For about 10 years between middle school and college I played the trumpet and loved it. But life got busy with other things and I decided to put it down. Still – every once in a while I pick it back up for fun or a church function. And I’m always surprised at how much air the horn takes to play it well. It does weird things to me, too.
If I practice the way I should, the air makes my lips tingle from their vibration; the corners of my mouth ache from keeping the air channeled into the mouthpiece and not letting it leak from the sides of my mouth; and after 20 or 30 minutes my diaphragm and back are exhausted from pressing my lungs for that strong, constant push of air. It’s not just the horn, though. Part of my struggle for air is usually the result of not exercising my lungs enough. Not enough running, cycling or whatever. I can’t enjoy the benefits of strong lungs if I don’t keep them strong.
Breathing is so natural that I can forget to exercise my lungs. In fact, it’s so natural that I almost did not think to include it in this devotional series. Still, it is a powerful picture of life that must be reclaimed as one of the many physical images of the gospel.
Think about it. In Genesis 2:7 we read that God breathed life into Adam; in Ezekiel 37 (a foreshadowing of the resurrection of God‟s people), we see that God breathes life into the dead; similarly, John 20:22 tells us that Jesus breathed His Holy Spirit into the disciples; and in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul describes all Scripture as “God-breathed”. In each case, God’s breath is His first gift that empowers us to live for Him.
Breathing is so simple. Yet it is filled with messages about God. For example, every breath should remind us that we are constantly in need. The body can go weeks without food and days without water, but only minutes without air. Remember the Head of the Body in Ephesians 4:15? So even if I hold my breath until I passed out, my ‘head’ kicks in and tells my lungs to breathe again. Parents have little to fear when their toddler holds his or her breath as a bribe!
Our breathing not only pictures our neediness, it shows that God designed us to depend on each other and to share with each other. When you exhale, the green plants take the carbon dioxide in your breath and transform it into oxygen for me and vice versa. Have you thanked someone lately for breathing – even if they didn’t brush their teeth this morning? LOL! It may sound a little silly, but hasn’t God described us as members of His Body who need each other? We can think of that when we’re gasping for air on the track or in the gym! Seriously! Sometimes when I run I meditate on my breath as His gift to “take it in . . . give it away . . . take it in . . . give it away” to remind myself that He breathed life into me so I can give His breath (His Word) to others for their eternal life in Christ.
One of my mentors once told me that God may have given the Hebrew word for His name (YHWH) because the pronunciation of its two syllables sounds like an audible inhale and exhale: “YH” (yah) and “WH” (weh). After all, these Hebrew letters are some of the few in which the lips and tongue remain open for a constant flow of air. Maybe it’s just coincidental, but it seems that just saying God’s name was to remind them that – as it says in a Christian song – “This is the air I breathe: Your holy presence, living in me!”
Don’t worry if you don’t speak Hebrew. There are many present-day applications for us to use breathing to reflect on the Lord, too. Consider the many times and ways that our breathing becomes more labored: when we’re afraid, angry, in pain, confused, scared, etc. Virtually any time we’re under stress, we hear others tell us to “breathe”. Not simply to move the air in and out but to “take deep slow breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth”. Why? When you take deeper breaths, you use more air sacs in your lungs, thus, getting more oxygen to your body. Again, a reminder that we need what only He can give.
Oxygen is energy, and focusing to draw more air into your body can give you greater strength, calm, and even clarity of thought. Science explains how that makes sense because the brain is a physical organ. Yet, we’re sometimes reluctant to do what we know is good for us. We may worry that slow deliberate breathing would be a sign of weakness to anyone who may be watching. I mean, isn’t that what women do right before they to give birth?! I am trying to sound foolish here to make a point: left to our own thinking, we like to look good and strong, not needy. But only by confessing what we need and focusing on it can we begin to seek what we need.
May the Lord Jesus bless you as you use simple and intentional breathing to reflect on Him.
If you’d like more on this subject, search the key word “breath” on the tools4trenches website. You’ll find several related Scriptures spelled out on which you can meditate and suggested physical exercises on “breathe”. There are also Christian music videos on the subject. Simply lay your smartphone or tablet on the reading deck of a cardio machine while you watch, listen, and exercise your spirit and body.
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