The Fear of Anxiety
As I lie on my bed, an onslaught of thoughts and worries barrage my mind like a broken dam. These thoughts are like water rushing without caution, and it is impossible to catch them. Instead, I watch them slip right through my fingers. When the powerhouse of my mind is running, it doesn’t matter how tired my body might be, I’m awake until it stops. Instead of finding rest, I drift on unrelenting waves of worry in a ruthless ocean of unrest.
These nights aren’t the norm, but when they come they feel frustrating and never-ending. Often, I can’t find the leak fast enough before the torrent of worry rushes over my body with adrenaline and fear. Looking back, I can usually identify where the leaks formed in my heart and mind. I see where the plugs need to be placed to stop the rushing waters so I can rest again in my God.
Every human experiences moments of overwhelming anxiety. The dams that hold fears back do break despite our best efforts to keep them intact, but God hasn’t left us to sink in the waters of worry without hope.
The Hope of Healing
In seeking to repair the broken dam of worry that floods my mind, I’ve come across a simple practice recommended by doctors and psychologists—the discipline of deep breathing. When we worry, our breathing changes, often becoming shallow and short, quick and labored. Slowing one’s breath eases the body’s panic response and, in turn, slows the torrent of thoughts as well. It reminds us of our finite nature, the grandeur of God, and our total reliance on Him.
Breathing deeply in times of worry is one way to slow down in God’s presence, to be still and know that He is God even when the waters rage all around us. When I slow my body, focus on deep breaths, and harness the relentless worries of my mind with the help of the Holy Spirit, God shows me a deeper, fuller, more lasting response to anxiety: the breath of prayer.
The Breath of Prayer
Martin Luther once said, “To be a Christian without praying is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” In other words, prayer is the respiration of a Christian, the release of toxic worry and intake of God’s life-giving, undeserving mercy. Prayer is the lifeline of the believer, oxygen to our spiritual souls giving us life and vitality. Just like breathing enables our entire body to function properly, prayer enables us to live the life God has called us to live.
In his book on Prayer, Tim Keller wrote, “To pray is to accept that we are wholly dependent on God for everything.” Praying is admitting dependence, just like breathing. It’s surrendering to God’s will and ways, trading our shallow attempts to be in control for the deep rest that comes when we trust Him.
When we slow down to pray and pour out our thoughts and worries before God, we release the worries that cause the dam to break in our minds. We breathe in God’s mercy that enables us to rest, and breathe out the worry that keeps us up. Breathing reminds us that we are completely dependent creatures. We do nothing to make our hearts beat or our lungs breathe, and yet God graciously gives us sustaining life and breath.
Praying reminds us, in the same way, that we are completely dependent creatures, reliant upon our Maker, blessed with the gift of spiritual respiration. Prayer is our spiritual breathing. So why do we forget to “breathe” spiritually? Why do we run to quick fixes faster than we run to God’s throne of grace? The answer is complex, but I believe it often comes down to fear. I know this to be true in my own life.
Afraid to Pray
I avoid prayer for several reasons. First, I am terrified that God won’t come through for me when I pray. I fear praying and sharing about a faithful God while at the same time walking through a valley that doesn’t seem to stop. Second, I worry that I won’t say the right words, pray the right prayer, or have enough faith. But when I look to God’s Word, I see the opposite of these fears to be true.
I see a God who is near, who hears prayer and answers. A God who commands us to pray and teaches us how to pray! I see a God who is sovereign over the suffering, heartache, and loss we experience in this life. He is a faithful God who holds true to His promises, even when His people are unfaithful.
And I see an enemy who wants to keep me from praying to and believing in my almighty God.
Freed to Praise
God didn’t have to make a way for us to talk to Him. He didn’t have to send His Son, Jesus, to die in our place to atone for our sin and bridge the gap forged by our rebellion! He didn’t have to create prayer as a means of communication and access to His presence and power. He didn’t have to, but He did—all because of His mercy and grace. Prayer leads us away from the shallow activities of life into deeper communion and union with Him. Prayer slows us down to rest in Christ in a restless world. It is the spiritual exercise of a believer, and a gift of grace from God.
Physically, shallow breathing stores up carbon dioxide, which makes the body go into overdrive, leading to stress and panic. Breathing slowly and deeply triggers the body’s parasympathetic, calming response. It is no accident that breathing slowly, deeply, and rhythmically calms the body and mind. God, the Creator of breath, made this response to draw us to Himself. This response points us to the importance of prayer, calming our hearts and minds before Him, praising Him, meditating on the truths of His Word, and resting in His promises.
The Breath of Life
When God created Adam in the Garden of Eden, He breathed into his soul, giving him life and breath (Genesis 2:7). God created the world by speaking, but he gave life to Adam by breathing. Even the very breath of God has the power to produce life. Adam was formed from the earth’s dust God spoke into being, and his heartbeat came directly from the breath of God entering his lungs.
God still breathes into us through the indwelling Holy Spirit and the intake of His breath as we read His living and active Word (Hebrews 4:12). To read God’s Word is to breathe again spiritually. Talking to Him when the dam of worry breaks and thoughts flood our souls is a rescue boat of mercy. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 describes the words of Scripture as being “God-breathed” in order to equip His people for every good work, even the work of plugging the dam of worry to rest in His good mercy.
Praying God’s Word is the most important weapon of the Christian. Praying God’s breathed-out Word wields the most powerful weapon against the enemy: Truth.
Breathe in Mercy, Breathe out Worry
As I lie on my bed, breathing in and out, the word mercy rolls around in my mind. It is His mercy I am breathing, thinking, resting. His mercy gives me a fresh start every moment of the day. His mercy makes our hearts continue to beat without reminding them to do so. His mercy pushes fear out of my mind, making way for perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). God’s storehouse of mercy never ends, and it is by His mercy and great love that He rescued us from the domain of darkness—yes, even the darkness of anxiety (Colossians 1:13). The breath of life still pulses within believers, giving us life, hope, and renewed perspective—even on restless nights.
I know there will be more nights when the dam of worry breaks in my mind. But I also know God’s grace is sufficient, His mercy my anchor in the storm. He is still breathing life into my soul through the promises of His Word, never failing me, never forsaking me. The deep breaths remind me to slow down and remember His mercy. Not just to empty myself of worry, but to fill myself with the knowledge of His presence, and worship in response.
Breathe in the mercy that enables you to rest in God’s sovereignty and sleep in His embrace. Pray like you breathe, and remember that the breath of life still pulses spiritual oxygen through your veins.
Breathing in mercy and breathing out worry,
We recently released an updated version of the Breathe: 40 Days of Prayer in the Psalms Bible study in the Well-Watered Co! The most important way we can “breathe spiritually” is to pray God’s Word, and this study will walk you through how to pray the Psalms. We would also love for you to join us in walking through Breathe starting March 4th for 40 days leading up to Easter! Find the study here!
Leading a small group?
We've got you covered. We created a leader guide specifically for women leading groups through this study. You'll find helpful tips for how to create a safe and inviting atmosphere, as well as additional questions to ask as you discuss the Psalms.
Want the free leader guide? Find it here.
Calendars to Follow
We've also created simple calendars that show what you'll be studying each day. This will help you stay on track during the 40 days leading up to Easter. We'll begin with a heart check on the blog February 26 and 27, then jump into the study on February 28.
Breathe Out Worship
The Breathe playlist is full of songs to stir your affections for Christ. These songs will help you take a deep breath, praise, and go about your day with a heart of worship.
Enjoy these beautifully designed lockscreens as a reminder to pause, pray, and breathe out praise the God. Our very own team member Sarah Brown has hand-lettered multiple psalms throughout the Breathe study. These 8x10 images would be lovely framed after you complete your study.
Click each image below to download the full-resolution lockscreen. Find additional lockscreens and freebies here.