Breathe in, breathe out. We do it 12-14 times a minute without thinking. At rest, our lungs take in six liters of air per minute. When we’re working hard, we can take in more than 100.
Breathing is a miracle we don’t stop to think about very much. It’s involuntary; we just do it.
In the same way, God created us with the capacity to breathe to sustain our natural lives, he has given us a way to “breathe spiritually” for our spiritual well-being.
“Spiritual breathing, like physical breathing,” said Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, “is a process of exhaling the impure and inhaling the pure, an exercise in faith that enables you to experience God’s love and forgiveness and walk in the Spirit as a way of life.”
“But the average Christian does not understand this concept of spiritual breathing as an exercise of faith and, as a result, lives on a spiritual roller coaster," Bright continues. "They go from one emotional experience to another, living most of their life as a worldly Christian, controlling their own life — frustrated and fruitless.”
Betty Lau, now a campus ministry leader, once felt that way. “I’d get a fresh start in my Christian life, then something would happen, and boom, I’d lose it.” She recalls coming home from college for a break, feeling good spiritually, only to have a blowout with her sister. “There were heated words, slamming doors, and my sister walked out. Afterwards, I felt like though being filled with the Holy Spirit sounded good in theory, it just didn’t work.” Later she would discover the active daily discipline of spiritual breathing — and the freedom that discipline would bring.
Spiritual breathing defined
Physical breathing provides the body with a constant supply of oxygen, which is necessary for energy production. It also releases the byproduct of the process — carbon dioxide, a gas that is lethal in large quantities.
Spiritual breathing is like physical breathing in that we:
“Exhale” by confessing our sins immediately to God and trusting in his forgiveness.
“Inhale” by trusting the Holy Spirit to control and empower us and to keep us from returning to sin.
Usually, we don’t think about our physical breathing. But spiritual breathing is something that requires conscious action — a readiness to “exhale” (confess our sin), and to “inhale” (trust God to fill us with his Holy Spirit).
Amy Aker, mother of three boys under age six, has found that spiritual breathing makes a difference in her parenting. “If I’m not disciplining my children correctly — if I yell or use manipulation — once I realize that I’ve done it, I will calmly tell them, ‘Why don’t you go to your room for a little while. I’ll be right there.’ Then, I’ll go to my room for a few quiet minutes and God will reveal to me the heart of my sin, whether it’s impatience or just wanting to impose my will on others. I’ll confess it to him, and then I ask the Holy Spirit to change me, because I can’t do it on my own. Then I’m ready to confess my wrong actions to my kids and have a fresh start.”
Don’t wait to exhale
One measure of Christian maturity is the shortness of time between when we sin and the time we confess it. If we keep short accounts with God, our “old sin nature” can be kept on a short leash. We can confess our sin as soon as we entertain a sinful thought and before we speak an ugly word or act on evil desires.
“Spiritual exhaling” is returning wholeheartedly to God, agreeing with him about our sin, whether in thought or deed, thanking him for his forgiveness and trusting him to transform our attitudes and actions as we obey by faith.
“The more immediately sin is confessed and forsaken, the more sensitive and tender the heart remains,” writes Life Action Ministries. “Spiritual breathing is an integral part of maintaining personal purity.... The practice of breathing spiritually aids in developing a God-consciousness, which in turn serves to keep the revived heart spiritually focused and less susceptible to continual iniquity.”
This has been Amy Aker’s experience. “Confessing my sin is the key to a peaceful life. If I don’t readily confess, it pulls me down and eats me up. As a mom, I don’t always have time for an extended quiet time or Bible reading. Spiritual breathing helps me to stick close to God, to get right with him moment by moment and remain conscious of his presence.”
“Breathing in” the Holy Spirit
To inhale spiritually is to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit by faith. How do we do that?
When we receive Jesus Christ as our leader and forgiver, the Holy Spirit immediately enters our lives and he never leaves (John 1:12; Colossians 2:9-10; John 14:16-17).
The Holy Spirit lives in us so that we can:
- Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) and become more like Christ (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
- Experience a meaningful prayer life and study of God’s Word.
- Experience power in witnessing (Acts 1:8).
- Be prepared for spiritual battle against the world, the flesh and the devil (1 John 2:15-17; Galatians 5:16-17; 1 Peter 5:7-9; Ephesians 6:10-13).
- Experience power to resist temptation and sin (1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:13; Ephesians 1:19-23; 2 Timothy 1:7; Romans 6:1-16).
Though all born-again Christians have the Holy Spirit living inside them, not all are filled with the Holy Spirit. Not all are experiencing what he has to offer.
To be filled — empowered and controlled — by the Holy Spirit, we must, in faith, acknowledge our dependence on him and “hand him the reins” of our life.
We are commanded in Ephesians 5:18 to “Keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Betty Lau has been learning what that means since she started practicing spiritual breathing 10 years ago. “It is a continuous, conscious choice I make to walk in the Holy Spirit’s power. Repentance isn’t a one time thing; it’s giving my life over to God and asking him to direct my decisions on a moment-by-moment basis.”
The result? “My Christian life is no longer about self-effort and defeat,” says Betty. “It’s about allowing the Holy Spirit to permeate every area of my life. Though spiritual breathing is a conscious thing, the more I choose to do it, the more it becomes second nature.”