepts for transformation in our lives. I hope this series of articles has been helpful to you in terms of understanding how the Life Model has impacted me and how it can do the same for you. My greatest hope is that you will find the same benefit I have found from learning and applying the model. Godspeed to you on your journey!
Biblegateway.com: A searchable online bible in over 150 versions and 50 languages. (n.d.). https://www.biblegateway.com. https://www.biblegateway.com
Coursey, C. M. (2016). Transforming fellowship: 19 brain skills that build joyful community (1st ed.). Shepherd’s House, Incorporated.
Life Model Works. (n.d.). Neurotheology. Retrieved September 10, 2022, from
Siegel, D. J. (2012). The developing mind, second edition (2nd ed.). Guilford Publications, Inc.
Wilder III, Dr E. James, Khouri, E. M., Coursey, C. M., & Sutton, S. D. (2013). Joy starts here: The transformation
zone. Independently published.
Wilder, J. (2020). Renovated. NavPress.