Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Prayer Disciplines-Part 1: Breath Prayers



Hey gang!

Over the next three weeks, we are going to talk about something that is vital in the life of a Christian. It is prayer. It is not only us talking to God, but Him responding to us. It is us taking the time to connect with the One who made us. It is God having time to share with us the deep needs of our heart and His will being brought to us and through us.

God wants to connect with us and it should be our desire to want to spend time with Him and gain insight that will make our lives better and more complete. We will look at 15 different practices of prayer that will help us with that connection. You may or may not use all of these practices, but using even one or two may help you find a new and interesting way to meet with the Father of the Universe.

Today, we’ll look at breath prayers. You may think breath prayers? What is that? I breathe every day. That is something I don’t have to think about. I know how to breathe. And you are right. But I think at times that we take the things of God for granted. Yes, even the simple things like breathing. In with oxygen and out with carbon dioxide. In with the good air, out with the bad air.

It is entirely simple until the feeling that you might lose it. People who’ve had the chest pains of a heart attack or definitely understand how taking breath for granted is something that changes after the experience.

Thankfully, breath prayers are just thinking and focusing on your breathing. Defining breath prayers is that they are a form of contemplative prayer linked to the rhythms of breathing: (1) breathe in, calling on a Biblical name or image of God, then (2) breathe out a simple God-given desire. These are simple, yet intimate prayers of heartfelt desire before God.

The book, The Way of the Pilgrim, describes a breath prayer. “Take a seat in solitude and silence. Bend your head, close your eyes and breathing softly, in your imagination, look into your own heart. Let your mind, or rather, your thoughts flow from your head down to your heart and say, while breathing: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ Whisper these words gently or say them in your mind. Discard all other thoughts. Be serene, persevering and repeat them over and over again.”

I think many people have a problem becoming silent. That’s why thinking about your breathing, then focusing on the breath prayer are so important. It forces us to go outside our thought process of all we have to and think about in our normal day. One of my friends told me several years ago that this is why he starts every prayer that he speaks aloud with a name for Jesus or God. It brings him to focus on God, rather than his own thoughts or desires.

As stated in The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, the practice includes repeating a simple one-sentence prayer that begins with a biblical name of God that is meaningful to you. Follow that name with a word or phrase expressing your deep God-given desire. Calhoun then suggests to connect the prayer to your breathing and return to it throughout the day until it becomes a soul reflex. Doing it in this way also keeps that prayer fresh in your mind and heart.

Calhoun gives many simple examples of breath prayers:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“My soul glorifies the Lord.” (Luke 1:46)
“My soul finds rest in God alone.” (Psalm 62:1)
“Come, holy spirit, come.”
“Abba, I belong to you.”
“Healer, speak the word and I shall be healed.”
“Shepherd, bring home my lost son.”
“Holy One, keep me true.”
“Lord, here I am.”
“Jesus, have mercy on me.”

Finally, Calhoun gives us some of the rewards that we can receive by practicing this discipline. Here are some of them:

1. “Keeping company with Jesus whether or not you feel his presence.” Have you ever had days where you don’t feel like praying or you’re feeling emotions at God. Breath prayers can help you through this.
2. “Abiding in Christ, opening yourself to constant union all day long.” How many of us pray for a few minutes, just to go along our days and totally forget connecting. This can stop the “too busies” of life.
3. “Putting into a phrase the deepest desire of your heart and praying out of that desire.” If you feel like you are droning on and on, breath prayers can help you focus or refocus.
4. “Reminding yourself that God is present in you.” The Holy Spirit lives and breathes in us. How often do we forget that? I know I do.
5. “Guarding self-talk so your thoughts, feelings and behavior flow from an ongoing dialogue with God.” How often do you pray and then drift back into your own schedules or thoughts and forget you’re praying? It happens to me more often than I’d like to admit.
6. “Regulating your imagination and fantasy life.” Breath prayers help focus on God and away from sinful thoughts.
7. “Breathing in the life of Christ and breathing out the work of Christ.”
8. “Developing a rhythm of turning to God at any time of the day.” God doesn’t have a set schedule, neither should you.
9. “Developing a constant, inner, unbroken, perpetual habit of prayer.” I think any of these disciplines over the next few weeks will help us with making that habit. Remember, it does take time to make a discipline a habit.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue with discussion on centering prayer.

I love you guys!
Frank

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