The breath prayer arose out of a desire to pray without ceasing. The idea flowed from the Psalms, where a phrase is repeated throughout the psalm. The concept of a short, simple prayer of petition that would be spoken in one breath was developed – thus the name ‘breath prayer.’
The most famous breath prayer is called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”
Later is was lengthened to, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer was derived from Jesus’ parable on self-righteousness, in which the tax collector beat his chest and prayed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk 18:13). It came together in its present form and was used extensively in the 6th century. In the 14th century it was revived in the Eastern Church.
A breath prayer is a brief prayer (seldom more than seven or eight syllables) that brings with it a sense of re-connecting with God in a close and personal way. Breath prayers express love, dependency, meekness, and trust. They are a very helpful tool in re-focusing our entire being back to God in a single moment.
The Jesus Prayer is only one example. It is possible to discover your own individual breath prayer. Here are a few: “Faithful Father,” “Teach me gentleness,” “Jesus, help me receive Your grace,” “Loving Lord, I surrender to You,” “Gracious Master, remove my fear,” “Reveal my sin, O Holy Spirit,” “Lord Jesus, help me feel loved,” “My Guide, my Comfort, my God,” “Immanuel, You are with me,” “Abba, I am Your child.”
CREATING YOUR OWN BREATH PRAYER (adapted from Richard Foster)
Following are three ways to develop a breath prayer. If you want to dive right in then go to the letter (c). But if you want to slowly enter into the breath prayer experience I would suggest starting with (a) and then moving to (b) but the choice is yours. Finally, if you discover that the breath prayer is something you feel is helpful, I encourage you to spend some time over the next few weeks with the directions contained in (b).
(a). Spend some time with God meditating on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. See what words surface that express personally meaningful truth about you and God. Words like Savior, Lord, Heavenly Father, Emmanuel, Abba, Bread of life, merciful, gracious, loving, etc. Begin to choose those that are meaningful to you and begin to piece together a beginning breath prayer. Don’t be afraid to try different breath prayers, seeking to discover the one (or two) that captures the essence of truth concerning you and God. Choose one that transcends the few words of your prayer and embraces all the heavens, one that speaks of your intimacy with God and His intimacy with you. Once you have a breath prayer begin to use it as you walk and go about your day. You might want to write it out so you can remember it.
(b). Breath prayers are discovered more than created. Here is one way you can discover a breath prayer for yourself. Find some uninterrupted time and a quiet place and sit in silence, being held in God’s loving presence. After a few moments allow God to call you by name: “Luke,” “Mary,” “Joel,” “Aaron,” “Lucy.”
Next, allow this question from God to surface: “What do you want?” Pause here. Listen. Hear God calling your name and asking, “_________________, what do you want?”
Once you’ve heard this loving presence call you by name and ask this question, answer the question for yourself simply and directly. Maybe a single word will come to you conscious mind: “peace,” “faith,” “strength.” Perhaps it will be a phrase: “to understand your truth,” “to feel your love.”
I want ______________________
Next, connect this phrase with the most comfortable way you have of speaking about God: “Blessed Savior,” “Abba,” “Immanuel,” “Holy Father,” “Gracious Master,” “Faithful Father,” “Loving Lord,” “Lord Jesus,” “My Guide,” “My Comfort,” “My God,” “Immanuel” …
________________________________ , I want
Finally, you will want to write out your breath prayer, staying within what is comfortable to say in one breath.
Over the next few days allow God to adjust your breath prayer ever so slightly. For example, you may have written down, “Help me understand Your truth, Lord.” But after a day or two of prayer, you realize what you really need is not so much to understand God’s truth as to live God’s truth. Hence you begin praying, “Help me live Your truth, Lord.”
Begin praying your breath prayer as often as possible, throughout your day. Allow God to plant it deep into the depths of your spirit. Do not rush or change prayers too quickly.
(c). Another way to develop breath prayers is to take them from the Scriptures, just like the original. Here are some examples: My Lord and My God (John 20:28), Lord, save me (Mt. 14:30), Lord, help me (Mt. 15:25), Jesus, remember me (Luke. 23:42), etc. Take some time and read through the Psalms, Gospels, or any other part of the Scriptures in search of breath prayer(s). Once you have identified a scripture as a breath prayer begin to use it as you walk, drive, or other opportunities.