Breath prayer is a simple way to practice the presence of God. It can be used as a regular spiritual discipline or to work towards the goal of “praying without ceasing” (I Thess 5:17). It’s a great way to learn to rest in God’s presence, to learn let go of compulsive management of your prayer time and to give God the opportunity to do some unexpected work within you. If you need to practice surrender as a discipline, this could be a good practice for you.
To begin, find a comfortable place and position to sit or lie down in. As with the deep breathing exercise, you might want to set a non-intrusive timer for 5 or 10 minutes if you find that helpful.
Choose one of these short prayers or lines of scripture that resonates with you as your breath prayer.
- Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. | Lord, have mercy. | Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.*
- O Lord, make haste to help us.
- Whenever I am afraid I will trust in you.
- I am God’s beloved child.
- Be still and know that I am God.
- Nothing can separate me from the love of Jesus.
- Make up your own based on a verse that has been sticking with you lately.
Inhale slowly and say the first part of the prayer and on the exhale, say the second part. For example:
Inhale: Whenever I am afraid,
Exhale: I will trust in you.
Continue breathing and praying. Pause if you need to breath regularly, but remain quiet and in a prayerful frame of mind. If you find your mind wandering, release the thought to God without beating yourself up about it, and concentrate on your breathing.
After your time is completed, take a moment to reflect on how you feel now as opposed to when you started. Did God make anything apparent to you in this time? You may wish to note it or thank God for it before continuing on in your day.
Other Ways to Practice Breath Prayer
Breath prayer has the benefit of being a flexible discipline and one you can do with only part of your brain, which means you can use it while engaged in tedious tasks, such as your commute, cleaning the house, walking the dog, changing a diaper, opening your stack of mail, etc., etc., etc, I would suggest that as you begin, you make sure you get a 5-10 minute window of time each day; it will act as a foundation for building times of prayer into regular life.
Other Resources on Breath Prayer
*One of my favorite books is The Way of the Pilgrim. I have this edition, but there are many good translations available. This book has much to do with the popularity of The Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner). It is written as a folk tale and illustrates the way one moves from the discipline of that prayer into prayer without ceasing. It is delightful, and I don’t often use that word.
(As I was searching for an image, I discovered this book review, which should give you a good idea of the flavor of the story. The reviewer also freely discusses some things about the whole concept that she’s wrestling with, so if you’re wrestling with “what’s the point of this kind of prayer?” you might find it helpful.)
The blog Ten Ways to Pray has an article on breath prayer that includes the use of prayer beads in a more structured form of this prayer. If you’re a sacramentalist, you may find this method helpful.
Evangelical? Cooperative Baptist Fellowship page on Breath Prayer