Intuition: How Does It Happen?
“I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Ps. 119:11
Developing an intentionally Biblical world-view requires an intentional study of God’s Word, aimed at understanding the true meaning and application of it to everyday life. Like any other intellectual endeavor, there are certain methods and tools that can make the process more efficient and effective. The minds God has given us are wonderful instruments with far more capability than most of us ever realize. While we tend to emphasize the conscious methods of study and analysis, much of what we learn and discover results from subconscious or intuitive processing. Such intuitive processes lead to the “aha” moments in life, where we suddenly make a new connection or application.
Years ago, I read an article in the newsletter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) on the intuitive process in petroleum exploration geology. It noted that many successful petroleum and mineral exploration geologists (consciously or not) relied heavily upon intuitive processes to find economic petroleum and mineral deposits. The author stated that the intuitive process is not passive, but arises from a disciplined approach involving three basic phases – immersion, incubation, and inspiration.
In the immersion phase, the geologist devotes massive amounts of time to absorbing all he or she can about the region of interest, the types of deposits sought and any other information that might remotely be related to the quest. He made the statement that sometimes this comes across wrong to superiors, co-workers or outsiders. The geologist may spend hours slouched back in a chair, feet on the desk, staring at a map on the wall, or trading “war stories” with other geologists. In this stage, it is not often understood what the inter-relationships are between the various materials digested, and the shear volume of material makes it unlikely that anything initially stands out as significant. But by immersion in the subject matter, many of the details are subconsciously absorbed and stored for later processing.
The incubation phase occurs when the geologist steps back from the immersion phase (sometimes overwhelmed or exhausted by the process). Even though he or she is no longer aggressively pursuing knowledge on the subject, or consciously analyzing it, the subconscious mind continues to process the material, sorting out the facts and figures, connecting the dots, systematizing the apparently disparate parts into a coherent synthesis. The length of the incubation phase is often unpredictable, except by repeated experience, since each individual situation may contain varying degrees of complexity. It is also influenced by the intensity of preconceived notions. The more strongly held misconceptions take longer to disassemble, to make way for new paradigms.
Suddenly, “out of the blue”, an idea bubbles up to the conscious mind – an inspiration. Too often, it is dismissed, because it seems so out of line with past experience or conventional wisdom. It is only by conscious intent that a new idea is entertained and analyzed to see if it indeed contains any merit. It may be an incomplete “seed” that triggers a thought process leading to the answer, or it might come as a strong urge to “drill here!” Those that have learned to use the intuitive process know how to distinguish such inspiration from a case of indigestion.
It is often only after testing the idea that the geologist can trace backwards through the subconscious logic that led to it. Such inspiration is most common as the geologist is engaged in non-verbal activities like listening to music, exercising or hiking. Part of the discipline involves providing such apparently “unproductive” interludes (read “life balance”).
I believe this process may be useful in many other areas of study and practice, not the least of which is the understanding of God’s word. While the geologist is largely dependent upon unconsciously learned logical processes, we as believers have yet another aid in the process, the work of the Holy Spirit. So let’s see how this process might look in study of the Bible.
Immersion in the Bible involves concentrated study and dissection of passages, be they a book of the Bible, or scattered passages related by some theme one wishes to better understand. It starts by prayerfully reading and re-reading the passages until all of the details are recognized, whether or not their relationships make sense. Just as the scientist would carefully observe every detail, the Bible student must become so familiar with the material, that the details can be easily recalled. The ultimate expression of this is memorization of passages. The goal is to learn the content of the passages. The role of prayer and the action of the Holy Spirit in this phase cannot be overemphasized. Prayer is a yielding to the will of God and opening of the heart to the Spirit of God, who “knows the mind of God.”
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27; New International Version, ©2011)
During this stage and into the next, the student will begin to bring in commentary and other supporting materials to begin interpreting the passages. If he or she has committed the passages to memory, it will be easier to recognize which supporting materials are faithful to the text and which are not. Again, dependence on the leading of the Spirit will help separate the wheat from the chaff. Inconsistencies will more likely become apparent. Materials on the cultural, historical, political, geographical, economic, social, and even geological contexts can shed light on the events or ideas expressed. Biographical materials can reveal themes that the authors or those being written about consciously or subconsciously dwelt upon. During this stage the goal is to understand the intended meaning of the passages, and not force it into a modern context or set of presuppositions.
Up until now, the process has been what the Bible refers to as “hiding the word of God in my heart”, so that I am intimately familiar with it. I can then begin to meditate upon it, turning it over and over in my mind and my heart, consciously and subconsciously, looking at it from all angles and integrating it into the larger cognitive framework I have built over the years, my core scripts and world-view. The more it incubates, the deeper it becomes embedded in my world-view.
If I have granted God’s word the authority it is due, it will occasionally reveal flaws in my core scripts or world-view. In other cases, it may validate truths I have been taught or discovered on my own. Those “inspirations” may come at unexpected times, or rise to the conscious mind because of triggering events, words or thoughts. The more authority I have granted His word, and the more I have opened myself to the action of His Spirit, the more fruit will be born of committing His word to my heart and mind.
In the scientific and technical disciplines, this approach bears the most fruit among the best educated (formally or informally). In this case, hiding away God’s word is the education, as well as related reading, listening to lessons, or even watching related video materials. The key here is intentionality. It is not just passive absorption of material, but rather, absorption with intent to understand and apply the material
In the spiritual realm, the process can be fruitful for anyone who applies it, because the Holy Spirit makes accessible the mind of God. The more the process is committed to prayer, the more fruitful it will become because it will be unhindered by interference from the enemy, and the soil will be well prepared to receive the seed. The discipline of “resting” or “waiting upon the Lord” serves the same purpose as the “non-verbal” interludes mentioned above. It will be during those times of listening, that I will receive the most inspirations, not as I am wrestling with the process. The inspirations will be applications of the word to everyday life, educating and focusing my world-view.
As with the geologist, the more I practice this process in studying the Bible, the more productive it will be. What I learn in one study, will still be there in subsequent studies, and may enter into the application or understanding of the new topic or passage in unexpected ways. Even unfocussed reading and meditation upon God’s word will contribute to the process, as in that process, I am storing away God’s word. When I say unfocussed, I do not mean inattentive. I simply mean attentive study aimed at understanding and application, but not necessarily with some end result in mind. The more of God’s word that I have stored away, the more my subconscious mind will have with which to work. And there will be more about which the Holy Spirit can remind me.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26; New International Version, ©2011)
But I cannot reasonable expect the Holy Spirit to remind me of something I have not previously hidden in my heart.
I have often been surprised by a sudden “inspiration” triggered by a comment on the radio or something I have read. Looking back, I realize it is because I had previously hidden away pertinent parts of God’s word, and my subconscious mind has worked it over, and may have actually made the connection some time previous, but something I see or hear triggered release of that connection.
If you have never intentionally tried the intuitive method, consider it. Look back at some of the “aha” moments in you life, and see if they were not actually preceded by immersion, and incubation, maybe weeks or months before hand. And do not neglect immersion in other “non-biblical” topics, such as hobbies, interests, current events, biographies, and even fiction. All of these can provide balance to life and may yield rich analogies and ideas that morph into Biblical illustrations and object lessons. But be immersed in an attentive way, continually filtering the material so you recognize error or heresy. You may be surprised how effective this method can be in understanding and applying scripture. The worse that can happen is that you will learn a lot more of God’s Word!