Spiritual Breathing

Every minute your body is producing toxic chemicals you need to get rid of, which is one reason why you need to breathe out. You also have a constant need to receive life-giving chemicals like oxygen, which is why you need to breathe in. Join us this week as we talk about the need for what might be called spiritual breathing – how to breathe out things like worry, fear, jealousy or apathy; and breathe in life from God’s Holy Spirit.

I want to ask you to do something before we start this message — would you sit up real straight, and take a real deep breath, the deepest breath you’ve taken all day.

Isn’t it funny how something that simple can just make you relax and feel a little more alive?

It’s an amazing thing when you think about it, just breathing.

People in certain fields — singing is one, and some sports like swimming — spend a lot of time just learning how to breathe right.

Great coaches of these fields say most of us are pretty sloppy at breathing.

And for maximum performance, their students actually practice how to become world-class breathers.

Well, the truth is breathing is actually very important to you and me, because if we don’t breathe, what happens? We die. That’s a very important truth.

Left to ourselves, it is literally true that what’s inside of us would kill us.

So there’s this real important principle if you want to live — Breathe. It’s just that simple.

We produce toxic stuff, and we have to get rid of it. So we have to breathe out.

And then we constantly need to receive that which gives life. So we have to breathe in.
Breathe out and breathe in.

Now, I want to talk to you today about what might be called spiritual breathing.

A number of people for many many centuries, people who are much more spiritually mature than I am, have talked about this idea of spiritual breathing.

In the biblical languages — both in Hebrew in the Old Testament and in Greek in the New Testament — the same word is used for “spirit” that is used for the word “breath.”

In Hebrew, it’s the word ruah.

So I want you to think for a moment about the very first time a human being breathed, because that’s actually recorded in Scripture.

In Genesis 2:7 the writer says:

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

Or a living soul.

Now, why does God do it this way? Breathing into his nostrils is an interesting image.

Why doesn’t God just snap his fingers or say a word? It would have been much more hygienic.

I mean, he’s God. He could have done it however he wanted.

Well, the writer of Genesis apparently wants us to understand that God’s desire is not just that this man’s body be filled with oxygen. The text doesn’t say, “Man became animated tissue.”

It says, “Man became a living soul” — a spiritual being filled with God’s own breath, God’s Spirit — “and God breathed into the man” — God’s ruah.

This is the Spirit of God at work in the Old Testament.

One scholar puts it like this:

When the Old Testament refers to the Spirit of God, life is intended because vitality — aliveness — is the essence of spirit, especially of the Spirit of God.

In the Old Testament, where the spirit is present, there is life.

In one of David’s great Psalms, Psalm 104, he’s speaking of all living things. He says:

When you take away their breath, [their ruah] they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:29-30)

This is the Spirit at work.

It’s no accident, even in English, when we see a creature, a horse for instance, which has a fierce sense of life — we’ll say it’s a spirited creature, wild and untamed, filled with energy and power.

Sometimes we’ll talk about a spirited child — wild and untamed.

And we’re drawn to that. Especially when it’s someone else’s child.

One of the things we love is a human being who has this deep sense of vitality — a fierce hunger for life — who is fully alive.

Now, because of sin, sometimes human beings distort this hunger for life, or pursue it in foolish, twisted ways. But make no mistake about it, from the beginning this “aliveness” is a gift of the Spirit of God.

And the truth is, wherever the Spirit of God is fully present, there is this deep, electric, mysterious sense of being alive.

This is why in Romans 8:2, the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of life,” because the Spirit breathes life.

This is why in John 7:38, Jesus says:

Whoever believes in me, [whoever trusts me] as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. (John 7:38)

Think about the parched land in which Jesus lived. What would that mean? What would a life like that look like, out of which rivers of living water flow?

And John goes on to say:

By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given. (John 7:39)

You see, human beings — you and me — were created to live in dependence on God to be fully alive.

And for a while that’s exactly what happened. It was like spiritual breathing — being filled with spiritual life.

But then sin came and the result of sin was death.

Living in dependence on the Spirit of God which had once been as automatic as breathing, was now lost and the result was spiritual death.

However, the Holy Spirit does not give up. The Holy Spirit continued to be engaged with the human race.

I was talking to a woman who heard we were doing this series and her question was, “Where is the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament? Is the Holy Spirit involved in the Old Testament?”

Well, the phrase, “The Spirit of the Lord” — ruah — is mentioned in over two dozen passages in the Old Testament.

At certain key times, the Spirit of God would come upon particular individuals and breathe life into them — call them and equip them and empower them and use them.

So today I want to spend some time looking at the Holy Spirit’s presence and ministry in the Old Testament, and then look at how that led up to Pentecost, and then what this means for you and me.

Now, primarily, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament involved giving human beings (certain people at certain times in certain places) capacities beyond their own limited abilities.

He would enhance their insights and their strengths so that they could perform great works to serve God’s redemptive purpose.

For example, the Holy Spirit would come and give guidance to people in the Old Testament.

When Moses led the children out of Israel, there was a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. That was the Spirit leading the people.

David says in 2 Samuel 23:

The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me. His word was on my tongue. (2 Samuel 23:2)

Let me ask you a question — Have you ever said the wrong thing? Or you know someone who has?

Imagine being able to say what David said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me.”

David was a leader. David was a king. And he said these words as he was dying.

At a moment like that if you were to say the wrong words, it could be devastating for the whole community, for all of God’s people.

The leader’s dying words don’t get forgotten.

And David stops for a moment. And I expect he breathes out all of the fear and worry that would be in his body at a moment like that. And he breathes in wisdom and guidance from the Spirit of God, and he speaks… and it’s just right.

And at the very beginning of what he says, in his dying breath he says, “The Spirit of the Lord was upon me. His word was in my mouth.”

Another thing in the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Lord would come upon individuals and give them supernatural strength and courage.

One example is in Judges 15:14 where Samson is facing his enemies, the Philistines, who have done horrible things to him and the people of Israel. And this is what the text says:

The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power, and he grabbed the jawbone of a donkey and struck down a thousand men. (Judges 15:14)

The Spirit of the Lord gave him supernatural strength and courage.

The Spirit does the same thing to Gideon where an angel of the Lord appears to him and says, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior,” and fills Gideon with tremendous courage. And the writer of Scripture talks about the Spirit being present, resting on Gideon.

The same thing happened to Saul.

If you ever study the life of King Saul, there are a number of evidences that he felt quite inadequate.

When Samuel says he’s going to become king, his response is: “But I’m from the smallest tribe. I’m a Benjamite, and I’m from the smallest clan in my tribe.”

Samuel says in 1 Samuel 10:6:

The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. (1 Samuel 10:6)

And for a time, that was true.

Saul breathed out his fear and inadequacy and breathed in, and he was given strength… as was Samson and Gideon.

Another ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is giftedness.

In Exodus 31 God is giving Moses instructions about the construction of the tabernacle or what was called the “tent of meeting.”

This is a very important place. This is going to be the place where Israel would gather together for worship. People would see this place and be reminded that God lived in their presence. So this is a very important place.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. (Exodus 31:1-5)

Now, Bezalel was a master craftsman. We don’t talk much in our day about the gift of craftsmanship. But there it is in Exodus 31.

My wife is praying the Spirit will fill me with just a little bit of this gift so we can get some work done on our house.

God made Bezalel to be a craftsman. And now, at this critical time, he sends his Spirit to this craftsman.

He was like the Home Depot guy in the Old Testament.

God sends his Spirit to him.

Bezalel was going to be the one charged to design and construct, to oversee the construction of the tent of meeting.

Now, imagine that assignment is handed to you? You’re in charge of constructing a place that is to be worthy of God and will remind people of God’s wonder and goodness.

Imagine the anxiety that could produce in a human being.

I imagine Bezalel thinking, “How could I be worthy of doing that?”

But he stops and he takes a breath, and God sends his Spirit to inspire — to breathe into him.

And he finds his mind filled with ideas and designs — wonderful plans — so that when the people see the tent of meeting they’ll go, “Wow!” And will be reminded of God’s presence and God’s goodness and God’s splendor and God’s beauty.

A parenthetical thought for a moment for us as a community. I was thinking about this this week.

We’re right at this stage in the life of our church. We’re in the final stages of constructing what’s going to be our new tent of meeting. We’re going to have a new tent of meeting in a few months.

And we’re going to gather in it to worship God. And I want you to know God has done it again. He has sent his Spirit to be at work in some Bezalels — architects and construction workers and audio and lighting engineers and interior design people — God has inspired them to do some amazing work.

And I’m so grateful for Joe Hartley’s leadership in all of it.

And I’m grateful that Judy Kintzing has been willing to volunteer to use her gift of design. And for the hours upon hours, what must seem like a full-time job for the last 8-10 months to oversee the construction of our tent of meeting.

And because we’re in a business park, people will drive past so many buildings devoted mostly to selling stuff and making money — restaurants or offices.

My hope and prayer is that when our tent of meeting is done, and people see it, people driving past on Valley Ave or Koll Center Parkway, that it stirs a longing inside of them.

And I think about the first Sunday that we’re going to gather in that building, and we’ll reflect on the sacrifices we’ve made, you and I, to make it possible, and the people we’re going be able to reach and the moments we’re going to share.

I think we’re going to look around and go, “Wow!” And be reminded of God’s presence and God’s goodness in that tent of meeting.

Well, the Spirit breathes inspiration — wisdom and beauty and plans — into a craftsman.

The Spirit of God was not distant in the Old Testament. He was at work equipping and guiding and strengthening and transforming.

But there was a problem — the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was limited.

In the Old Testament, the coming of the Spirit on someone’s life could be a temporary thing.

The most tragic example of this is in Saul when Saul was visited by the Spirit of God. But then we’re told in 1 Samuel 16 that because of his disobedience, now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul.

Also, in the Old Testament the Spirit came only on a select few individuals, not on everyone.

The ministry of the Spirit was mediated by certain priests or rulers, not experienced directly by most individuals.

This was a frustrating thing.

In Numbers 11 there’s a story where the people of Israel are in the exodus and the Spirit comes upon some of the elders just one time, and then departs.

And there are two men in the community with the kind of odd names — Eldad and Medad. They sound like fifties beatniks or something, but they’re Eldad and Medad.

And the Spirit comes upon them, and they continue to prophesy for some time.

Joshua, who’s number two, hears about this and Joshua’s not happy about this.
He says to Moses, “Moses, there are two men and they’re prophesying. Stop them.”

And, of course, Moses is the only one on whom the Spirit rests like this. The Spirit doesn’t rest like this on Joshua.

Moses can be with God and speak for God. Joshua is the number two guy, and he sees other people doing stuff that he can’t do, and he says, “Moses, make them stop.”

This is what Moses says in Numbers 11:

Are you jealous for my sake? [This is one of the great statements in the Old Testament. Moses says] I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them. (Numbers 11:29)

You see, it’s Moses who was special, who’s unique.

And I would have been tempted if I were Moses to want to be the only one that the Spirit was on so I could be special.

Moses doesn’t do that. It’s part of his greatness.

He says, “I wish everyone had the Spirit. I wish the Spirit was just poured out in the whole community.”

You see this became kind of a hope, kind of a dream.

The great prayer of Israel became that one day God might pour his Spirit out on everyone.

And then God said it would be so one day.

This is what God said in Joel 2:28.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28)

God says, “The day is coming when it will happen, and I will pour out my Spirit on everyone in my community — all people — everyone without regard to social rank or status. Not only sons, but also daughters who were often despised in that day. For both old and young, both men and women.”

It became the great dream of the people of Israel for the Spirit of God to be poured out. And not just on a few and not just for a time, but on every one of God’s people for every moment of their lives, from the time they trusted him to the moment they died.

That was the dream of the people of God.

And that is what, in fact, happened in human history on the day of Pentecost.

We talked about this last week.

Fire descended from heaven, only this time, instead of it being just one pillar of fire, which had guided Israel as a group a long time ago, this time the fire separated and became tongues of fire that rested on each individual.

Because now the Spirit was going to go to every person who was part of God’s community.

And Jesus says this remarkable thing after the resurrection, in the locked room with his disciples.

John 20:

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 breathed on them.

Now, what Old Testament passage does that remind you of?

Genesis 2:7.

In fact, the verb that John uses there to say Jesus breathed on them is used only there in all of the New Testament. That’s the only time it’s used. It’s quite a rare verb.

It was also used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Genesis 2:7.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

You see, John wants us to understand that before God descended to earth, he got down on his knees, and breathed into human beings and they became living souls.

And what God did to a lump of clay and some dry bones, God will do for you — God has done for his people.

Jesus says to his friends in that room, “As the Father sent me, so I’m sending you, but you can’t go on your own power. That would never work. First, we’ve got to work on your breathing.”

So I want to ask you to work on your breathing this week.

Tomorrow morning, when you wake up, spend some time in prayer and let your breathing be a reminder.

“Father there are things inside me that will kill my spirit if they remain, so I want to exhale them. Here’s guilt over sin I need to confess.”

I know someone who was gripped by a sin for decades — not months, not years, but decades.

And he woke up. He was awakened at one o’clock in the morning with a real strong prompting to pray.

And he said in his prayer that it was kind of like his life was a house, and God wanted to show him the whole house, including this one room that housed this habit of his that he could not get rid of.

And he said to God, “I’m so ashamed of this.” He never talked to God about this.

And he said it was like God was saying to him, “Show me.” And he did.

And as he talked about this he was just weeping.

He talked about how difficult it was to talk openly with God about this habit that he was so ashamed of and felt so enslaved by.

Then he said it was as if God was saying to him, “I love you. I know all about that. And I love you. And I will help you.”

And he said in 30 years of following Christ, he had never received grace like he did on that night when he just breathed out all of the guilt and the self-loathing and the disgust. And breathed in mercy and grace.

And that wasn’t the end of his struggle with that habit, but it was the beginning of the end. And it set him on a road that led to real healing.

Breathe out and breathe in. That’s life.

Now, a real important part of this process in prayer, as you go to do this, is to take a few moments to just listen to God.

Take some time to breathe out before him, “God, I have this problem. I have this habit. I have this concern. I have these things I’m worried about.” Tell him all about that.

But then stop and listen.

Now, in my experience of talking with people, very often this is the place where we cut ourselves off from the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Because we have a problem.

Let me put it to you in the form of a question — Do you know anyone who talks too much and doesn’t listen well?

I was reading about a pastor you was in a waiting room with his wife, and in this waiting room was a woman with her eight-year-old son. They were waiting for this woman’s daughter.

So this pastor and his wife were with this woman and her eight year old son in this waiting room for about an hour and fifteen minutes together.

He writes:

“For an hour and fifteen minutes, that woman did not stop talking. She went on and on the entire time. She told us about her family, her neighbors and her neighbor’s family. She told us about the people she worked with and their families.

“By the end of an hour and fifteen minutes, we knew more about that woman’s life than I know about some of his closest friends.

“Then finally — it was an answer to a prayer — her daughter came out.

“She stood up without pausing. She never paused the whole time longer than it took to take a breath.

“Without interrupting her speech, she stood up and said to her daughter, “Well, I guess we’ve got to get going. I’ve got so many things to do. I’ve got several errands to run. I’ve got to go by the grocery store and fix supper for your father. Oh, yes, I’ve got to stop and get some buttons.”

“She told us all about the button trip, as she was getting up on her way out.

“At this point, her eight-year-old son spoke. These were the only words he uttered in an hour and fifteen minutes. He looked at his mother and said, “Mother, you need a button for your mouth.”

He writes, “We felt this was the Holy Spirit at work. We really did.”

I want to tell you something, and I’ll make this personal. I think there are times in prayer where if God could say anything to me, it would be, “Matt, you need a button for your mouth. I’m glad you come to me, and I’m gad you tell me your problems and concerns and pour out your heart, but would you just sit still and listen for a while? Because I have some things I need to say to you, but you won’t hear them if you won’t be silent. You need a button for your mouth. Just breathe.”

I think of one time when I was praying.

I had several things I was telling God about that I thought I needed to tell God about that I thought he needed to know about.

I was in the midst of doing all that, and then my mind was wandering.

I don’t know if you ever have that experience when you pray, but once every ten years or so that happens to me.

I was supposed to be praying, and I found myself in the middle of this anger fantasy.

There was a guy that I was quite angry at.

In my anger fantasies, I never do mean things to the person that I’m angry at. I arrange for them to find out how deeply they’ve hurt me so that they can’t live with themselves.

And then I get the satisfaction of knowing that they know what horrible people they are.

I’m telling you more than I need to right now, aren’t I?

I was in the midst of this anger fantasy when I’m supposed to be praying, and all of a sudden this thought came, which I think might have been prompted by someone other than me.

“Matt, perhaps you have some anger that you need to deal with.”

And it was time for me to listen and to learn that there was stuff going on inside of me. I had bitterness in my heart that was in my system towards someone from quite a long time ago. And it was toxic. It damaged that relationship, and I had work that I needed to do in that relationship.

And it had kind of another cost because there was the knowledge that I was angry at someone, but I had not had the courage to go and confront them.

The knowledge of that caused me, in some ways, not only to dislike that person, but to dislike me — to have this sense that I didn’t have the courage to do what I needed to do.

There were a number of costs to that, some of which were relational, some of which were internal.

But if I hadn’t stopped to listen and breathe, I wouldn’t have known.

There’s one last passage in Scripture I want to mention in this regard.

It’s Ephesians 6:18 where Paul has been talking about the armor of God, and he’s coming to the conclusion of that section.

And then he says — “And pray in the Spirit.”

Now, very often we just read over a phrase like that.

I want to stop there for a minute.

What does that mean?

Because Paul’s a bright guy. He doesn’t just write stuff like that because it sounds like a spiritual thing to say. — “Oh, people would be impressed with that phrase. I like that. I’ll throw that one in there.”

He has something quite serious in mind.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)

What does he mean, to pray in the Spirit?

Well, the Holy Spirit is actually with you and me when we pray. He actually is right there, closer than the air we breathe. And he’s helping us to pray.

He is at work to comfort you when you’re sad.
He is at work to convict you when sins get a hold of you.
He is at work to guide you when you need wisdom.
He is at work to love you when you’re lonely.

Because of this amazing thing that God has done to pour out the Spirit on your life, the Spirit is always there, longing to help.

Sometimes, we rush right past him.

But when we don’t — when you’re open and sensitive and listening and responsive to his ministry, then you’re praying in the Spirit.

The Spirit is already there with you when you’re open and receptive and sensitive before him.

When you breathe out what is toxic inside you, and you pause to breathe in love and joy and peace, guidance and wisdom and courage, you’re praying in the Spirit.

And now Paul says that we ought to do this on all occasions.

This is the miracle of living in the age of the Spirit, which you and I do, and it must never be taken for granted.

He says, “Pray for all the Lord’s people, because the Spirit’s available to all of them.”

And he says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions.” And he’s quite serious about that phrase too.

Every moment of the day — tomorrow when you go to work — because you too are like Bezalel in the Old Testament. God has given you certain gifts and certain abilities, and he wants to quicken and enhance and enliven them. He wants you to work in the Spirit.

So all through the day tomorrow, don’t forget to breathe out and breathe in at work.

When you get confused about a decision. When you get anxious about some meeting. When you get overwhelmed by pressure, “God, I breathe out my confusion. I breathe out my worry. I breathe out my fear.”

Stop and breathe. — “I pause now, God, to be filled to receive guidance or inspiration or motivation, freedom from worrying.”

Work with the Spirit — breathe out, breathe in. You can do that.

Sometime tomorrow or the next day, sometime this week, you’ll run into a difficult person. Got any difficult people in your life?

When you see them, breathe on them. — “God, I exhale all the toxic emotions inside of me. My desire to avoid this person or hurt this person or fear this person — my jealously, my judgmentalism, my apathy, my lack of love.”

Just take a moment and remember, “Breathe out and breathe in.” — “God, I breathe in your love — your love for fallen sinners like me and this fellow sinner. I breathe in your grace for people who stumble and mess up like me, and my fellow stumbler. I breathe in your courage and your inclusiveness and your affection.” You can relate in the Spirit.

Breathe out and breathe in.

Well, this is your chance to practice spiritual breathing.

So tomorrow and the next day, when you get hurried, when you get worried, when you get flustered or frustrated or lonely or afraid or tempted or tired, just remember to stop and breathe.

Just remember that the same God who ages ago knelt down with a little lump of clay and breathed into that little lump of clay the breath of life.

That same God, who in the person of Jesus Christ, descended to earth once more and breathed on his followers who were locked in a room because of fear and filled them with life.

That same God is present, miraculously, supernaturally, before you in the person of the Holy Spirit, and he longs for nothing more than to breathe life into you if you’ll let him do it.

Breathe out and breathe in.

Let me pray for you.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA