Stop to Breathe

© toomas / stock.xchng

© toomas / stock.xchng

Do yourself a favor. Stop to breathe.

Before reading past this paragraph, take three slow, deep breaths. Notice the sensation in your body each time you inhale, then exhale. Notice what happens in your inner being as you pause to take those breaths. Now … breathe.

Busy leader, did something within you resist stopping to breathe? Even if you did it, did something in you fight against it? Did something insist, “I don’t have time”?

In our culture – and in our church culture – we value busyness. We don’t value rest. Yet what are we doing to ourselves – and what are we saying about God – when we who know the Lord do not delight in rest? Read the entire article, “Stop to Breathe,” on Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership blog.Return to Your Rest

Watch for Deborah’s book, Return to Your Rest, coming soon!

Breath of God

Life and Breath Series – #7.

Physically, you can’t do anything else if you’re not breathing, and you can’t do much at all if you’re not breathing well.

Similarly, you have to breathe spiritually to experience every aspect of abundant life.

breathe deeply

Breathe deeply, beloved of the Lord

For you who prefer condensed (yet airy), my August e-column, “Breath of God,” conveys the essence of all six Life and Breath blog posts in one article, with links to all the rest.

Also, be blessed and refreshed by this “Breath of God” YouTube video posted by Irene Moreira, featuring the Vineyard Music rendition of “Breathe on me, breath of God,” from the album, Father.

Breathe deeply, beloved of the Lord.

God’s cry to the breathless

Life and Breath Series – #6.

I started the Life and Breath series, thinking the posts would be short and easy to write. I began the series after a friend asked me to dig up teaching notes from a dozen years ago. Having found the notes, I revised them and emailed them to my friend. So blogging on the subject meant cutting and pasting pre-written notes, right?

Nope. God continues to teach me. My “short” posts grew, along with my understanding. And, oh, the ground we’ve covered over the last five weeks.

A matter of life and breath: “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). Yes! What’s true physically is also true spiritually: Breath is vital to life. Breath comes from God. Breathing requires inhaling and exhaling.

Inhaling the breath of God: Spiritual inhaling is receiving, Spirit-to-spirit, what the living, indwelling God breathes into you – his word, his grace, his riches, his character, his power, his joy, his mind, his heart – in short, his life.

Exhaling the breath of God: Spiritual exhaling is releasing what the living, indwelling God breathes into you, for the building of his kingdom and the honor of his name.

Breathing problems: People identified with the living God may feel dry and lifeless – and think there’s no help for it. Or they may believe they’re perking along spiritually as well as anybody – when in fact they’re critically short of breath.

Gods call to the breath-filled: When someone can’t breathe, it’s time to act. Often, however, the person with this problem cannot initiate action. Someone nearby who sees the need must act if the breathless is to breathe again.

So now, let’s press in to hear Gods cry to those who desperately need breath.

cry to the breathless

What Ezekiel prophesied

Ezekiel and John have helped us see: God’s people can have such acute breathing problems as to be spiritually comatose. God himself promises to revive those who are his own. He sends first responders to intervene and to shake awake those critically lacking breath.

If ever you feel hopeless and lifeless, if you become spiritually dry, you cannot initiate your own rescue. But you do choose how you will respond when help arrives.

Let’s look once more at Ezekiel’s message to the bones:

Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord (Ezek. 37:4-6).

Three times, the Lord declares, “I will.” He will initiate. He will revive. He will restore. But also notice: Three times, the Lord declares, “you will.” Your life hangs on your receiving what God gives. Always, what he gives emanates from who he is.

Receive God’s word

His part is to make known, personally, intimately. Our part is to know in our deepest being, to “receive implanted” what he speaks. When your Lord turns your direction and says, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” it’s vital that you recognize who is speaking. It’s vital that you receive his assessment of your situation.

“Hear the word of JHVH.” The eternal God here identifies himself by his unpronounceable covenant Name. In essence, he cries, “Hey! It’s me, the one true God, who has delivered you and made covenant with you.”

He cries to “dry bones.” Specifically, he addresses those who will recognize and admit, “Spiritually, I’m really dry. Others may not realize it, but deep inside I feel hopeless and lifeless. I know it and am willing to own it.”

God recorded Ezekiel 37:4-6 into Scripture so you can know: Any time, ever, that you recognize yourself lying scattered and broken like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision, the Living One has a message for you. It’s not a message of judgment. It’s not a command to “snap out of it.” Rather, it’s his promise to revive and restore.

Receive God’s breath

“I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.” Twice the Lord affirms: His part is to give life. Our part is to receive it.

Receiving isn’t passive. It’s active. How many first responders have given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, yet the breathless person didn’t revive? Breath was given – but it wasn’t received. The breath being poured in did not successfully trigger the person to inhale and exhale again.

What God breathes into us always has the capacity to restore and revive us, for he himself is the Resurrection and the Life. You will come to life – your spiritual vitality will be restored – as you quit fighting against him, or shutting yourself off from him, and let the breath of God trigger again your life breath. As you begin again to inhale and exhale, as you deeply receive what he is pouring into you and freely release his life to those around, you come out of your coma. You embrace abundant life.

“Then you will know that I am JHVH.” Ah, yes! Each time you deeply receive another breath, you know the Lord more intimately. You see and reflect more of his character and his ways. You marvel at the beauty of his holiness, his wholly-other-than-ness. You revel in his profound love for you and unfathomable faithfulness to you. Each time you release another breath, you live more fully from your God-given design. As you show forth your unique expression of his life, others are drawn to him and he is glorified in you.

When you’re spiritually dry, it’s tempting to refuse to let God breathe into you until you’re sure you can trust him again. But he says it doesn’t work that way. Rather, when you choose to trust him, to receive from him, regardless how abandoned you feel or how hopeless things seem, ahhhh, then, you live. Then, you know him who is your life.

What John wrote

What, then, did John cry to the Sardis church?

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent (Rev. 3:1-3).

The rest of this letter (vv. 4-6) reveals that “a few people” in the Sardis church had avoided such dire breathing problems. But let’s focus on God’s cry to the breathless. Again, the Lord begins by saying, “Hey! It’s me, your Lord, reminding you of aspects of my identity you need to know, crying out to expose the desperate situation you’re in.” See more about these aspects of the message to the Sardis church in the posts, “Breathing problems” and “God’s call to the breath-filled.”

Having established who he is and to whom he is speaking, Jesus tells the breathless what to do.

Wake up!

That’s a respond-to-this-cry cry. It’s a get-in-your-face-and-shake-you cry. It’s the heartcry of the person administering CPR. It’s God’s cry to anyone who belongs to him yet desperately lacks breath.

When a person tries to resuscitate someone physically, the breathless one may not be able to choose life. But when the One who raises the dead says, “Wake up!” you can wake up. And yet, God won’t force you. Jesus made that clear when he added:

But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you (Rev. 3:3).

When Jesus cries, “Wake up!” he’s made the way for you to do it. How you respond is your choice.

“Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” Sometimes in medical crises, people are hooked up to machines that move air into and out of their lungs. These ventilators “breathe” temporarily for patients who cannot breathe sufficiently on their own. For the person on a ventilator, breath remains, but only artificially. Existence can be maintained, but only a minimal quality of life. The goal and the hope is that the patients will regain strength to breathe on their own.

What’s true physically is also true spiritually. We were not made to live a life barely sustained by artificial breath. All who know Jesus as Lord have God the Holy Spirit living within us. As we’re filled with, and walk by, him who is the Breath, we enjoy profound spiritual vigor.

If you’ve accepted a maintaining-the-status-quo existence, rather than fully embracing God’s life, wake up! The Spirit may be quenched. He may be grieved. But don’t let the choices that have gotten you into this predicament dictate what you do now. The Lord has come to announce he can and will restore your life. Choose to cooperate with him. You can get off that ventilator and breathe on your own. Strengthen what remains and is about to die.

Remember how!

“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent,” John cried to the Sardis church in Jesus’ behalf.

There it is again: Our part is to receive. In the Greek, Revelation 3:3 literally says, “Remember how you have received and heard.” If you know Jesus, you know how to receive what he is pouring out. You just need to remember.

So, may I ask you some questions?

Have you confessed with your mouth and believed in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord? Has God the Spirit taken up residence in you? Have you taken your first breath?

If not or if you’re not sure, you may want to revisit the first post in this series, “A matter of life and breath.” Otherwise, remember: How have you received all God has entrusted to you, including salvation, eternal life, the living Word and the Spirit of God himself?

You’ve received everything God has poured out to you – Spirit-to-spirit. By faith:

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Cor. 2:12).

“The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit — God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion” (1 Cor. 2:14 MSG).

“He redeemed us … through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal. 3:14).

You continue to live in the same way you began to live in Christ – Spirit-to-spirit. By faith:

“Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” (Col. 2:6 NET).

“Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2).

“For this wonderful news – the message that God wants to save us – has been given to us just as it was to those who lived in the time of Moses. But it didn’t do them any good because they didn’t believe it. They didn’t mix it with faith” (Heb. 4:2 TLB).

So then: Remember how you have received and heard; “hold it fast, and repent.” Once you recall how to breathe spiritually, keep doing it – and turn away from whatever cut off the process. Let God show you where you quit breathing, how and why.

Somewhere in your journey, did you begin trying to exhale without inhaling? Did you fall into the trap of attempting good works in your own strength, for your own glory? Have your many works left you exhausted and borne little fruit?

Did you begin trying to inhale without exhaling? Have you gained a lot of head knowledge about the Christian life, yet deep down feel empty? Do you keep trying to get more of Jesus, but honestly have little desire, strength or resources to help change others’ lives for good?

Whatever has cut you off from the breath of God, he will reveal it, if you will give him permission. Then, it’s up to you to renounce the deadly direction you’ve taken and to return to receiving and releasing his life.

What you can do

You were formed by God in your mother’s womb to live, not just to exist. You were born anew in Christ Jesus to live abundantly, not to stay hooked to a ventilator.

Today, if you feel hopeless and spiritually dry, here’s the beginning point for change: Acknowledge it. Quit denying. Stop trying to rationalize. Do not accept it as normal Christianity. And do not give up. If you can see your breathless state, the Lord your help has already arrived to intervene. Simply acknowledge what he is showing you.

Then, deliberately turn from how hopeless things may look, to receive what the Lord speaks personally to you. He says, “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the God who knows and loves you, who makes myself known to you and who keeps covenant with you.”

Hear the prayer going up for you: “Come, breath! Come from the four winds! Breathe into this slain one! Breathe life!”

Remember how you’ve received from your Lord in the past. Remember, and begin to respond to him again – your spirit responding to his Spirit, moment by moment, by faith. Tentatively at first, then more and more deeply: Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

As you receive and release the breath of God, you will rise up in strength and wholeness. You will connect with others in miraculous, healthy, mighty ways. You’ll make known the God you know.

. . . . . . .

Breath of God – the essence of all six Life and Breath blog posts in one article, with links to all the rest. Breathe deeply, beloved of God.

For an in-depth look at how spiritual breathing relates to reigning in life by grace, see my e-book, The Esther Blessing: Grace to Reign in Life.

 

God’s call to the breath-filled

Life and Breath Series – #5.

call to the breath-filled

© Sakura | Dreamstime

When our younger daughter was small, she contracted whooping cough. At one point, she had such difficulty breathing that I rushed her to a nearby emergency room.

People often wait hours in emergency rooms before seeing a doctor. That day, as soon as we walked in the door, we were whisked to a room, where Amanda received oxygen and immediate medical treatment.

When someone can’t breathe, it’s time to act. Often, however, the person with the problem cannot initiate action. Strength gone, alertness gone, panic or unconsciousness may have set in. Someone nearby who sees the need must act if the breathless is to breathe again.

Someone nearby who sees

Both the prophet Ezekiel and the apostle John saw people without breath. (See “Breathing problems.”) Both saw, because God alerted them. In each case, the problem was spiritual, making it even more critical.

Ezekiel saw all around him people of God scattered as dry bones across a great valley. John saw God’s people all across a certain city. Though they appeared alive, God pronounced them dead.

In both situations, it seemed death had won. But God alerted Ezekiel and John to desperate need, in order to impart life and to make himself known to his own.

In both cases, God called first responders who themselves had spiritual life. Each saw what God showed him. Neither looked away. Each did what God told him, regardless how foolish or futile it might seem.

Do you see spiritual dryness anywhere you should see the life of Christ?

If you don’t see breathlessness in anyone around you, that does not mean everything’s okay. We in the US church culture have some acute breathing problems. An inability to see the spiritual distress in people near you may signal that you need to have your own oxygen mask firmly in place, before you can help anyone else. You may want to revisit the previous posts in the Life and Breath series.

For all of us, spiritual vigor and insight come as we are being filled with the Spirit and walk by the Spirit – deeply and continually receiving and releasing God’s life.

Once you wake up to lifelessness, powerlessness and hopelessness in people near you who identify themselves as God’s, it’s like seeing a person start choking on his or her food. Your Lord has opened your eyes to a dire situation. He’s calling you to act.

Someone awakened who speaks

In such a situation, what in the world do you do? In a sentence: You listen for God’s instructions and do what he says.

In different eras, when God alerted Ezekiel and John to the dire need of breathless people nearby, he specified different methods, yet told each to do the same thing: Speak up. Cry out.

God the Son told John to write. Indeed, when the risen Christ appeared to John on the isle of Patmos, John heard these words trumpeted first: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches” (Rev. 1:11). After identifying himself as “the Living One,” Jesus reiterated, “Write, therefore, what you have seen …” (Rev. 1:19). When Jesus introduced his message to the breathless church, as to all the other six, he repeated the same command: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write” (Rev. 3:1).

God the Spirit told Ezekiel to speak aloud. After leading Ezekiel through a valley filled with dry bones and while Ezekiel still stood in the midst, God said, “Prophesy to these bones” (Ezek. 37:4). As soon as Ezekiel did so, the Lord told him, “Prophesy to the breath” (Ezek. 37:9).

God could have delivered his own messages to the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day and the Sardis church of John’s. Yet in both situations, our Lord counted it vital that his cry to the breathless be echoed and declared by a living, breathing person.

He still counts it vital today.

Write

An astonished John stood, in the Spirit, before the magnificent, risen Christ. John saw Jesus walking among seven lampstands, holding seven stars. Jesus told John the lampstands were “the seven churches,” and the stars, “the angels of the seven churches” (Rev. 1:20).

Jesus gave John a different message for each church. To Sardis, he declared:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! (Rev. 3:1-2).

Thus, he who “was dead, and now … [is] alive for ever and ever”:

Identified himself. Jesus had already explained the seven stars. But what did he mean when he told the Sardis church he “holds the seven spirits of God”?

The Amplified Bible suggests that he spoke of “the sevenfold Holy Spirit” (Rev. 3:1). Perhaps Jesus referred to the sevenfold description of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord (NASU).

The same Spirit who rested on Jesus and empowered his earthly mission indwells all who know Christ, quickening and filling our human spirits. Sylvia Gunter and her daughter Elizabeth explore an intriguing sevenfold aspect of this Spirit-to-spirit interaction in retreats called Ruach Journey (ruach is Hebrew for spirit). The Holy Spirit enlarges our spirits so we can more fully receive and release the seven gifts named in Romans 12: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, mercy. The Spirit ignites the one primary spiritual gift each of us has been given, as he also develops within us the other six gifts.

In Scripture, seven is the number of completeness. Like the Father and the Son, God the Spirit carries “all the fullness of the Deity.” Further, the Father, Son and Spirit work together to bring us to fullness (Col. 2:9).

Remember, too, the Greek word for spirit literally means “breath.” Pointedly, Jesus identified himself to a dead church as the one who alone gives fullness of Breath. He is the Living One who quickens and revives.

Identified the people’s problem. Without mincing words, Jesus exposed their dire need.

Called them to act. In the final post in this series, “God’s cry to the breathless,” we’ll look further at what Jesus told the believers in Sardis to do to breathe again. For now, realize: Jesus entrusted his cry to a person. For any number of reasons, that person might have balked at writing what Jesus said.

John may have considered harsh or extreme Jesus’ pronouncement that the church was dead. John may have worried the Sardis Christians would become angry or reject him if he shouted, “Wake up!” to those who counted themselves alive and alert. John may have felt that people who had chosen such a path would not change course now.

Regardless whether the Sardis Christians responded, the same Lord who showed John their breathless state held John accountable to sound the warning and to tell them the way back to life.

Prophesy to the bones

In an even earlier era, Ezekiel stood in a valley full of very dry bones. There, the Lord told Ezekiel:

Prophesy to these bones and say to them, Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 37:4-6).

Imagine yourself in Ezekiel’s place. As far as the eye can see, you’re surrounded by bones. No living people. Not even a dead body in sight. You know the cause of this catastrophe: God’s people have stiff-armed the Spirit for generations.

After showing you this grim scene, God tells you to speak … to bones. He tells you to call them what they are: “Dry bones.” But the rest of his message isn’t one of judgment. Nor is it a cry to the scattered and broken to “get up and get moving.” From first to last, it’s a message of promise – God’s promise to restore and revive his hopeless, lifeless people: “I will make breath enter you … I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you …”

What a promise! The breath of God will give you life. The Lord will breathe into his breathless people, and they will again know him by his personal, covenant Name. They will reawaken to profound Spirit-to-spirit intimacy and deep reverential awe.

Standing in that valley, what do you do? Do you decide the whole thing is just too weird? The assignment, futile? Do you balk at speaking life to the consummately stubborn, now reaping what they’ve sown? Do you cringe at the thought of calling God’s people, “dry bones,” to their face?

Standing in that valley, Ezekiel obeyed God. The results were immediate and stunning.

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them (Ezek. 37:7-8).

As Ezekiel spoke, the miraculous happened. All across that valley, dry bones were reconnected and covered with muscles, tissue, skin. Before Ezekiel’s eyes, the dry bones were transformed … into dead bodies.

God had begun what he had declared. Yet still, the people lacked the one thing the Lord had promised first and last, the one thing essential to life: his Breath.

Prophesy to the breath

If you think speaking to bones is weird, imagine being told to speak … to breath.

Then he said to me, Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army (Ezek. 37:9-10).

When Ezekiel found himself surrounded by people utterly “dried up,” he didn’t condemn them. He didn’t give up on them. He did see and say what they had become. He challenged them to hear the word of God. He cried for them to receive the breath of God. Then, he cried for the breath to come.

As a result, the Spirit of the Lord swept in, raising dry bones to new life. As incredible as that is, there’s more! With his life, God imparted to his people new wholeness, new purpose, new unity and new (and exceedingly great) strength.

God’s call to first responders

Again today – as the Spirit of God moves across the world, but the Western church languishes – God is raising up first responders in our midst. He calls:

Breathe! Learn what it means to live before your God, Spirit-to-spirit. Moment by moment, make sure you yourself are deeply inhaling and freely exhaling.

Watch! Don’t judge by what your eyes see. Let your Lord show you where the life is being sucked out of his people. Let him reveal where the outward appearance differs dramatically from the inward truth. Look where he points. When what you see disturbs you, refuse to look away.

Trust! Wait for the Lord to make clear what to do about what you see. When God wants you to take action quickly, he will not leave you guessing what it is. If he calls you to deliver a wake-up cry, he will make clear to whom to speak, how to deliver the message and what to say. It’s crucial that your heart echo God’s heart before any words come out of your mouth. Finger-pointing and judging are different things entirely from crying out to save someone’s life.

Speak! Declare the living, life-giving words of the living, life-giving God to people who need to hear them. Speak up, at God’s call, even if you think there’s about as much chance of people’s responding as of dry bones coming to life. But don’t stop there. Speak to the Spirit. Call to the Breath. Cry out for him to come.

. . . . . . .

Next: God’s cry to the breathless

Previous posts in the Life and Breath series: “A Matter of Life and Breath,” “Inhaling the Breath of God,” “Exhaling the Breath of God,” “Breathing Problems.”

Breath of God – the essence of all six Life and Breath blog posts in one article, with links to all the rest. Breathe deeply, beloved of God.

Breathing problems

Life and Breath Series – #4

breathing problemsWhat’s true physically is also true spiritually:

Breath is vital to life.

Breath comes from God.

Breathing requires inhaling and exhaling.

The prophet Ezekiel and the apostle John had this in common: They saw things people around them could not. Deeply committed to God, first Ezekiel, then John saw dramatic visions of God. Having seen him, each man then began to see God’s people from his perspective. Further, each saw a desperate situation in which people who belonged to God lacked life and breath.

Notice what Ezekiel saw when he went where God led and looked where God pointed:

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry (Ezek. 37:1-2).

If Ezekiel wondered what the bones signified, he didn’t have to wonder long. As soon as the vision ended, the Lord told him:

These bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” (Ezek. 37:11 NKJV).

Centuries later, John was “in the Spirit” when he saw a different scene.  One “like a Son of Man” stood in the middle of seven lampstands, holding seven stars in his right hand. Eyes blazing, feet glowing, voice thundering, Jesus identified himself as “the Living One.” He said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18).

He told John, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches” (Rev. 1:11).

Notice what John heard when the Lord addressed one of the seven churches, the Sardis church:

You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead (Rev. 3:1).

Dire situations

How sobering! How stunning! Both Ezekiel and John saw people God had identified as his own – yet who lacked breath, hope, life. In each case, the breathlessness was rampant; the situation, dire.

Ezekiel walked with God the Spirit through a valley “full of bones,” “a great many bones,” “bones that were very dry.” God himself identified the bones as “the whole house of Israel.”

John saw the risen Lord – and promptly fell at Jesus’ feet as if dead. Then, encouraged and pulled upright by his Lord, John wrote what Jesus spoke to each church. When you think “church,“ don’t imagine a single congregation that meets, say, on the corner of First and Main. In Revelation 3:1-6, John addressed all the Christ-followers in the ancient city of Sardis. Apparently, the Sardis Christians were adept at saying and doing what appeared godly – yet utterly lacked the life and power of the Spirit.

When the people in Ezekiel’s day realized their life-breath had long been cut off, they gave up hope. Even Ezekiel wondered whether their situation was hopeless. When God asked him, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (Ezek. 37:3).

When the people in the Sardis church ran out of air, they didn’t even notice. They thought they were doing just fine. Other people thought so too. In fact, the good Christians of Sardis had “a reputation of being alive,” yet Jesus told them, “you are dead.”

Now, as then, people identified with the living God may feel dry and lifeless – and think there’s no help for it. Or they may believe they’re perking along spiritually as well as anybody – when in fact they’re critically short of breath.

Our Lord does not sit idly by when his people have breathing problems. He who created us and who gave himself for us knows how crucial it is to act quickly when breathing stops. Today, as in Ezekiel’s day and in John’s, the Lord rises up to speak out.

To awaken and revive, he shows us what we have not seen or, seeing, have felt powerless to change.

Some have never taken their first breath

How many who think themselves Christians have never taken their first breath? They may have walked the aisle, been baptized, joined the church. They may attend services, give offerings, sing in the choir, lead Bible studies – or do none of the above. Regardless the extent or lack of religious activities, they’ve never bowed before Jesus, confessing him Lord.

If people have not yielded their lives to Jesus, his Spirit has not taken up residence in them. They’ve never taken their first real breath.

That can change in a moment. When the Spirit of God comes to birth someone anew, the experience may be dramatic or quiet. The birthing may occur quickly, almost painlessly. Or it may involve prolonged labor, with deep anguish preceding the person’s surrender to God and the surge of new life within. Yet every new birth involves a similar Spirit-to-spirit interchange:

Deep within, you recognize God has come to you. You see yourself through his eyes. You see what the Father sent the Son to do for you. You recognize God’s profound love for you. You know he is both exposing and wooing you.

The knowing requires choosing: Will you agree with what God is showing you about your sinful state? Will you turn from the direction you were headed and toward the Lord? Will you believe in the depths of your being that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, died in your place and risen again? Will you confess him as Lord?

In the instant you say yes to the Lord Jesus in your inmost being and your mouth joins the refrain, you are born from above. Ahhh. Spiritually, you’ve begun to breathe.

Some are trying to exhale without inhaling

Jesus said to the Sardis church:

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God (Rev. 3:1-2).

Perhaps, some in the Sardis church did not know Christ personally. But the church was the church, in God’s eyes, because most did know him. Not only were the people Christians; they were active Christians. Yet, tragically, their activity did not release God’s life.

In the Amplified rendering of verse 2, Jesus said:

I have not found a thing that you have done – any work of yours – meeting the requirements of My God or perfect in His sight.

What strong words! What searing words – like a slap uttered with the desperate cry: “Wake up!”

Do you know people who are trying to exhale without inhaling? Have you ever found yourself among them? Such people have good reputations – and often for good reason. They’re typically the “worker bees” in our churches, ministry organizations and mission fields. They do what we would call good works. They do them in the name of the Lord. They pour out their lives to help others. They’re very busy, often resentful – and very tired.

In the press to do the work, they’ve stopped receiving all that God is pouring out, Spirit-to-spirit, to transform and empower them. As a result, they’re no longer really exhaling at all. At the point they abandoned inhaling, they cut off their capacity to release God’s life. Tragically, all their many efforts are accomplishing only dead works.

Some are trying to inhale without exhaling

Do you know people who are trying to inhale only? Have you ever found yourself among them? Often, they’re seen at church services and Christian conferences, listening to sermons, taking notes, buying the speakers’ CDs and books. They may read Scripture devotionally and even do in-depth Bible studies.

But somewhere in their search to get what Jesus offers, they stopped responding to the word of God in faith. In one area of life or many, when God the Spirit nudges, convicts or prompts, they stop him cold.

They may tell themselves, “I still need to grow before I can do that.” But they’re not growing. They’re no longer really inhaling at all. At each point they’ve abandoned exhaling – by refusing to act on the truth in the power of the Spirit – they’ve cut off their capacity to receive what God is pouring out. Tragically, all their grasping for godliness only leaves them empty and unfulfilled.

Breathing demonstration

Would you try an experiment? It won’t take long. I promise. It will prove a point.

Inhale for as long as you can without pausing and without breathing out. Start now. Keep going. Keep going. Longer … Oh. You’re done?

Okay. Exhale for as long as you can without pausing and without breathing in. Start now. Keep going. Keep going … Hmm. While you’re gulping for air, imagine trying to live for a year, or even an hour, inhaling only or exhaling only.

When you attempt one-sided breathing, you become acutely aware how very short a time you can do it. As you try to exhale without inhaling, you quickly find you cannot keep breathing out. As you try to inhale without exhaling, you see that, after only a few seconds, breathing in becomes impossible too.

What’s true physically is also true spiritually: To stop inhaling or exhaling is to cut off your life.

Spiritually, you inhale as you receive what the living, indwelling God breathes into you – his word, his grace, his character, his riches, in short – his life. You exhale as you release his life to others for the building of his kingdom and the honor of his Name.

If you’re not doing both continually, your Lord is crying urgently, “Wake up!”

. . . . . . .

Life and Breath Series – includes these posts: “A Matter of Life and Breath,” “Inhaling the Breath of God,” “Exhaling the Breath of God,” “Breathing Problems,” “God’s Call to the Breath-filled,” “God’s Cry to the Breathless.”

Breath of God – the essence of all six Life and Breath blog posts in one article, with links to all the rest. Breathe deeply, beloved of God.

Exhaling the breath of God

Life and Breath Series – #3

Spiritual inhaling is receiving, Spirit-to-spirit, what the living, indwelling God breathes into you – including his life, his word, his grace, his riches, his character, his power, his joy, his mind, his heart. God designed spiritual inhaling to happen continuously from the moment of spiritual birth. (See “Inhaling the breath of God.”)

Spiritual exhaling is releasing what the living, indwelling God breathes into you, for the building of his kingdom and the honor of his name. God designed spiritual exhaling to happen continuously from the moment of spiritual birth.

The Word on exhaling

In Scripture, God cries, “Exhale!” often. He says it many ways. Always, this exhaling imparts life. As you exhale freely – regularly releasing what God is pouring into you, Spirit-to-spirit – the presence of God and the kingdom of God emanating from you touch other people and the world around you.

Hear the exhaling commands and promises in the following verses. Notice that exhaling cannot happen apart from inhaling:

Freely you have received [you’ve inhaled], freely give [exhale]” (Matt. 10:8).

“Humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls [inhale!]. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says [exhale!]. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:21-22).

Notice all the inhaling and exhaling going on in this verse:

You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others (2 Tim. 2:2 NLT).

And here:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

And, finally, the great exhaling commission:

So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. And remember that I am always with you until the end of time (Matt 28:19-20 GW).

The essence of exhaling

exhalingYou exhale physically as you release breath. You exhale spiritually as you release the Spirit-life you’re continually receiving in your inmost being. Whether by word, act or presence, you breathe out what comes from God himself and thus imparts life.

In his book, The Release of the Spirit, Watchman Nee says, “Among those who possess the life of the Lord can be found two distinct conditions: one includes those in whom life is confined, restricted, imprisoned and unable to come forth; the other includes those in whom the Lord has forged a way, and life is thus released from them” (p. 11).

Every moment you live in that first condition – where the Spirit within you is constricted – the words and deeds coming out from you may sound and look appropriate, even good, but they carry no life. Every moment you live in that second condition, ahhh, then you’re exhaling the breath of God.

Animated by the breath

The New Testament uses several phrases to describe the kind of going, doing, speaking and living that releases God’s life and breath. Scripture urges:

Live, or walk, according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-5): “according to what the Spirit wants” (CJB). “Follow the Spirit” (NLT). “Live by the spiritual nature [the breath!]” (GW). “Live and move … in the ways of the Spirit [our lives … controlled by the Holy Spirit]” (AMP).

Live, or walk, by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16): “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives” (NLT). “Run your lives by the Spirit” (CJB). “Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you” (GW). “Walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]” (AMP). “Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit” (MSG).

Be led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18): “God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!” (Rom. 8:14 MSG).

Walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25): “Since it is through the Spirit that we have Life [From him, we draw our life-breath] …

  • “let it also be through the Spirit that we order our lives day by day” (CJB).
  • “let us keep in step with the Spirit” (NIV).
  • “let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit” (NET).
  • “let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (NLT).

Live freely, animated and motivated by the Breath! Romans 8:5, The Message, says, “Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them — living and breathing God!”

Jesus

How astonishing that the Son of God took on flesh and demonstrated in his own body what it looks like to inhale and exhale the breath of God! How incredible that the Son baptizes us with the same Spirit who empowered his earthly life and ministry!

“Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One’” (John 1:32-34).

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit [to begin his ministry] and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (Luke 4:14).

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations” (Matt. 12:18).

Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63).

“I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen” (Acts 1:1-2).

“You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:37-38).

Us

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).

“And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezek. 36:27).

“Again Jesus 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).

“He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 1:8).

“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13).

“What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like our sinful nature, to do away with sin. God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature. Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants. Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants. To be controlled by human nature results in death; to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace” (Rom. 8:3-6 GNT).

“Since it is through the Spirit that we have Life, let it also be through the Spirit that we order our lives day by day” (Gal. 5:25 CJB).

The wonder and the challenge

As you exhale spiritually, breathing out moment-by-moment the life of God:

  • More and more, you understand and walk in what is truly righteous, just and God-honoring. You recognize and turn from paths you may have thought right, but now realize are not. You recognize and turn toward right and good paths you had shunned due to fear or pride, or personal or generational wounding. You walk in the truth. You walk in the light. You walk in love.
  • More and more, you speak the truth in Spirit-taught words. Whether you prophecy, testify, comfort, encourage, challenge, teach or simply converse, your words are life-giving to those who hear.
  • More and more, you do what carries Spirit-authority and builds the kingdom of God. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, you go around doing good and healing. People are truly, deeply helped. God’s name is honored and his kingdom, advanced.
  • More and more, you shine. Even when you’re not doing or saying anything, the life of God you’re continually receiving is also continually flowing out. Your Spirit-filled spirit touches the spirits of others, and they encounter the breath of God.

That sounds wonderful. But you may think it impractical. You may not even want to touch lives in ways that sound so mystical and abstract. You may think you can determine which paths are good by mentally studying Scripture and using a little common sense. You may believe anyone can figure out how to do good deeds. Maybe you’ve attempted some of the more popular ways:

  • Pour time, effort or money (maybe a little, maybe a lot) where you see a need.
  • Become a rescuer extraordinaire, doing everything for everybody.
  • Roll up your shirt sleeves, jump into your chosen ministry and work till you drop.

You may believe that speaking powerfully requires intelligence, charisma, training and a platform. You may believe that having influence hinges on gaining degrees, titles, social networks, admiration or a well-known name. You may have thought kingdom authority rests automatically and solely on those who hold the choice positions in a church or ministry structure.

In next week’s post, we’ll take a look at Breathing Problems that can leave us hopeless, ineffectual and dispirited. But for now, know this: Any of the above – intelligence, hard work, charisma, positions or platforms – might be a tool in God’s hand. But none of it carries any life apart from the breath. And every bit of it quickly turns deadly when substituted for the breath.

Indeed, to the degree you seek to gain clout and do exploits through anything other than your true identity in Christ and your intimate relationship with him, to that degree you drain the life-breath within you and suck the life from the atmosphere around you.

Exhaling, by its nature, is a relinquishing, a giving up, a letting go, a giving out that holds nothing back. Exhaling requires selflessly, relentlessly risking everything by faith. It’s not forced effort. It’s released breath. And each breath you release means that survival itself, as well as the ability to breathe out one more time, rests solely in this: The life-Breath flows in again.

You don’t inhale water to gain strength to save a drowning person. In fact, if you inhale water, you won’t have breath for yourself, much less strength to help someone else. As obvious as that sounds and as easy to prove, it’s incredibly hard for us to believe the spiritual counterpart. But it’s just as true: If you try to draw on some form of validation or power other than that which comes by the Spirit of God, it’s like trying to breathe water. You cut off the breath thats vital for doing what is truly good and what profoundly gives life. Seeking to help, you flail, go down – and take others with you.

Walking by the Spirit – living freely, animated and motivated by God the Spirit – you freely pour out what the Spirit is freely pouring into you. Moment by moment, you release God’s life.

. . . . . . .

Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit (Indianapolis, IN: Sure Foundation Publishers, 1965), 11.

Life and Breath Series – includes these posts: “A Matter of Life and Breath,” “Inhaling the Breath of God,” “Exhaling the Breath of God,” “Breathing Problems,” “God’s Call to the Breath-filled,” “God’s Cry to the Breathless.”

Breath of God – the essence of all six Life and Breath blog posts in one article, with links to all the rest. Breathe deeply, beloved of God.

Inhaling the breath of God

Life and Breath Series – #2

Spiritual inhaling is receiving, Spirit-to-spirit, what the living, indwelling God breathes into you – including his life, his word, his grace, his riches, his character, his power, his joy, his mind, his heart. God designed spiritual inhaling, like physical inhaling, to happen continuously from the moment of spiritual birth.

breathe in

Inhale!

The Word on inhaling

In Scripture, God cries, “Inhale!” often. He says it many ways. Always, inhaling produces life. As you inhale deeply – regularly receiving the present God himself and all he is pouring into you, Spirit-to-spirit – you live vibrantly and abundantly. You understand God’s nature and ways with increasing clarity. You speak, live and work from a place of rest.

Hear the inhaling commands and promises in these verses:

Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

On another occasion, Jesus “said to them, ‘I AM; don’t be afraid.’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading” (John 6:20-21).

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29).

“Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given – and you will receive even more” (Mark 4:24 NLT).

“Receive your sight” (Luke 18:42).

“Receive meekly the Word implanted in you that can save your lives” (James 1:21 CJB).

“Receive God’s overflowing kindness and the gift of his approval” (Rom. 5:17 GW).

“Those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness [will] reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Rom. 5:17).

(For an in-depth look at how spiritual inhaling and exhaling relate to reigning in life by grace, see The Esther Blessing: Grace to Reign in Life.)

The link with exhaling

We’ll look more closely at spiritual exhaling in next week’s post. But for now, notice: Just as with physical breath, inhaling cannot happen apart from exhaling.

“Give [exhale], and you will receive [inhale]. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38 NLT).

“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask [exhale] and you will receive [inhale], and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24).

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God [that’s exhaling], you will receive what he has promised [and that’s inhaling]” (Heb. 10:36).

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake [again, that’s exhaling] will receive a hundred times as much [that’s inhaling] and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).

The essence of inhaling

You inhale physically as you’re filled with breath. You inhale spiritually as you’re filled with the Spirit. You cannot breathe in any aspect of God’s life, including his word, when you’re quenching, grieving or stiff-arming God the Spirit.

Jesus

Jesus is fully God who became fully human. On earth, he stripped himself of his divine privileges and operated from his humanness, to model for us how to live by the breath of God.

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matt. 3:16).

“Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit as he left the Jordan River. The Spirit led him while he was in the desert” (Luke 4:1 GW).

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:  ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me.’  … He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-18, 21).

“At that time Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21 GNT).

Us

“We received the Spirit who comes from God so that we could know the things which God has freely given us” (1 Cor. 2:12 GW).

“The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit – God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion” (1 Cor. 2:14 MSG).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

“May He grant you out of the rich treasury of His glory to be strengthened and reinforced with mighty power in the inner man by the [Holy] Spirit [Himself indwelling your innermost being and personality] … [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!” (Eph. 3:16, 19 AMP).

“Ever be filled and stimulated with the [Holy] Spirit” (Eph. 5:18 AMP). “Keep on being filled with the Spirit” (CJB).

The wonder and the challenge

As you inhale deeply and regularly:

  • Your Lord gives you rest in your innermost being.
  • More and more intimately, you know him who is breathing his life into you.
  • More and more clearly, you see your own true, God-given identity.
  • You grow up. You really live. More and more, you reflect Christ’s character and his ways. More and more, you become who he has created you to be.

That sounds wonderful. But you may think it impossible. You may believe you cannot inhale deeply and regularly because you don’t have time.

In that case, dear one, you’ve allowed Time to become your master. You’re bowing to Time as to a god. It’s incredibly easy to do, and incredibly difficult to avoid, because pretty much everyone around you has, too. When Time rules your life, it will use every second possible to siphon off what God is pouring into you. It will never give you permission to breathe.

God's wind in your sailsWhen the Lord who is the Spirit rules your life, you will continually be filled with breath. Day after day, God’s wind in your sails will take you where he has created you to go. Even time will serve you.

 . . . . . . .

Life and Breath Series – includes these posts: “A Matter of Life and Breath,” “Inhaling the Breath of God,” “Exhaling the Breath of God,” “Breathing Problems,” “God’s Call to the Breath-filled,” “God’s Cry to the Breathless.”

Breath of God – the essence of all six Life and Breath blog posts in one article, with links to all the rest. Breathe deeply, beloved of God.