Once upon a time, long ago, some health problems led me into a seven-hour-long surgery. At the follow-up appointment the doctor didn't like the way the longest incision (10 inches) was healing. He wanted to fix it right then in his office instead of the hospital. Giving me a local anesthetic, he began to cut off the scar along with tissue underneath. Unfortunately, his scalpel went deeper than the anesthetic did. Tensing in pain, I didn't realize that I was holding my breath until the attending nurse shouted in my face, "Breathe! Breathe!" I looked at her in unbelief. How was I supposed to do that? I wanted her to just shut up but she didn't. So I tried. It took every ounce of strength I could muster to take a breath, but I did it. And I'm still breathing today.
Can you relate? Our nation is undergoing surgery right now and much of it is painful. Many are reacting with tense, angry, unruly behavior. In their frustration and discomfort, a great many have thrown calmness, logic, sense, the ability to dialogue, and reason out the window and degenerated into belligerent name-calling and even violence. In the meantime, others are just trying to cope and live their lives. But coping isn't enough.
We must not forget to breathe.
Genesis 2:7 - And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. That's how we began so many years ago. Then "The Fall" happened. Immediately thereafter, God prophesied a redeemer who would breathe new life into man. He later used prophets to do so too. Two such prophets are Isaiah and Ezekiel. Their writings let us know that we can either live in tenseness, pain and complaints, or take their advice.
Isaiah said, "He is made to breathe in the fear of Jehovah (11:3).
Ezekiel said, "And He said to me, Prophesy to the Spirit, prophesy, son of man, and say to the Spirit, So says the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O Spirit, and breathe on these dead ones so that they may live (37:9).
In other words, to get the kind of spiritual oxygen that is sufficient for our time, we need to 1) breathe in the fear of the Lord, and 2) breathe in His Spirit to bring whatever is dead within our human spirits to life.
How can this happen? There are four steps.
1. On the cross, Jesus committed His spirit to His heavenly Father, then breathed His last breath (Luke 23:46). After His resurrection, He breathed on His disciples, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Wait a minute. What was He doing? It was a partial fulfillment of Ezekiel's prophecy. Up until that moment, the Holy Spirit came upon people for short periods of time which is why David prayed, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:11). When Jesus breathed on His disciples after His resurrection He was giving them the indwelling Spirit which He promised He would send (John 14:16-17). Then . . . .
2. Right before He ascended into heaven, He told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). What did He mean if He'd already breathed the indwelling Spirit into them? The answer is found in the meaning of the word, "baptize." That word means to immerse or submerse. What subsequently happened in Acts 2 was that the Holy Spirit not only came upon them, covering them completely but that which was already dwelling in the disciples was released, giving them power to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). They just needed to breathe in what was being poured out and activate what they'd already been given. Breathe in the fresh breath of God; breathe out what they already had inside them. They did and the rest is history.
Are we following the historical precedent? Have you received the indwelling Holy Spirit by acknowledging that Jesus is Lord and that He came in the flesh? Have you confessed your sins and given yourself wholly to Him? Have you allowed Him to baptize you with the Holy Spirit? For God's sake, don't forget to breathe!
3. The third step is to read, study and learn the Holy Scriptures. Any god who is worth his salt will not, can not contradict himself or leave his subjects in the dark as to how to live a life pleasing to him. Proving that He is not only Lord but a loving, thoughtful Lord, God has given us a book, written by men inspired by the same Spirit that Jesus breathed into the disciples and that raised Christ from the dead. In fact, Timothy said, "All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (1 Timothy 3:16).
4. The fourth step is to . . . . breathe. Sit down inside, take deep breaths and breathe in the atmosphere of heaven. Acknowledge that the Holy Spirit lives inside you as Jesus promised. You probably already know why you are tense and hurting even as I knew what that doctor was doing when he was cutting into me. But in your knowing,
Don't forget to breathe.
For the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you. (1 Chronicles 28:9).
To actually and practically do this we need to breathe, listen and follow through. Let's take these one at a time.
BREATHE - Calm your spirit, soul (mind, will, emotions) and your body. As a whole, we Americans aren't very good at this. We work hard at having fun and call it relaxation, then have to go back to work tired and worn out or wanting to have another adrenalin high. We don't seem to be able to do anything without some kind of noise in the background. We're always on the go. We finish one project and then immediately jump into the next one.
When we do discover what relaxes us enough to deal with life circumstances, we try to push that "method" onto others. Throughout my lifetime, I've had people tell me I should slow down, stop and relax. (They don't know how much down time I give myself.) They look at what I do and compare it with themselves. That's unfair to themselves as much as it is to me. They don't realize, understand or like what I've discovered helps me relax. Some don't accept that God made people different from one another. One summer a dear friend gave me a lecture about how I needed to relax. Her solution was that I needed to take up golf. (She and her husband were avid golfers.) When she finally finished her long speech, I quietly told her, "You need to understand that if I went out and played golf, it would take me a week to recover." She went into shock. "Why?" she asked. When I told her, she got the message and never again tried to turn me into herself.
Neither will I tell you how to relax. If you don't already know, ask God. He will show you what, when, where and how. Whatever God shows you to do, it will bring you closer to Him. Some people need to move around. Some need to be outside. My husband needs to be with people. I hear God best when I'm alone, sitting in with my feet up, looking out a window at wide open spaces. Preferably with few or no trees breaking my view of the horizon.
Did you realize that God is so adamant about our need to relax, breathe and spend time with Him that He actually told the children of Israel to put anyone who didn't do so once a week to death? Check it out - Exodus 31:14. Remember . . . .
Don't forget to breathe!
LISTEN - In John 10 we find that Jesus said five times that His followers hear His voice. He didn't say that only pastors, preachers, priests or "special" people would hear Him. He didn't say that we needed to hold our mouth just right. He simply called us His "sheep" and said that we hear Him. Present tense. If you have trouble in this area, contact me and I'll email you a two-page listing of scriptures that lets us know the different ways God speaks to us. Ways that even a child can understand. But then you will have to take the time needed to hear Him for yourself.
Don't forget to breathe.
FOLLOW-THROUGH - Here's where we all really struggle. We know what we need to do and the direction we need to go. Unfortunately, we tend to follow the old adage, "It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease." In the 1960s, Charles E. Hummel published a little booklet called "Tyranny of the Urgent." It quickly became a business classic. It also infiltrated the Charismatic movement and was used by God to reveal truth to we who were running around enjoying all kinds of meetings, holding down jobs and raising a family all at the same time. The gist of Hummel's booklet was that we allow current needs and demands to take precedence over the more important and the long-range needs.
In reality, we need to just do what God says do, whether that's quietly sitting in His Presence or becoming a missionary. Many Christians are scared to death that if they really listen to God, He'll send them to deepest darkest Africa. Me? It took me 11 years to forgive God for not sending me there! Either way, if we're really sold out to God, whatever God wants us to do, we will ignore our feelings and fears and just do it. I've watched people say, "no" to something God wanted them to do simply because it was outside of their comfort zone or what they thought they could handle physically or spiritually. Invariably, it always turned out that God knew all about their needs, wants, abilities and desires and had everything already in place for their enjoyment and effectiveness. Doesn't the Bible tell us, "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)? This outrageous declaration is true because God goes before us and prepares the way. I can speak from personal experience about this because there isn't a country I've been to that I didn't have a physical/medical excuse I could have used to keep me at home. Follow-through often simply means that we've got to get over ourselves and remember. . . .
Don't forget to breathe.
A summary of this lesson can be found in Matthew 11:20-30 (my favorite scripture).
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden - Give yourself to God
and I will give you rest - Breathe
Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me - Study scripture and listen
for I am meek and lowly in heart - Breathe
and you will find rest for your souls, - Breathe
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. - Follow through
Whatever you're dealing with -
A problem relationship
A personal medical challenge
The medical issue of a family member or friend
A prodigal child
Addiction of some kind - yourself or a loved one
Abuse in the family or in your church
Intercession for our nation
Occult and witchcraft intrusion
The pressure of time restraints
The message God wants you to hear is . . .
DON'T FORGET TO BREATHE !