Breathe Alongside God

To pray is to breath alongside God.*

            -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.”  But many of us struggle with this seemingly impossible teaching.  We can’t live our lives 24/7 on our knees.  This can’t be what Paul is talking about.  He was a very busy man–going and doing, preaching and teaching, working a job and seeking the unreached.  The Life Application Study Bible commentary on this verse gives us some guidance:

We cannot spend all our time on our knees, but it is possible to have a prayerful attitude at all times.  This attitude is built upon acknowledging our dependence on God, realizing his presence within us, and determining to obey him fully.  Then we will find it natural to pray frequent, spontaneous, short prayers.  A prayerful attitude is not a substitute for regular times of prayer but should be an outgrowth of those times.

Bonhoeffer wrote, “The most promising method of prayer is to allow oneself to be guided by the word of Scriptures, to pray on the basis of a word of Scripture.” *  One very good way of developing the spiritual discipline of constant prayer is with breath prayers, a centuries old Christian method of praying Scripture as we go about our day.  With breath prayers “we will find it natural to pray frequent, spontaneous, short prayers.”

The Spirit of God and breath are closely linked in the Bible.  “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)  Elihu tells Job, “the Spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).  After his resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples, breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

We too can intentionally link our breath to the work of the Holy Spirit through breath prayer which is simply timing the phrases of our prayer with our breath.  The Psalms, which Bonhoeffer called “God’s own prayer book”, is an excellent source for breath prayer Scriptures.  Psalm 109:1 is one of my favorites. 

On the first inhale silently pray, God of my praise, as you exhale silently pray do not be silent in my life. Next time pray, God of my praise, do not be silent in their lives.  Then on the third breath cycle pray, God of my praise, do not be silent in our lives.  With this prayer we are, first of all, asking God to speak into our lives that we may know him and love him, that we may serve according to His will.  Next, we are praying for God to speak into the lives we see all around us, that God may open their mind to his presence and love for them.  In the third cycle, we are once again acknowledging that we are all sinners in desperate need of God’s voice in our lives.

This morning as I’m struggling with a persistent health issue and feeling the weight of some serious prayer requests from family and friends the Holy Spirit has given me Psalm 38:22 as my breath prayer for this week:

Hurry to help me, (on inhale)

O Lord, my Savior. (on exhale)

Hurry to help them, (on inhale)

O Lord, our Savior.  (on exhale)

Hurry to help us, (on inhale)

O Lord, our Savior. (on exhale)

(Pause silently for a few breaths listening attentively for the Holy Spirit to speak.  Quietly open yourself to receive words of comfort and guidance.)

An easy, effective way to begin making the spiritual discipline of unceasing prayer a part of our lives is during our times of waiting–waiting at a red light, waiting in the checkout line, waiting in carload at school, waiting at our kids/grandkids practice.  Rather than anesthetizing ourselves with yet more social media we can invest this time in a deeper relationship with our Lord.  We can invest our attention in praying for others right around us.

I encourage you to join me in this breath prayer this week.  Click here for a page of printable prayer cards you can cut it out and keep it in front of you as prayer reminders as you go about your normal routine.  Pray it for yourself.  Pray it for the people you encounter. Pray it for all of us.  And you'll get two bonus coloring sheets too.

* Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes are from Meditating on the Word