Prayer—Our Spiritual Breathing

concentric blue circles moving in pleasant wave in and out

Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.

Prayer is a fundamental part of our Christian life. It’s how we contact God, converse with Him, and enjoy fellowship with Him. But have you ever considered that prayer is our spiritual breathing?

Today we’ll look at some key verses from the Bible to see what this means, and how we can practice this kind of prayer in our daily life.

Physical breathing

Physical breathing involves both inhalation and exhalation. As we breathe in, we receive oxygen, which is vital to every part of our body. And as we breathe out, we exhale carbon dioxide, a waste gas that needs to be expelled from our system. 

We all know breathing is indispensable in sustaining our physical life. We can survive for a period of time without eating or drinking. But if we stop breathing for just a few minutes, we’ll die. 

The same is true spiritually. We were saved eternally when we believed in Christ, and we received the divine life when we were born again. But now we need to continue to breathe spiritually to maintain our spiritual life.

What is spiritual breathing?

The regular intake of oxygen is an absolute requirement for our bodies. What then is the “oxygen” we believers must breathe spiritually?

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:45 to find out:

“So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul’; the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving Spirit.”

The Greek word translated as Spirit in this verse is pneuma. This word is also translated as breath. The Lord Jesus is the last Adam who was crucified for our sins. Now in resurrection He’s the life-giving Spirit, or breath. The life-giving Spirit is the “oxygen” we must breathe in to live.

This section of note 1 on this verse in the Recovery Version explains what happened in Christ’s incarnation and resurrection in order for Him to become the Spirit:

“Through incarnation He [Christ] had a soulish body, as Adam had; through resurrection He has a spiritual body. His soulish body has become a spiritual one through resurrection. Now He is a life-giving Spirit in resurrection, with a spiritual body, ready to be received by His believers. When we believe into Him, He enters our spirit, and we are joined to Him as the life-giving Spirit. Hence, we become one spirit with Him (6:17).”

Christ in resurrection is now the life-giving Spirit with a spiritual body. This is how we could receive Him when we believed in Him. As the Spirit, He came into our spirit. 

Now because He’s in us, He’s so available to us. We can breathe the life-giving, indwelling Spirit anytime, anywhere, and receive more of His life.

So how do we inhale this life-giving Spirit?

We have to use our spirit

Just as we have to use our lungs to take in oxygen, we have to use our human spirit to breathe in the Spirit. Our spirit is the part of our being created by God that has the ability to contact and receive Him. So exercising our spirit is necessary in order for us to breathe spiritually. 

And the best way to exercise our spirit is through prayer. Prayer isn’t a formal or ritualistic activity; it’s how we contact the Spirit to breathe Him in. So when we pray, we just need to be simple, genuine, and open to the Lord.

Breathing anytime, anywhere

We can breathe the Lord in by praying simple, short prayers.

One of the best and simplest ways to pray is to call upon the name of the Lord

In fact, in Lamentations 3:55-56, the prophet Jeremiah equated calling on the Lord with breathing. He said:

“I called upon Your name, O Jehovah, from the lowest pit. You have heard my voice; do not hide Your ear at my breathing, at my cry.”

Jeremiah wrote these verses when he was suffering and very discouraged. Yet even in the midst of his discouragement, he called on the name of Jehovah.

Sometimes we may also feel like we’re in a low pit; our hearts are heavy and we don’t know how to pray. But we can simply call, “Oh, Lord Jesus.” As we do this, we exhale our discouragement and sadness, and we inhale the Lord’s encouragement and hope. 

At other times, we may feel weak, even lifeless. At such times, our primary need is to breathe in the “fresh air” of the life-giving Spirit. If we just call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, we’ll be revived and enlivened. 

Calling on the name of the Lord is an enjoyable and practical way to breathe in the Spirit. No matter what condition we’re in, where we are, or what we’re doing, we can call, “Lord Jesus!” We can do it aloud if we’re alone, or softly to ourselves. This is the best way to keep breathing anytime, anywhere.

Breathing is critical

In our fast-paced, busy lives, it’s easy to find ourselves “holding our breath.” No wonder the “carbon dioxide” of negative things builds up in us, and we’re weak and susceptible to sin. We need to take a breath! We need to exhale and, at the same time, absorb the Spirit in order to live the Christian life. 

Since prayer is our spiritual breathing, we must build up the practice of breathing all day long. It’s wonderful to realize we can breathe God in moment by moment to be refreshed, strengthened, and filled with Him.

Many seekers of God throughout the centuries have written about their experiences of breathing in God by praying. A hymn by A.B. Simpson eloquently describes his own experience. The first two stanzas and chorus read:

O Lord, breathe Thy Spirit on me,
Teach me how to breathe Thee in;
Help me pour into Thy bosom
All my life of self and sin.

I am breathing out my sorrow,
Breathing out my sin;
I am breathing, breathing, breathing,
All Thy fullness in.

I am breathing out my own life,
That I may be filled with Thine;
Letting go my strength and weakness,
Breathing in Thy life divine.

To see the full hymn and listen to the tune, visit this page.

May we all practice breathing in the Lord by prayer every day. And if you live in Australia, you can order a free copy of the New Testament Recovery Version to read the entire note on 1 Corinthians 15:45.