At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.I don't know about you, but at midnight I'm usually asleep, and likely dreaming.
I don't actually remember my dreams these days, certainly not as often as I did when I was younger.
In my dreams I tend to be in some specific, recognizable place from my memories. When I dream about work, I'm almost always in the University of Missouri warehouse, one of the workplaces where I've actually spent the least time. I don't dream much about being in school or college like I did when I was younger, but throughout those years, the "school" of my dreams was always the same building, and that not a school at all but a museum I used to visit when I was a little kid.
Most people have similar experiences. Many dreams contain bits and pieces of memories and experiences that aren't that hard to identify, but are jumbled like a pile pieces from several different jigsaw puzzles. .
Scientific theories about why we dream run the gamut from an expression of suppressed Freudian urges to the brain's need to sort recent input and integrate it with stored memories.
The brain processes input all day long. Whether I'm analyzing complex data at work or thumbing through my Facebook feed, the brain is taking in a massive amount of data. God designed the human brain to retain an incredible amount of memories, but not an infinite amount. The brain chooses which memories to add to the "files" and which to jettison.
As I get older I more frequently notice that process taking place in real time. Something pops into my mind and I'll make the conscious decision, "I'll get back to that just as soon as I finish what I'm doing now." My brain, however, makes a seemingly independent decision to toss that thought aside. Try as I might, I can't retrieve that piece of data.
Most scientists who study the brain think our dreams are a by-product of the brain's attempts to sort through the input of the past few days and either integrate it with existing data or jettison it as superfluous. The brain does this while we sleep because that's when it gets a rest from the constant flow of input during waking hours.
The people, events, and places that repeatedly show up in your dreams, even decades later, are the ones your brain has tagged as most important. That may be because of repetition (you spent thousands of hours around that person) or because of a high emotional component to that memory (maybe I had a traumatic experience in that museum when I was little).
Sometimes I'll wake up in the middle of a truly disturbing dream. My heart is pounding as much as if I were actually experiencing whatever trauma was happening within the dream. Whenever that happens, I try to intentionally think about other things, more relaxing and pleasant things, hoping to avoid slipping back into that nightmare when I slip back into sleep.
The mechanism of the brain is essentially the same whether it's processing input from a conversation I had that day about the Missouri Tigers or from my time spent in meditating on the Word.
If you really want to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and with all your mind (Luke 10:27), you can make use of the things we know about the brain to help make that happen.
- Intentional and repetitive input sticks better than casual and passive input. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6). Your 5 or 10 minutes in the morning with your Daily Bread is a great idea, but it's going to have trouble competing for the brain's attention if you're spending several hours every day glued to Facebook or Netflix.
- Taking intentional action on the Word you're reading and the subjects of your prayer will brain-tag those things as highly important. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2) Mind renewal happens when you devise and implement ways to test God's will. Try out the commandments. See if they really do work. Experiment to how to work out the ideas His Word is working in to your mind. Train you mind for action (I Peter 1:13).
- Becoming emotionally invested in your Bible meditation and prayers will supercharge their ability to have a lasting impact on your mind. I've always loved Paul's description in II Corinthians 10:5 of meditation with moxie: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. How can you do that? By putting your imagination to work. If you're reading about an event, imagine yourself in the story, right alongside Noah or Ezekiel or Jesus. If you're reading a section of teaching, imagine yourself living out that teaching in the most extreme situations possible. Or imagine the non-Christian people you know learning those lessons in their lives.
- Periodically set aside time for more intensive meditation and prayer. Your brain is going to pay attention if you spend a day in fasting and meditation and prayer. Or if you stay up late, get up early, or "rise at midnight" to devote yourself to dedicated "data input."