No Time for Prayer?

“Pray without ceasing,” writes Paul to the Thessalonians (5:17). Did you ever wonder what Paul actually meant or how to do this? It feels just a tad guilt-producing. My prayer life is not like this.

The early Church apparently had similar questions about how to pray without ceasing. In response to this Scripture, they developed what is called “breath prayer”. Breath prayer is a single phrase either said out loud or thought silently on the inhale, and a single phrase said or thought on the exhale. 

The oldest, and perhaps most frequently cited example, is:

(Inhale) Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David,
(Exhale) Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Note the theology here:  Jesus is recognized as both divine (Lord Jesus) and human (Son of David). We seek his mercy, noting that we are sinners. This prayer identifies who Jesus is, and who we are, and takes us to the place where we can receive mercy. 

A few years ago, I was learning to use breath prayer. One day, I was driving my car and it was hit by a pick-up truck. While I was still conscious, I was able to practice breath prayer which I believe stabilized me and gave me peace through the trauma. It was a timely gift from God!

To use this prayer, simply note your breathing rhythm and begin on the inhale of a breath. This can be repeated once or many times. The prayer gives focus to our minds, and helps our bodies respond as well. Almost any short phrase can be recited; something from a Psalm or hymn will work beautifully.  Here are a few examples:

For temptation:
(Inhale) Come, Lord Jesus (or Come, Holy Spirit)
(Exhale) Deliver me from (lust, anger, envy, worry, or other sin).

For praise:
(InhaleThis is the day the Lord has made,
(Exhale) We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

In gratitude:
(Inhale)O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
(Exhale) Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free.

Try breath prayer today using a favorite psalm, Scripture or hymn. Now you will have time to pray as you breathe throughout your day.

If you would like to learn more, MaryKate Morse’s new book, A Guidebook to Prayer, devotes a chapter (#19) to breath prayer. It is available from InterVarsity Press in paperback or as an e-book.

About the Author
National Field Director - Assistant to the Director of Collegiate Ministries

Roger Anderson serves as National Field Director - Assistant to the Director of Collegiate Ministries. He and his wife, Jennifer (writer/proofreader in InterVarsity's Advancement Department), live in Madison, Wisconsin. They have three grown children, daughters, Kelly and Whitney, and son, Christopher. Roger has been with InterVarsity since 1973.