Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

(A Day In The) Life of Brain

Written by: on April 3, 2023

This is a recent day in the life of MY Brain…

0615 hours (that’s 6:15 am in military time, which makes this whole post sound way more legit):  I woke up, without my alarm, having sensed the Lord’s voice to my heart saying, “Come and be with me.” So I got up, grabbed my Bible and quieted my heart. God spoke some things that were very personal and timely. I needed to hear from Him, and praise God, I did.

0700 hours: I took a shower while musing on Psalm 23 for Sunday’s sermon yet to be written, all while thinking curiously about soap, because I’ve been struggling with a significant case of psoriasis around my eyes, and I think it may be due to the soaps and detergents I’m using.

0715 hours: My Toyota Tacoma had a scheduled maintenance appointment, so I drove it to the dealership while listening to the morning news on NPR. On the way, I grabbed a cold brew at my usual coffeeshop, and chatted for a few minutes with my regular baristas, one of whose parents were Foursquare pastors, and she is a lesbian.

0730 – 0930 hours: I love waiting in the dealership lobby: free wifi, unlimited coffee, fruit and snacks…and best of all, it is not my normal office, so I don’t get as distracted (except by the 2023 Tacoma on the showroom floor). While waiting, I did a deep dive into my Research Work Flow (ie: Zotero, Word, Obsidian, Notes) and I came to some significant conclusions on how to keep all this sorted out!

0930 – 1300 hours: Normally my sermon prep days are unencumbered with other appointments, but that was not so on this particular day. I only have 3.5 hours to study and write a sermon from start to finish. That was my only window of time all week. So, that’s what I did. I wrote the whole thing: text, intro, four points, few stories, and even two visual props. It may not be the next “Prayer of Jabez” message, but I do think it’s prophetic, it will minister to hearts, and it will glorify Jesus.

1300 – 1430 hours: I reply to all the unread emails and texts that have stacked up. Then I interfaced with our Executive Pastor about staff, finances, and a series of events in 2024.

1430-1600 hours: My wife and I met with a young married couple in deep crisis. I have done this enough in my ministry tenure to know what the major marriage pitfalls are, and yet each situation is still unique, and requires discernment, wisdom, and practical expertise. The couple left our office with hope and determination to stay married, and by the grace of God, get healthy together. My wife and I high-fived each other.

1600 – 1830 hours: We got a text from a friend/church congregant, who is a very successful restaurateur. He asked us if we could join him for dinner at his establishment and help him process some business decisions. He was buying, so, of course, we went. If you’re ever in the Salem, Oregon area it’s called The Cozy Taberna, and it’s absolutely incredible. For two and half hours we processed high level, executive, organizational systems, over Old Fashioned cocktails and porcini dusted bavette steak, with sherry mushroom cream sauce, mushroom escabeche, and roasted sunchokes. It was a mental master class, and a Food Network series in the making.

1830-2200 hours: On our drive home, a number of urgent texts and calls started coming. Another congregant had just been placed on life support, having battled with lung cancer (among many other health challenges). So we got back in the car, drove an hour to pray with and console family members, as well as, counsel them regarding very difficult end of life decisions.

2200-2300 hours: The drive home with my wife was full of tender refections of God’s grace on our life, family and church. As well, we rattled off dozens and dozens of crazy challenges, weird people, spiritual obstacles, unimaginable predicaments, jaw-dropping decisions, and stressful situations we have had in our 30+ years of pastoral ministry.

My day in a nutshell (“Help, I’m trapped in a nutshell…) is this:  Our. Brains. Are. Amazing.

David Rock, in “Your Brain At Work,” affirms this: “Conscious thinking involves deeply complex biological interactions in the brain among billions (that’s with a B) of neurons” (Rock, 18). Later in his writing, he mentions “Trillions (that’s with a T) of ever-changing neurons are organized into networks through patterns of neuronal firing (ie: maps)” (Rock, 64). Whether it be billions or trillions, there is a lot of complex prefrontal cortex activity going on here – activated by two primary neurochemicals: dopamine and norepinephrine. Rock says, “Without enough of these two chemicals, you experience boredom, under-arousal. Too much, and you experience stress, over-arousal. There is a sweet spot in the middle that is just right” (Rock, 64). That sweet spot, or as Rock calls it, the Inverted U of performance and arousal, is the place of reasonable levels of stress.

I know that place. I know it very well. Oh, sure, I also have known the place of boredom, as well as the place of out-of-control-high-stress-dysfunction. But I am more familiar with, and comfortable with that “sweet spot.” It’s the place when I discover the Lords presence best. I lean on Him. I listen to Him better. It’s the place of just enough stress (“chemistry of fear”) that I pay intense attention, but not so much that it’s debilitating.

The recent day in the Life of My Brain, that I went to great lengths to describe above, was one of those days. I was in my mental sweet spot. My dopamine levels were appropriate. The right actors were on stage, and they knew their lines.

I chalk it all up to a singular, significant decision:  I sensed the Lord say “come and be with me” and I responded with obedience. That, to me, is the BEST strategy for overcoming distraction, regaining focus, and working smarter all day long.


About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

6 responses to “(A Day In The) Life of Brain”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    Thanks for highlighting …”Without enough of these two chemicals, you experience boredom, under-arousal. Too much, and you experience stress, over-arousal. There is a sweet spot in the middle that is just right” (Rock, 64)”

    2021 was a year of unsweet spots. Moving, Covid Pneumonia, no face to face church…I was loosing it.

    2022 and now 2023, have been exciting times with DLGP. Finding that “sweet spot” however has been a challenge. Life intrudes and the lives of those we minister intrudes in a delightful but draining kind of way.

    Ask, Seek, Knock…I have the asking part down, and lately in Seek and Knock, I have been trying to align my will with HIS will for my life, my family my NPO, my students.

    Oh I almost forgot dopamine…I get it from my dog. I gather we both get it from each other when I spend time scratching his ears.


    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Russell, you’re onto something with “ask, seek, knock.” That a good posture to be in order to discover more of the “sweet spot.” It certainly doesn’t negate difficulties – life is full of them, again it’s about being in a “reasonable level of stress.”

      I wonder if that’s what Jesus was calling his disciples (ie: US) to; a reasonable level of stress, in which we have to depend upon his strength while also utilizing the gifts, abilities, wisdom, etc that the Spirit gives.


  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    John, one of the first things that stood out to me in reading your post was the diligence you took in taking inventory of your day and the vivid detail that you recalled / experienced. Strangely, I was sitting this morning in our own Toyota dealership, waiting on our Highlander to be serviced, yet I can barely remember what I focused on. I do know it was work, though. At almost the same time of day, too.

    Secondly, I was encouraged to read how you responded to the Lord calling you that morning to come and be with him without having the alarm clock go off. So much to emulate there, where I, on the other hand, am so often prone to wake up and think…how can I prepare my prefrontal cortex (I’ll use that term more often now that I’ve read Rock) to not get worn out too early. I need to listen/respond to the Lord more in this way, and your example was a great primer. Excellent post, brother.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Well, let me be super honest…this is not my normal mode. I earnestly wish I would listen better to the Lord, set up my day for spiritual success, etc. etc. Alas, I’m quite hit and miss. That day happened to be “a hit!”

      Having said that, I haven’t been sleeping well as of late, oh, I don’t know, got some topic expertise papers, Good Friday and Easter services, trip to Egypt/Jordan/Israel, etc. etc. – suffice it to say, I’m a hot mess of stress…all the more important for me/us to really lean in on the heart of the Father, the leading of the Son and the presence of the Spirit. It’s such a difference maker.

      One of my life verses is Isaiah 26:3 – be encouraged with this Travis; “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You”

  3. mm Tim Clark says:

    “Come and be with me”; that’s the ticket right there.

    If we can keep our eyes on Jesus and engage his vision for our day (and lives) without wearing ourselves out chasing the images we have of what our days (or lives) ought to look like, we’d all be much better off.

  4. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    I love the “sweet spot” and I know your work as a pastor can have so much variety and crisis intervention which is a sweet spot for support. My question is how do you balance time when you have the tasks that are necessary and still have the ability to respond to others? I have felt that is the hardest part of ministry. As I wait until last minute to do my papers this semester, it is when conveniently my children go into some sort of crisis. My kids are my priority of course, but it’s made me think of what sort of investment or different strategies I can do to make sure I am not caught with the last minute crisis? Does this happen to you?

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