(By Heather Marshall)
I could see my breath in the cold, frosty morning air. It looked beautiful, like silvery wisps of clouds floating over my head, reminding me that breath is a gift from God. In Genesis 2:7 we read, “Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”
Breath is mankind’s first connection point with God. Man did not become a living soul until God leaned over and breathed His own breath of life into Adam’s nostrils. From the moment the very first breath of God filled Adam’s lungs until now, all of mankind has been given this same gift of breath from God.
Breath is synonymous with life; if we have breath we have physical life. In the spiritual realm, we also have life if we have breath. The Spirit of God is often referred to as breath or wind. For example, in John 3:6-8, the Greek word pneuma is used, which means “a current of air,” “breath,” or “a breeze.”
If we have trusted Christ as our personal Savior, we have been given the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, and we have a new life. As John 3:6 states, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” Not only is every Christian a recipient of physical breath, but we are also blessed to have spiritual breath from the Holy Spirit dwelling within.
That wintry morning as the silvery wisps floated over my head, causing me to pause and thank God for the breath of life, I started to wonder about the intersection between my physical breath and my spiritual breath. Is there a way to connect the two? It wasn’t long after that I became aware of the concept of breath prayer.
Breath prayer is a form of contemplative prayer linked with the rhythms of breathing. It is a way of practicing being in the presence of God with few words, usually chosen from Scripture or words based on Scripture promises. Linking our breath with these prayers helps us stay close to God in the moment. God is close to you, closer than your breath.
In church history, breath prayer appeared perhaps as early as the 3rd century. It has been practiced by believers down through the years and it is a practical way to embody the apostle Paul’s instruction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Because breath prayer involves only a few words, it releases us from thinking too much about praying the “right words” and it is also a way to pray God’s promises instead of focusing on our problems.
Breath prayer unites prayer with the body as we place a few words on the inhale and a few words on the exhale. Deep diaphragmatic (belly) breathing has so many benefits for our bodies: lowers stress levels, releases and reduces muscular tension, increases blood supply and nutrients to muscles and bones, and strengthens core muscles (improves posture), to name a few. As we breathe deeply, uniting prayer with our breath, we experience the kindness of God to our spirits and our bodies.
So how do we start practicing breath prayer? We can start by taking a few deep cleansing breaths, inhaling through our noses as we see our belly expand and then exhaling through our mouths. Do this several times and check in with yourself. What do you notice about your body? Are you carrying tension somewhere? Be curious.
The next step is linking this rhythm of breathing with a Scripture promise or principle in this way: inhale and speak the first part of the promise or principle, then exhale and finish speaking the promise. For example: breathe in, “Be still and know”; breathe out, “That I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Here are 2 more examples of breath prayers:
Breathe in, “When I am afraid,” then breathe out, “I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3).
Breathe in, “LORD sustain me,” then breathe out, “As you promised” (Psalm 119:116).
These are just a few examples of the multitude of Scriptural breath prayers that could be prayed. I encourage my sisters to take a few quiet moments to connect to your breath and ask God to lead you to a breath prayer for the season that you are in.
That beautiful silvery breath in the winter air reminds us of the gift of life that we have been given. Even more invigorating is the delight of breath prayer that has benefits for us now and eternally as it nourishes our bodies and links us to our God and the glorious eternal future that awaits us.
Breathe in, “Come”;
Breathe out, “Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).