Monday, March 28, 2005

Spiritual Breathing

One of the characteristics of physical death is that we don’t breathe. There is life giving oxygen all around for us to breathe, however we cannot take it into our lungs because we are dead. Spiritual death is similar in that, since we are dead, we don’t breathe spiritually. We not only don’t breathe, in and of ourselves we don’t know how to breathe. Furthermore, there is nothing there for us to breathe. There is nothing in us to give us spiritual life…no “spiritual oxygen”. So, spiritually, we not only don’t know how to breathe, there is nothing for us to breathe.

In the physical world we need oxygen for life. In the spiritual world, Jesus is life. In Genesis 2:7, the Bible says that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils, the breath of life. We often think in physical terms, so we interpret verse 7 to mean that when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils he received his physical life. However, the Hebrew word used for breath in that verse can also mean spirit. When Adam was created, he not only received physical life, he received spiritual life. God’s spirit was breathed into Adam and it gave him spiritual life. When Adam sinned by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God removed His spirit from Adam. This caused Adam to die spiritually, because there was literally no more “spiritual oxygen” for him to breathe. Everyone who descended from Adam inherited this spiritual death. We are born into this world spiritually dead (separated from God).

God, in His goodness, did not intend for us to remain dead. He provided a plan for us to receive Life…His plan of salvation. In Ezekiel 37:1-14, God is speaking specifically to Israel, however it also provides an illustration of what happens when we are saved. The Lord took Ezekiel out into a valley full of dry dead bones. In verse 4, He had Ezekiel tell the bones to listen to the Word of the Lord and in the next verse God told the bones, “I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.” God did as He promised and the bones came to life. In verse 14, God explains what the vision meant, “I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life…” That is a good illustration of what happens when we are saved, we hear the Word of the Lord, we ask Him to come into our heart, and He comes into us and gives us Life…His life, our “spiritual oxygen.”

As Christians, we have His life within us so we are now spiritually alive…we have “spiritual oxygen.” The only problem is we don’t know how to breathe, spiritually. We don’t know how to breathe “spiritual oxygen” because we have never had any reason to take a breath. It should be evident by now what spiritual life and spiritual death are, but what is a spiritual breath? Spiritual breath is faith in the Life that is in you, Jesus Christ. When you breathe “spiritual oxygen” you are exercising faith in Jesus. Before you were a Christian you did not breathe spiritually, meaning you had no faith and whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). You were a sinner, dead in your trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1).

Imagine, in physical terms, that you have been given the ability to breathe under water. Not like a SCUBA diver, but that you could actually breathe water into your lungs and it would sustain your life. Here is the catch, suppose no one told you that you could breathe water. Now imagine that you are thrown into the lake and completely submerged under the water. What happens? Well, you hold your breath and struggle to get to the surface to get a breath of air because breathing air is all you have ever known. You reach the surface and take a breath of air and tread water until you tire and are drawn under the surface. Once again you hold your breath and try to reach the surface to get a breath. Eventually, you cannot reach the surface anymore and in desperation (almost unconsciously) you breathe water into your lungs.

This is similar to what happens when we receive “spiritual oxygen,” yet we don’t know how to breathe…we don’t know we can breathe. Fortunately, God not only gives us “spiritual oxygen” (Life), He also gives us our breath (faith). In Romans 12:3, God says that each of us has been given a measure of faith. God provides our “spiritual oxygen” (Jesus) and tells us that it is all we need for life; all He wants for us is to have faith in His provision (to breathe).

So, why don’t we breathe? God has given us “spiritual oxygen” to breathe, He has told us to breathe the oxygen because it is all we need for life, and He gave us the capacity to breathe it. Yet, most of us, even after we are saved and have taken our first breaths of “spiritual oxygen,” have the tendency to hold our “spiritual breath” and not breathe the Living Water that God has provided for us. That Living Water of Jesus is our “spiritual oxygen.” We don’t breathe spiritually because we are not accustomed to breathing spiritually just like the body is not accustomed to breathing water. In fact, we often struggle to keep from breathing the Water just like the drowning man. We are born into sin (not breathing); it is all we know apart from God. It has been our means of getting what we want and for satisfying our desires in an attempt to achieve happiness. It is more comfortable to our flesh to sin (not breathe) than it is to breathe (have faith). So when it becomes too difficult to breathe spiritually we hold our breath and attempt to find comfort and life in what we knew before we received Jesus.

There are problems that inherently come with not breathing (sin). When we were dead spiritually, “not breathing” was not a problem. The dead don’t need to breathe. Christians, on the other hand, are spiritually alive. The living are the only ones who can breathe and need to breathe. It was with your first spiritual breath that you received Life, the Life of Jesus. That first breath when Jesus entered your heart was so wonderful that you kept right on breathing and basking in the warmth of your new birth. You celebrated the Life that was in you and was thankful for His presence. Somewhere along way, in your new life, you faced a temptation or a difficult situation and for a brief time you stopped breathing. You stopped having faith in the Life within you and tried to handle the temptation or difficulty the only way you knew how…in the flesh. Now, God has told us many times, in His Word, that when we are tempted or going through difficult times the only thing we need to do is to keep breathing. If we keep breathing the Living Water that is within us, then He will bring us and sustain us through our temptations and difficulties. Knowing that, however, nearly all of us stop breathing from time-to-time.

In the physical world, when a person stops breathing the body dies. As mentioned earlier, not breathing is one of the primary characteristics of physical death. And again, not breathing is also one of the characteristics of spiritual death. You might ask the question “Does the Life that is within us die when a Christian stops breathing spiritually?” The answer is no! Unlike the physical body where life is sustained by breathing, the Life that is within us is eternal…it can never die. In other words, the Life of Jesus within us does not depend upon our faith for His existence. However, there is a “death” that occurs when the Christian stops breathing. It is the death of the manifestation of Life.

What in the world does that mean? It means that, even though we are still alive spiritually, there is no outward sign of it. When we stop breathing, spiritually, we give off all the signs of being dead. We think and act just as if we had never received the Life in the first place. Lets mix some metaphors at the risk of totally confusing the point. The Life of Jesus is not only the Living Water; He is also the fire that burns within us. When we breathe spiritually, the fire burns brightly and provides warmth and light that cannot be contained. It shines forth for all to see…it is the manifestation of the Life of Jesus in the believer. When we stop breathing, the fire is quenched. It is not quenched completely, but enough so that the light and warmth can no longer escape and be manifested in our lives. I can’t help but to think that this is what Paul is referring to when he wrote, “Do no quench the Spirit” in 1 Thessalonians 5:19.

Fortunately, God wants us to breathe and encourages us to do so. How does God encourage us to breathe? We are encouraged much like the man that was thrown into the lake. When we find ourselves in a time of temptation or distress it is God’s plan for us to breathe the Living Water. However, like the drowning man in the example we refuse to breathe the Water. We struggle to the surface (which is our flesh) and try to save ourselves…to get out of our predicament in our own power. God draws us back into the Living Water and again we struggle to reach the surface and save ourselves. It is only when we give up, stop struggling, and take a deep breath of the Water He has given us that we find the perfect peace and rest that God wants us to have.

Many of us go through this struggle many times in our life where we stop breathing and God encourages us to breathe again. But it doesn’t have to be that way. God never intended for a Christian to stop breathing, spiritually. When Jesus lived on earth as a man He never stopped breathing. He never stopped having faith in His Father. That same Jesus lives in our heart; He is our Life, our Living Water. He wants us to breathe the Living Water no matter what happens to us and never stop breathing.

Impossible! You might say. Jesus lived His life on earth as a model for the way we are to live our life. He lived in complete faith and dependence on the Father…He never took His eyes off the Father and never stopped breathing. The only person that ever lived his entire life in complete faith now lives in the heart of every Christian. Our failure, is not that we don’t have the perfect Life within us, it is that we don’t have complete faith in that Life…we stop breathing. The reason we stop breathing is that we have made trying to breathe our entire focus. We become so intent on trying to breathe (having faith) that we quite often forget to breathe. It is only when our entire focus is on His Life, that breathing becomes effortless.

In a normal healthy person, the physical act of breathing air comes naturally. It is not something you have to think about, it is not something you have to try to do; it is just something that you do. God wants our faith to be the exact same way. Complete faith is not something you conjure up; it is not something you have to think about, it simply is a consequence of Life…His Life. Complete faith is as natural to the Christian as breathing air is to your body. It can only occur when the focus of your life moves from trying to breathe, to focusing on the Life within you. When your entire focus is on Him, then you can’t help but to have faith. It will be as natural as breathing.

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