What’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).
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.
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!”
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Posts in the Life and Breath series:
- #1 – A Matter of Life and Breath
- #2 – Inhaling the Breath of God
- #3 – Exhaling the Breath of God
- #4 – Breathing Problems
- #5 – God’s Call to the Breath-filled
- #6 – God’s Cry to the Breathless
- #7 – Breath of God