Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (New International Version)
Ever since I blew into my first musical instrument, I’ve been fascinated with circular breathing. It’s a technique used by the instrumentalist (or singer) to produce a continuous tone without interruption. In other words, you can keep blowing or singing without doing the traditional stopping to inhale.
By breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth, using air stored in the cheeks, the person can maintain the sound. This might sound difficult, but it really isn’t. It’s just that circular breathing takes a lot of practice.
The hard part is unlearning how you typically breathe. I can do it, yet I’ve made the personal observation that it doesn’t happen unless you can be very relaxed, connected to your body, and grounded in what you’re doing.
I imagine that we all sometimes feel like admonitions to devote ourselves to prayer, pray continually, and never give up praying, are something like circular breathing.
Maybe the prayer thing is best left to the experts and the professionals, we may think. Yet, the Apostle Paul encouraged the entire Colossian church to keep up the praying, both leaders and laity.
“Never give up praying,” (Colossians 4:2, CEV) might sound unattainable. It isn’t. The catch to it is this: You’ll need to unlearn some old ways of praying before devotion to prayer is realized.
The ancient Colossians had fallen into the wrongheaded belief that Christianity could be reduced to a nice neat, packaged formula of do’s and don’ts. Do the right things. Say the right things. Don’t do the list of the terrible ten or the nasty nine, or whatever checklist you are using to live by your form of “Christianity.”
Paul was telling the Colossians to completely jettison such an approach to the Christian life. Instead, persevere in prayer without knowing the outcome. Pray relying on God and the mystery of Christ. Pray with uncertainty instead of continually believing you need sure answers to everything for everyone.
The Christian life cannot be forced into some geeky algorithm so that we can avoid suffering, know all the right things to say in a conversation, and always keep God happy.
God is not some algebra equation to figure out. The Lord is not a gumball machine to put a quarter in and get what you want. The almighty is not Santa God.
Christianity requires living in the tension of not knowing everything, and yet, having cogent answers for others who inquire about our faith. It is a dynamic relationship, in which we must continually interact in prayer to God, while mostly improvising our lives, spontaneously applying the understanding we have for each situation before us.
Breathing in and breathing out at the same time – that’s what prayer is really like.
Paul’s desire was to keep the church vigilant in prayer. He wanted all the churches to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the God who answers in his own good time, according to his own good will.
The believers were being taught a kind of circular praying whereby they make good use of the time God has given through choosing wise words to say, while simultaneously carrying on a silent prayer conversation with God.
This is a Christianity that’s far above rules and laws and checklists. It’s Christianity as it’s meant to be lived, depending on Jesus, and relaxed in the Spirit.
But again, the catch is this: Circular praying takes practice, practice, practice.
Failure is both inevitable and expected. And that’s okay. We’re not living by lists and human contrived rules. We’re living a new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection. So, it takes a new kind of praying.
God of Mystery, the One who conceals and reveals, forgive me for my attempts at reducing faith to a few spiritual rules to keep. Help me to speak in ways which are gracious, loving, and redemptive. May the person and work of Jesus come tumbling out of my mouth while I inhale the breath of your Holy Spirit. Amen.