The Believer’s Oxygen for Faith: Breathing in Scripture, Breathing Out Prayer
Pastor and theologian Charles Spurgeon once said, “When asked, ‘What is more important: prayer or reading the Bible?’ I ask, ‘What is more important: breathing in or breathing out?’”
I stumbled across this quote and instantly fell in love with it. Why? Probably because it succinctly summarizes the Christian’s dependence on both the Word of God and prayer. Why else, you ask? Because this quote gives us something to consider: What is the difference between breathing in and breathing out, and how does it apply to the Bible or prayer? Maybe the quote seems straightforward, but I find it worth dissecting.
When you inhale, you are bringing in oxygen, whereas when you exhale, you are breathing out carbon dioxide. I know this is elementary type stuff but walk with me.
Breathing in is essential for getting the oxygen we need to survive. Breathing out is essential for getting rid of the carbon dioxide which, if it were to build up, could cause damage to tissues and organs and prevent oxygen from being delivered to the body. This could result in respiratory failure, and death could follow if not treated. So, the gas exchange that occurs between inhaling and exhaling is, in short, essential to life.
I would propose that, for the Christian, time in the Word and in prayer is no different, as they are essential to faith.
First, we need to breathe in Scripture, the inspired Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 describes it as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” We know the truth by being in the Word. As John R.W. Stott said, “Christians who neglect the Bible simply do not mature.” And this makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
How could you expect to learn more about biology without studying it? How could you get better at piano or soccer without practicing? You can’t know the way without looking up the directions, and you can’t know God without reading the Word that tells you who He is. Imagine trying to neglect breathing. It’s impossible, because you know you can’t just stop breathing and expect to live. A Christian should view spending time in the Word similarly.
We need to breathe in Scripture as oxygen for our faith and our source of spiritual life. We have a Father who loves us deeply, but His Word instructs us to be obedient to His commands which leads to eternal life. So, the Bible is not just some nice book we read out of respect for God. No, Scripture is for us. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” There is not a single thing we need to know that the Bible has not already addressed. And if you believe that, then you know just how necessary this book is.
It truly is the oxygen we need as believers to remain faithful through obedience and steadfast through trial. And it is how God speaks to us. This then makes prayer significant, because prayer is how we speak to Him. After we breathe in Scripture, we breathe out prayer.
Prayer is just as essential to the Christian as reading Scripture. It reflects our hearts before the Lord and, in a sense, serves as a way for us to breathe out our spiritual “carbon dioxide” — anxiety, fear, anger, stress, or anything weighing us down that, if built up, could cause mental or physical problems, or even distance us from the Lord since they damage our trust in Him. Prayer is our opportunity to lay our burdens down at the foot of the cross, to a God who genuinely cares. Breathing in Scripture is what allows us to know we not only can turn to Him in prayer, but He wants us to. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Prayer, I believe, is meant to be just as much a lifeline as Scripture, because it is more than just breathing out “carbon dioxide,” but also our communication with the God of the universe. The more you understand who God is through the Bible, the more remarkable it becomes that we have such an easy ability to speak with Him. Who we talk to makes prayer a weapon as much as a comfort. Not that prayer is meant to be used out of selfish ambition (which wouldn’t glorify God), but we are directly speaking to a sovereign God, the Maker of heaven and earth, who has conquered death itself. Prayer is our opportunity to combat a fallen world by making our requests known to God. It is an opportunity to pray for the burdened and persecuted like those in Israel and around the world.
This is what Scripture says: “Be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and “continue steadily in prayer” (Colossians 4:2). According to Scripture, prayer is to be constant — kind of like breathing. And I believe the more we breathe in Scripture, the more we can’t help but breathe out prayer until it is almost an instinct. We glorify God by being diligent in reading the Bible, and we also glorify Him by coming to Him in prayer.
There are scientific differences between the function of breathing in and breathing out, but it stands to reason that they are undoubtedly inseparable. Just as the gas exchange that occurs between inhaling and exhaling is essential to life, so is the spiritual exchange between reading the Bible and praying to God essential to our faith. The exchange is necessary because Scripture is knowing God and things related to God, and prayer helps deepen your relationship with Him.
Christians who do not breathe in Scripture cut off their lifeline of spiritual oxygen. And not breathing out prayer builds up carbon dioxide, which leaves one vulnerable to sin, and we know that sin only leads to death. This is merely a recipe for spiritual respiratory failure.
Time in the Word or time in prayer is not meant to take place when it is convenient, but as often as possible. Scripture and prayer need to be our first source of comfort, not our last; our first line of defense, not our backup. Every day, if only every moment, we need to breathe in the truth, and breathe out praises, thanksgiving, burdens, and requests.
It’s simple. To do this is what it means to be a follower of Christ, because He is the air we breathe and our source of life now and life eternal.
So, if asked, “What is more important: prayer or reading the Bible?” I suppose my only response could be:
“Scripture and prayer are both as necessary as the air I breathe. How ever could I choose?”
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.