If you have read any of the Daily Thoughts at Further Up, you will have noticed that each ends with a short prayer that includes two phrases, one intended to be breathed in and the other out.
That is called “breath prayer.” It is one of the simplest forms of prayer and it has helped me immensely in my journey to cultivate a constant awareness of God’s presence in my life.
In this article I’ll explain the following (feel free to skip ahead if you want):
Why I love breath prayer.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) Paul encourages those who follow Jesus to “pray without ceasing.” It is important to have scheduled times of prayer, but God wants something more: he wants a constant connection with us.
In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century French monk, said this: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament” (p.30 in my edition).
Breath prayer is a simple and powerful way to cultivate this type of constant connection with God.
Here are a few reasons why I love breath prayer:
1. Breath prayer is simple and easy to practice.
No long-winded prayers here; just a simple phrase that we breathe in and out.
2. You can do it literally anywhere.
You can practice breath prayer at home, at work, at school, while driving or riding on public transportation, or while you wait in line at the supermarket. Because it is silent you don’t have to worry about making a scene, and because it is simple you can do it while performing other tasks.
3. It is good for your health.
Breath prayer involves controlled breathing, a practice that has been shown to be helpful for managing stress and overall health.
4. It helps Scripture transform you.
When we reflect (or meditate) on a phrase or idea from Scripture, it ceases to be a theoretical concept and begins to become part of who we are. I love reading longer passages of the Bible, but what I read only impacts my life when I take the time to reflect on it.
How to practice breath prayer.
Ok, we’ve talked about why breath prayer is great, but how exactly do we do it? It can sound a little “mystical” or “super-spiritual,” but it is actually very simple and practical.
Here are a few practical steps you can take to practice breath prayer:
1. Decide on a phrase to pray.
It sounds a bit obvious, but this is actually a very important step. We’ll talk in a moment about how to make your own breath prayers, but in the meantime you can use any of the prayers that come at the end of the Daily Thoughts from Further Up. For this exercise, we can use a breath prayer taken from Psalm 23: “[Breathe in] I will not fear; [breathe out] for you are with me.”
2. Stop for a moment and breathe.
Stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Then, as you breathe in, silently say the first phrase (“I will not fear”), and as you breathe out silently say the second (“for you are with me”).
3. Repeat as often as you want.
Life gets busy and it’s easy to forget about God in the midst of all the activity. Don’t be hard on yourself; it’s normal. Whenever you get the chance simply stop for a moment, breathe deeply and silently say your breath prayer. Let God remind you that he is still with you.
4. A piece of advice: try to stick with one prayer at a time.
If you’re anything like me, you may have a hard time deciding on a breath prayer or want to cycle through multiple prayers in a day. Although there are no hard rules about this, I would recommend sticking to one breath prayer at a time. After a day you may be ready to move on to another prayer, but in some cases you may stick with one prayer for weeks or even months.
How to make your own breath prayers (my method).
When I make a new breath prayer, I follow a few simple steps:
1. Read a passage of Scripture.
I love the Psalms for this, but any passage could work!
Did anything stick out? Did anything resonate with you?
3. Turn that into a short prayer
Is there a truth that you simply want to reflect on? Is there something you’d like to ask God to do? Keep it simple, and short enough for one breath.
4. Write it down, memorize it, and pray it often.
It’s as simple as that!
Richard Foster’s method to make your own breath prayers.
In his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster gives some very good advice about making your own breath prayers (see pp. 123-124). Here is a summary of what he recommends:
1. Find a quiet place to be alone with God.
This could be your bedroom, a home office, a large closet, a secluded outdoor space, etc.
2. Allow God to call you by your name and ask you what you are seeking.
Imagine God asking you the question, “[Your name], what do you want?”
3. Answer God’s question.
Tell God what it is that you want. Maybe the word “peace” comes to mind. Whatever it is, write down everything that comes to mind.
Now, decide on one of those things you wrote down, and make that your personal breath prayer. Address God as you feel most comfortable doing so, and present your petition to him. For example, if you chose “peace,” your breath prayer could be something like this: “Lord (or Father, Abba, God, etc.), give me peace.” As simple as that.
Breath prayer might sound difficult or “mystical” at first, but it is actually very simple and can have a profound impact on your spirituality. Whether you choose to integrate breath prayer into your personal spiritual practice, I hope you found this article helpful! Breath prayer has been incredibly helpful for me, and I hope that it also helps you to grow closer to God every day.