“Spiritual Breathing” – The Key to My Spiritual Growth
As I explained last post the first two years of my Christian life lacked any significant spiritual growth. This was a result of my own self-imposed ignorance. I did not allow anyone else to tell me what to do next. As a spiritual newborn not allowing anyone to feed me, I was in a state of spiritual malnutrition.
Then I met a couple of guys playing pickup basketball one day. When they began sharing with me about a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ after our game, I recognized that what they were talking about was what I had begun two years previous at the end of a lecture given by Josh McDowell. I told them that it wasn’t working out so well and asked them if they could help me in my spiritual life.
What they shared with me next was what I had needed to hear right from the beginning but had not allowed anyone to tell me. In fact it was so significant that it kick-started my spiritual growth and literally transformed my life. I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about some second blessing or second tier form of knowing God. I am talking about what God wants all believers to know and practice right from the beginning of their relationship with him.
My problem was that I was not experiencing God’s love and forgiveness even though I knew I was forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross for all of my sins past present and future. In addition I didn’t seem to have the strength and power I needed to live life properly. I discovered that it was never God’s intention that I live my life primarily feeling guilty before him. Nor was it his intention that I live the Christian life in my own power. What these two guys, Gord and Tom shared with me that day was the solution to these two problems.
To help me move from experiencing consistent guilt to experiencing God’s love and forgiveness instead, they explained that confession of my sins needed to be a regular part of my life. They explained that confession was not begging God for forgiveness, since I was already forgiven on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross and my acceptance of that payment for my sins two years earlier at the Josh McDowell lecture. Even though I was forgiven I was not experiencing God’s love and forgiveness because I did not have an open and honest communication with Him.
They illustrated the point by asking me “what if the last thing that happened today between us was that Tom punched you in the nose Michael. How would things go the next time you and Tom saw each other?” “Obviously it would be awkward,” I said. “Right, Tom would have to apologize and you would have to forgive him in order for your friendship to continue unhindered.” They explained that with God our sinning is like punching him in the nose, but even worse. And even though our sins are forgiven we will not be experiencing that forgiveness or his love for us unless we confess our sin to him. The guilt we experience is only meant to be temporary to lead us to come clean with God and experience his love and forgiveness.
By confessing, they meant agreeing with God about our sin. This involves first agreeing that it is sin but secondly, and maybe more importantly, agreeing that it is already forgiven on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross for us. It also involves repentance which means a decision to go in the other direction away from our sin. I want to emphasize that repentance does not mean promising God you will never do it again, because none of us can guarantee that we will keep that promise. But it does mean telling God honestly that you do not want to do it again and asking him to give you the power to overcome temptation in the future.
This leads to the second part of the solution to my problem. As I said above, God never intended me to live the Christian life in my own strength. And I certainly knew I couldn’t – I was failing miserably at it! God’s plan all along was that he would provide His Holy Spirit to give me the strength and power I needed to live life the way he wants me to. They explained that when I invited Jesus into my life he came in through the Holy Spirit. In other words right from the beginning I had all of the Holy Spirit, but did the Holy Spirit have all of me? Initially, yes because I gave Christ control of my life. But probably very soon after that I retook control of areas of my life as was evident through the sins I was committing.
So the solution was to consciously give Christ complete control of every area of my life again. I recognize that it may be difficult to know if we have given complete control to Christ of every area of our life. So I like to put it this way – have I given my life to Christ today such that I am not consciously withholding any area of my life from his control? Gord and Tom explained that when I do this, this is what the Bible calls being filled with the Spirit. Not only had I had all of the Holy Spirit from the beginning of my Christian life, but now I could make sure the Holy Spirit had all of me every day! And when the Holy Spirit has all of me he can produce the fruit of the spirit in my life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23)
In Ephesians 5:18 God, through the apostle Paul, commands us to keep on being filled with the Spirit. And he contrasts it with being drunk with wine. Rather than being under the control of wine he says we should continually be under the control of the Holy Spirit. Gord and Tom shared with me the metaphor of “spiritual breathing” to assist me in this process. When we breathe physically we exhale the impure air and inhale the pure air. In spiritual breathing we exhale the impure by confessing our sins and we inhale the pure by giving the Holy Spirit complete control of every area of our life. The metaphor is not perfect. I don’t want to give the impression that we are inhaling the Holy Spirit each time we spiritually breathe. As I said before we already have all of the Holy Spirit if we are a believer, but we need to make sure the Holy Spirit has all of us and that is what “inhaling” does.
As soon as I applied spiritual breathing to my life spiritual growth began and took off at an accelerated rate! Most changes that happened in my life were gradual, but there was one that was absolutely immediate. I’ve never since touched marijuana. My desire for it was immediately taken away and I believe that this was a miracle. It took a few months to get my sexual activity under control and I eventually had to end my relationship with my girlfriend. Of course sexual temptation is always present and I haven’t always had victory over it, but through the power of the Holy Spirit I gained much more consistent victory in that area. It took a couple of years for my abuse of alcohol to come under control but that has not been a problem since. I found myself with a new energy and desire to tell all my friends about the good news of Jesus Christ. I gained a hunger for learning God’s word and for wanting to know God more intimately.
To this day I find that the practice of spiritual breathing is the key to growth in my Christian life. The moment by moment experience of God’s love and forgiveness through confession (exhaling), and the moment by moment experience of the power of the Holy Spirit through complete surrender (inhaling) provides the foundation for everything else. It keeps my relationship with God open and honest. It allows God to work in my life every day to make me more like Jesus Christ.
What have you found has helped you grow spiritually? What stops you from growing spiritually?
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