Breath Prayer or Prayer of the Heart
Breath prayer is a good example of “praying without ceasing” as Paul admonished us to do, and has the potential to become as natural as breathing. It is intended to be a very short prayer of praise or petition, just six to eight syllables long so that the prayer can be prayed in only one breath. Often half of the prayer is “spoken" (generally silently) on an inhale and the other half on an exhale. The words of the prayer can be easily adjusted to your heart’s desire at any time of the day or night. It is as natural as your breathing and expresses your heart’s desire at the time. As Rick Warren described it in The Purpose-Driven Life, “You choose a brief sentence or a simple phrase that can be repeated in one breath….Pray it as often as possible so it is rooted deep in your heart.”
You may not always be able to stop at a chapel or find somewhere to kneel, or even close your eyes. But you can always pray. This is where breath prayers can be life changing. Keep breath prayers simple. Short. Easy. They can be spoken in a single breath and repeated numerous times throughout the day. But the habit of “breath prayers” can make a huge difference in your life as they help you to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The breath prayer is usually said silently within. But some people sing it; others chant it. Pray as you can; not as you can’t.
Sample Breath Prayers
Jesus, let me feel your love
O Lord, show me your way
Holy one, heal me
My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 12:12)
Lord, here I am (Isaiah 6:8)
Speak Lord, your servant is listening (I Samuel 3:9)
When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56:3)
Not my will but yours be done (Luke 22:42)
Lord, bring your kingdom (Luke 11:2)
Dear Lord, be my Shepherd (Psalm 23)
Richard Foster in his book Prayer suggests these types of prayers are, very simply, the Holy Spirit praying within us. He says, “The old writers spoke of three stages in prayer: prayer of the lips, prayer of the mind, and prayer of the heart. Whatever we may think of this categorization, we can all agree with their assessment that when we come to the Prayer of the Heart, we have entered a realm where the Holy Spirit is the initiator. It is the Holy Spirit who creates this prayer, and it is the Holy Spirit who sustains it. We have come to the end of our tether.”
Perhaps the most well known breath prayer is called “The Jesus Prayer.” It occurs numerous times in Scripture (Psalm 123:3, Luke 18:13, and Luke 18:38), but perhaps the most poignant example is in the book of Mark. As Jesus and his disciples journeyed near Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was about to pass his way. So he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When people tried to get Bartimaeus to be quiet, he shouted even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
This simple cry for mercy has inspired countless prayers during the last two millennia. In particular, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, one of the most common and influential prayers is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This so-called “Jesus Prayer,” which has a variety of forms, is spoken millions of times each day by believers throughout the world. It begins with an acknowledgement of who Jesus is as Lord and Son of God. This goes beyond the messianic confession of Bartimaeus, who addressed Jesus as the Son of David. Then, the Jesus Prayer makes a simple request with an honest time of confession: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This is a wonderful breath prayer because we all need God’s mercy. We need His mercy not just every now and then, not just when we’re in a tough predicament, but throughout our lives, each and every day. As sinners, we need to experience God’s forgiveness, cleansing, and freedom. This comes, not through our efforts, but only through God’s mercy. Because of his love for us and his faithfulness, God’s mercy is new every morning (Lam. 3:23). This prayer reminds us of who we are, and reminds us of who God is.
How might your life be different if you learned to rely more on God’s mercy each and every day? Perhaps learning to pray The Jesus Prayer might help you be open to God in new ways as you acknowledge your dependence on Him and his mercy in your life? Have you ever prayed the Jesus Prayer on a regular basis? Have you ever prayed regularly to ask the Lord for mercy? What might it mean for you to live each day leaning on the mercy of God?
The Way of the Pilgrim updated version by Helen Bacovcin
Short article about breath prayers and a summary of the above book