When I was a young boy I used to enjoy swimming in the pool underwater. Having been exposed to adventure stories involving submarines, bathyspheres, scuba divers and the like, I was hooked. Much of my time swimming was spent discovering more ways to stay under the water for longer periods of time. With practice I was able to hold my breath for longer and longer stretches of time. I could eventually swim four lengths of a forty-foot pool under the surface all in one breath. But at the end of the swim I would rush to the surface gasping for air. Thinking about it now it seems pretty foolish and a waste of time. But one of the side advantages of all this holding my breath was that I developed a fairly large lung capacity, which assisted me in playing sports, playing the flute and harmonica, as well as singing. Unfortunately as I get older my lungs seem to be smaller and less elastic. Holding one’s breath is a neat trick, but it wasn’t meant to be the way we lived our lives.
We were meant to breath, to take a breath, breath in and breath out. It is the way we were created to function in this atmosphere. That first breath that a newborn baby inhales was not meant to last them the rest of their lives, but to be followed by an ongoing series and rhythm of inhaling and exhaling. The reality is that when we cease to breath for too long an interval, we deprive our brains of the oxygen needed and we ultimately die. Life and breathing are connected. Living as a human being is dependent on breathing.
In the same way our physical bodies require breathing in the oxygenated air of earth’s atmosphere, so too in the spiritual life, our soul needs to inhale the atmosphere of the Spirit to sustain life. The book of Genesis in the Bible says, “God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a living soul (or being). The first breath for humanity was the breath of the Creator. It is this breath that animated and empowered humanity. The human soul was created to breathe in the atmosphere and oxygen of God.
Yet, too often I starve my soul of the atmosphere and oxygen of God, trying to hold my breath and operate on some imaginary reserve tank of spiritual air. I take a deep breath of God’s atmosphere in church on Sundays and hope that it will last me the rest of the week. It rarely lasts past the church parking lot. All the poisonous pollutants of this world seem to surround me and compel me to inhale what is less than life sustaining. At the same time, what I tend to exhale, after breathing this counterfeit atmosphere of the world, is less spiritual, manifesting itself in poisonous and polluted thoughts, words and deeds. In the same way a baby shifts from breathing the liquid atmosphere of the womb to breathing in the atmosphere outside the womb, we must shift from the old atmosphere of the decaying and dying world and practice breathing in the atmosphere of the life-giving Spirit of God.
Paul says in Ephesians 5:18 that we are to “be filled with the Spirit”. The Spirit is to be what animates and influences our lives as those who follow Jesus. Jesus appeared to His disciples in the upper room after the resurrection. There He spoke to them and said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22). It seems entirely appropriate that Jesus would send His disciples out into the atmosphere of this world well equipped with the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit. To do otherwise would have left them spiritually gasping for air, and eventually lead to a shriveled, less mature, and possibly dead soul.
Since we have the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit always available to us by faith, we need but make the effort to breathe, to practice our breathing, to inhale deeply of what God provides of His word and Spirit. And then to exhale generously what is from God. This is not something we do once a week, or even once a day, but is a “moment by moment” awareness and practice. It is the discipline to remember that we are surrounded by the presence of love, grace and mercy in the person of Jesus through His Holy Spirit, and we need to breathe in and out of the oxygen He provides.
There is no need to have a soul starved for the rich oxygen of the Spirit. It is presently abundant and available to all who would avail themselves. My encouragement to you is to not limit your breathing to a few times during the week, but inhale deeply throughout each day the gift of The Holy Spirit, God’s atmosphere for the soul. Spiritual disciplines can be considered ways we make space to take a breath in our lives of God’s Spirit. There are many spiritual practices that might assist you in your daily, weekly or monthly spiritual rhythms of pause. One such spiritual discipline is repeating the “Jesus Prayer” (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner) at various intervals throughout the day. This is just one way you might remind yourself to breathe from the atmosphere of God’s Spirit. May the Lord remind and enable you to press pause often to take a breath from the rich atmosphere He provides to sustain and nourish the soul.