Excerpt from: The Sound of our Breathing

By Jason Gray

Originally posted at the Rabbit Room

Take a breath and breathe it out.  Do it again, slowly, and try to mean it.  Breathing – of all things maybe we take it most for granted. Do we ever wonder why we are built this way, this soft machine of ours always pumping oxygen in and out?

In sadness, we breathe heavy sighs. In joy, our lungs feel almost like they will burst. In fear we hold our breath and have to be told to breathe slowly to help us calm down. When we’re about to do something hard, we take a deep breath to find our courage.  When I think about it, breathing looks almost like a kind of praying.

I heard a teaching not long ago about the moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God what his name is.  God was gracious enough to answer, and the name he gave is recorded in the original Hebrew as YHWH.

Over time we’ve arbitrarily added an “a” and an “e” in there to get YaHWeH, presumably because we have a preference for vowels. But scholars have noted that the letters YHWH represent breathing sounds, aspirated consonants that in the Hebrew alphabet would be transliterated like this:

Yod, rhymes with “rode”, which we transliterate “Y”
He, rhymes with “say”, which we transliterate “H”
Vav, like “lava”, which we transliterate “V” or “W”
He rhymes with “say”, which we transliterate “H”

A wonderful question rises to excite the imagination: what if the name of God is the sound of breathing?

This is a beautiful thought to me, especially considering that for centuries there have been those who have insisted that the name of God is so holy that we dare not speak it because of how unworthy we are. How generous of God to choose to give himself a name that we can’t help but speak every moment we’re alive. All of us, always, everywhere, waking, sleeping, with the name of God on our lips.

In his Nooma video, Breathe, Rob Bell (a pastor whose obvious gifts of curiosity and a knack for asking provocative questions can get him into trouble) wonders what this means in key moments like when a baby is born – newly arrived on planet earth, must they take their first breath, or rather speak the name of God if they are to be alive here?  On our deathbed, do we breathe our last breath? Or is it that we cease to be alive when the name of God is no longer on our lips?

The most ironic of his questions is also the most beautiful: he wonders about the moment when an atheist friend looks across the table at you and says, “there. is. no. God”.  And of course what you hear is “Yod. He. Vav. He.”

There are few better illustrations of both God’s largesse as well as his humility, his omnipresence as well as his singular intimate presence within each of us.

Breathe in. Breathe out. “He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs… the word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth…” (Romans 8:28, 10:8 The Message)


The Sound Of Our Breathing

Jason Gray, Doug McKelvey, Seth Mosely

Everybody draws their very first breath with Your name upon their lips

Every one of us is born of dust but come alive with heaven’s kiss

The name of God is the sound of our breathing
Hallelujahs rise on the wings of our hearts beating

Breathe in, breathe out, speak it aloud Oh oh, oh oh
The glory surrounds, this is the sound Oh oh, oh oh

Moses bare foot at the burning bush wants to know who spoke to him
The answer is unspeakable like the rush of a gentle wind

The name of God is the sound of our breathing
Hallelujahs rise on the wings of our hearts beating

Breathe in, breathe out, speak it aloud Oh oh, oh oh
The glory surrounds, this is the sound Oh oh, oh oh

In him we live and move and have our being
We speak the name as long as we are breathing

So breathe in
Breathe out…

Doubters and deceivers, skeptics and believers we speak it just the same
From birth to death, every single breath is whispering Your name

Is faith intellectual?

James 1:14-24 says (NLT):

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” 19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? 21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

Notice again verse 18:

“How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

It is sometimes difficult for me to separate faith from intellectual conclusion. It is very tempting for me to need to intellectually understand what I’m believing in. Yet, in this passage, James seems to address the difference between faith and intellect. If faith is simply a conclusion based on a logical progression of ideas, then it can be “shown” to others by directing them down the same logical progression. Assuming the other follows the same logic, they will come to the same conclusion. It is just a mental exercise and good deeds are irrelevant.

However, James draws and inseparable connection between the thing he calls “faith” and “deeds”. So much so that he says faith is un-showable unless it is shown through deeds.

So, using logic :), we must conclude that if faith can only be demonstrated by deeds and the intellectual faith I described above does not require deeds, the this type of intellectual faith must not be faith at all, but something else entirely if James is the authority for defining what faith is.

Since, James was the step-brother of Jesus and lived for years with the God-man witnessing what it means to live by faith, I think he’s got pretty good credentials for being an authority on this topic. Therefore, the intellectual faith I’m so tempted to adopt is false and worse – it is vain conceit.

So if faith is not the product of an intellectual argument, what is it? James describes faith here as a life-changing belief, a conviction that transforms. Simply put, if one does not show the acting out of one’s faith through deeds of mercy and kindness, that one has no faith at all. If he claims to have faith, but no deeds to manifest it, he is fooling himself and is deluded by his own pride. He does not really believe, nor is he convicted because he does not act.

Let your faith grow

I just completed a seminar called Family-ID designed to help parents create a multi-generational vision, family motto and a plan for growing their family in such a way that it matches their values.  At the end of the seminar, the leaders challenged us to read certain books of the bible each day for the next six weeks.  The first assigned book is James.  Now, I’ve never been very disciplined at reading my bible on a daily basis, but I’m trying to take this assignment seriously.

So, on the first day, I picked up my NLT (New Living Translation) and begin reading James 1.  Here’s what jumped out at me.  Beginning in 1:2…

“…when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when you faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow…”

I’ve read this passage many times, but it’s always been in different translations.  I re-read this in the King James and the New International Version and neither version communicates the idea of trouble as being an opportunity for growth.  The meaning communicated by the NLT is that when we are faced with trouble, specifically trouble that tests or challenges our faith in God, we are presented with a choice.  James, through the NLT translators, encourages his readers to make a choice to interpret their present trouble as a positive experience.  This jumped off the page at me because I saw James telling us that we have multiple options for perceiving reality.  Reality happens, but how we interpret it is left up to us.

The impact of this on me was great in light of my previous post where I expressed my doubts regarding making petitions to God through prayer.  As I read James, I began to consider what it means to test our faith.  What is a test of faith?  What does it mean to have our faith shaken?  I concluded that we are witnesses and subjects of events and experiences throughout our lives that test our faith.  These events and experiences test us because they inject doubt into the foundations of our faith.  So when our faith is tested, this means that something has happened that makes us doubt or question whether our God-oriented view of the world is truly representative of reality.

Something happens and we may ask if God really exists.  We may ask why God allows his children to experience pain and so forth.  Events occur which introduce doubt and skepticism, which cause us to ask questions about the framework of our faith system, which threaten to change what we believe in.  It is in this place that we are presented with the choice to give up a portion of our faith or continue to believe in spite of our doubts and questions.

Interestingly, James seems to presuppose that we do not currently have, nor will we ever have, all the answers or a full understanding of who God is and why God does what he does. Building on this presupposition, James makes it clear that it is our decision regarding how we will react when faced with the uncertainty in our faith.  Yet, James doesn’t just manifest this decision and leave it at that.  He encourages us to choose faith in spite of doubt.  And this is the crux of the matter for me.  “James, how can I choose to believe in something when my doubts remain and my questions go unanswered?”  James replies, “let [your faith] grow.”  He didn’t say, “choose faith” implying an intellectual exercise in suspending doubt.  He said “let” or allow your faith to grow.  The common denominator between choosing for your faith to grow and allowing it to grow is control.  When I try to make a choice for my faith to grow in spite of my present doubts, I’m attempting to control my own faith.  However, when I allow it to grow, I acknowledge that my faith is a power that is part of, yet beyond my intellectual activity and capacity – it is a force or energy that is released or held back based on my willingness to surrender.

I have long believed that the very presence of my faith is attributable to God and not myself (Eph. 2:8).  For years, I struggled to make my own faith and I always failed.  But when I stopped trying, after a while, faith miraculously was created in me.  This is what James is alluding to at the beginning of verse four.  He is encouraging us to surrender our doubts and questions to God.  It is through this act of surrender that we choose to let our faith grow.  We release our control, taking our hands off the reigns and allow God to work his growing power in us.  And over time, through repeated surrenders during our tests of faith, God works in us to build endurance so that eventually, even as the tests continue to come, we will be less prone to grab the reigns again and will trust God to continue steering us on our way.  This is what it means in the last part of verse four, that once “our endurance is fully developed, [we] will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”  We will not need answers to our questions and doubts because we will know with ever increasing surrender that the One steering us will lead us straight and true to Him.

Thank you Father for this revelation.

Why do we ask God for anything?

Someone I read one time said you don’t really know what you believe until you’ve toiled to write it down.  So in this spirit, I’ll start writing in an attempt to get my thoughts worked out.

For quite some time I’ve been struggling with prayer.  I see prayers falling into one of two categories – praise and petition.  The praise part I get.  When I am lucky enough to find a quiet moment or intentional enough to focus, I see blessings all around me and I am thankful.  For me, the morning sunrise has always represented my blessings.  A new day breaking over the horizon, the sun’s orange and yellow rays piercing though cotton clouds in such a way as to shimmer across their edges and cast distinct lines across the sky.  To breathe that morning air, its freshness.  It is a New Day… these feelings about the morning symbolize the acuteness I feel about God’s blessings for me.  I offer Him prayers of thanksgiving for these.

But that tricky other side of prayer, the petition, is what boggles me.  Why do we ask God for anything?  Why do we ask God for it to rain? Or for healing? Or protection, or favor, or grace, prosperity?  Why anything?  At this point you’re probably thinking that I’ve lost it because it so obvious why we ask God for stuff.  However, just because everyone thinks the reason is obvious, it’s not obvious to me.

Follow me on this.  God is good.  I mean He is Good with a capital ‘G’.  He is the the definition of good.  If anything is good, it is a reflection of God because he is the author and source of goodness.  Also, God is Love to all the same extremes, completely and utterly [redundancy intended for emphasis]. Additionally, God wants good things for us.  This “will for good” is at the very center of God’s plan of redemption and restoration.  Many times the experiences we have that we interpret as bad are actually from God and meant for our good.  This is the “furnace of affliction”, “trial by fire”, whatever you want to call it.  But it is meant to help us grow from those who are merely “born” of the Spirit (babies) to those who “live and move and have our very being” in the Spirit (mature). So, God is good.  He loves us and wants the very best for us. Moving on…

God is all powerful.  What does this mean really?  It means that nothing, I mean absolutely nothing happens outside the will of God.  Let’s define will.  When I speak of will I’m not talking necessarily about desire. To me, will is very close to purpose and authority, perhaps even permission.  God holds the universe together with His power.  Without his power holding it together, the universe would fall apart.  Think about that, God knows about every galaxy, every star, all dark matter and anti-matter, every black hole, solar system, planet, person, cell, and molecule,  atom, and quark.  He must know about all this in order to hold it together.  Let’s take this another step.

God knows all this about everything in the universe in this moment – in this one second of time.  He knows in this second, where every electron is in the universe even though they move at the speed of light.  Fast-forward another second.  Now God knows where every electron just got to and every other atom in the universe.  Let’s go another step.

God knows the location, function and condition of every atom in the universe for every second across the span of the universe’s entire existence.  And God knew all this before he even created the Big Bang.  Let’s keep stepping.

Not only did God know all this from before the creation of the universe, God knows every possible outcome of every change in atomic direction, human decision, every interaction between gravitational forces, interactions between wind and cloud particles… I’m talking about reality and the infinite possible realities that might have been or could still occur.  There is only one true reality.  We never know reality, only our interpretation of our infinitesimally small perception of our experiences of it.  We experience incompletely and interpret imperfectly.  Nevertheless, there is one reality encompassing every atom and substance in the universe.  This one reality we can never know.  Not even one second of this reality.  Yet God knows every aspect of every second of this reality.  Additionally, God understands every aspect of every second of every possible reality 99.9999999999% of which will never occur.  Top this off with the fact that God didn’t go through some process to learn this information.  He simply knows it.

So, to review, God is good and love.  God wants goodness for us.  God knows absolutely everything and absolutely nothing happens unless God not only authorizes it, but actually makes it happen with His power.  Next step…

God is outside of time.  Stay with me on this one.  God is not a temporal being like you and I.  We are born, grow , live and die.  Our perspective of life is defined and inseparable from the concept of time.  We can’t even speak about anything without time being a context. Try it.  Simple phrases like, “I woke up.” or “I’m going to work.” or even, “I love you” all have time as their backdrop.  Even, “My name is Andy” implies time because of the word “is”.  For us, everything has a beginning, middle and end.  Nothing falls outside this rule, except God.  Because our language itself is time-bound, we can’t even describe God without falsely attributing a sense of time-ness to God.  Yet, to God time itself does not exist.  Time only exists for God’s creation.  Time, after all, is a creation as well.  So what does this mean?

Well, God’s non-temporal nature implies a paradox in His perspective of reality.  For God, everything happens and nothing happens and both of these statements are true simultaneously.  What?  From one angle God sees or has seen(?) everything in the universe happen even before it actually occurred.  This is because of His omniscience and omnipresence.  However, since for something to happen it must happen within a span of time, and since God is outside of time, it can also be argued that from another angle, God witnesses nothing because time does not exist for Him.  Perhaps this particular point is a bit divergent, but I believe it’s important because it illustrates God’s utter different-ness from us.  He is so unlike me, that my brain physically hurts trying to think about it.  I suppose the point to take away here is that God knows everything that is is knowable.  That includes every aspect of our lives: every decision we face, every destination where those decisions could lead, and every thought, emotion and concern we have. And he knew all this before we existed.

So, if my friend is sick, and I pray to God asking for his healing, what am I really doing?  I’m asking God to focus on somebody he’s already focused on.  I’m asking God to change a situation that He caused. And I’m either accusing God of not knowing what is best for my friend because he caused him to be sick or I’m accusing God of not being powerful enough to control all things in the universe with his will and power.

But wait, the bible is filled with petitions.  Jesus himself said, “Give us this day our daily bread”… “forgive them, for they know not what they do”.  Doesn’t “the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”?  What do these examples mean?

Here’s what I think, but first let me say in full disclosure, that I’m wholly undecided on this issue, yet I’m struggling to find a way to dismiss all the logic I’ve stated above. Onto my conclusion.  The human race has advanced significantly since the time of the bible.  Education is far more available and the commoners of society can think abstractly because of it.  Whereas, in centuries past, education and critical thinking was in short supply even among the fortunate.

Saying it straight, people with less education have less exposure to ideas and less ability to deal with those ideas.  Therefore, they need more crutches.  If someone cannot possibly conceive of a God who exists outside of time, then he must believe that God is affected by time.  This person can conclude nothing other than the conclusion that God reacts to stimuli – that God is a subject of cause and effect just like the rest of us.  Certainly this simpler idea of God is more easily grasped and welcomed because it is easier to relate to due to its commonality to our own human experience.  Yet, if there are aspects of God that we can relate to on a human level, there are for more ways in which God is wholly other from us.  But this is inconceivable to perhaps the majority of the human race – or at least unacceptable.

So, I’m struggling to decide if it is right to petition God or whether it is an insult to Him when I do so.  Is is not a greater faith to trust that God will work the best path for me without praying for course corrections?  Of course, God doesn’t need my petitions.  He already knows what I’m going to inform him of anyway and better than I know it myself.  He already knows what is best for me.  He already loves me and controls literally everything in existence.  So, if God doesn’t need to hear my petitions, does He want  me to make my petitions for my own benefit?  If so, what benefit do I get asking God for something, when I know he already knows what I want, what is best for me and loved me enough beforehand to direct my path toward the best outcome?  To me, it just feels like a lack of trust when I petition God knowing all this.  It seems like the height of pride to think that my small petition will change God’s mind away from His chosen path to something different.

So I’m stuck and this is my struggle with prayer.  While it may feel insulting to me to petition God, I have no qualms about petitioning you for advice.  Got any?

My Earliest Memory

My earliest memory is of me laying in the back seat of a dark red 1978 chevy impala. Looking out the window, I remember gray skies, rain and cold. I remember being alone because my parents left me in the car while they set up a tent in the colorado rain.

Cold, gray, wet and alone. Yet its interesting what I don’t remember. I don’t remember fear.  I also don’t remember any obvious feelings of security, but because no fear existed, I must have felt safe.  Safe, while alone. Safe, while unable to protect myself. Safe, in the midst of the thunderstorm.

Without a Living Jesus, It’s Meaningless

On October 6, 2007, Phil Wickham wrote the following on his blog:

It’s always a very moving thing to see people singing out, eyes closed, hands raised, in a place like this. I love being a part of a tour that stands for more than simply what is seen. It is very special and I am proud to be a part of it. The song I’ve been ending my set with every night is one off of the new CD called “True Love”. It’s the gospel in a song and every night I can’t wait to get to the bridge. It says the words “Jesus is alive!” over and over again, and I can’t help but smile every time I get to it. If those three words were not true then my whole life, everything I am about and for, would be meaningless. The fact that the grave could not hold Jesus, that He was victorious over death, is proof of who He is and seals everything He came to do. We are redeemed through His life. We are saved by His life. We will live forever in His life. Jesus is alive!

I was introduced to Phil’s music about a year ago and since, I have soaked it up.  Phil’s voice is a glorious testament to the creative wonder of God.  His lyrical style is unlike other Christian artists that I listen to.  It is like Phil is not writing with words, but with yearnings of the human heart.  His lyrics penetrate through the noisy static of our lives to the relational core of Christian theology.  He is profoundly simplistic because each of his songs is really just about bringing harmony to two hearts – God’s and yours’.

Phil has awakened for me a new and deep love and a very emotive thanksgiving.  When I join with Phil in this musical worship, my heart fills up and spills over as I spin with God my lover embracing.  It is joyous and chaotic and removed from all the worries of the day – pure worship.

Phil is right.  If Jesus is not now alive, if He is not the only begotten Son of God, if He is not the living and powerful Word that spoke creation into existence and continues to speak it even now, if Jesus’ story of True Love is not in fact true, then Phil’s life is wasted and the joy I’ve found in the last year because of Phil is nothing more than a meaningless dream.

I’ve learned that seeking to intellectually prove the realities of God is a doomed task (because it requires me to do the work).  Belief in God is not created within me based on my ability to think my way through the problem.  Nevertheless, evidence does exist within my heart.  It is the joy I now know because of Phil’s music and God’s working.  This evidence is something I know to be true not because I have thought my way to that conclusion, but because God has taught me how to feel my way to that conclusion.

Jesus is alive, he is the only begotten Son of God, He is the living and powerful Word, and His True Love story is true.  I know this because the eternity in my heart says it is so.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

Paradox is Normal

Paradox is part of the nature of theology.  Not theology as a study of God, although that is included.  Rather theology as the definition of the nature of reality.  Paradox is an element that we cannot understand.  We cannot reconcile it with our logic.  Yet, it is as much a part of reality as grass and trees and love and sadness.  There is one God, yet there are three.  It’s a paradox that we can’t understand.  Our only options are to deny this reality because we can’t reconcile it or accept it, not by logic, but by faith.

Consider eternity.  When God redeems the world in judgment, it is commonly believed that time will cease to exist and eternity will begin (if it can be said to have a beginning).  The redeemed will live with God for all eternity… in timelessness.  Yet, Scripture tells us of the streets of heaven.  It speaks of our reuniting with loved ones and conversations with the Lord.  How can these things occur in a “world” without time?  Will it not take time to walk down heaven’s streets?  Will time not pass as we converse with the Lord?  Time must pass if we are to experience these and other things in heaven.  There can be no “experience” without time as its context.

The fact that we “experience” anything at all is not a concept that conveys a fixed timeless point.  Rather, it conveys a linear and temporal backdrop for the events that take place that allow us to have the experience.  Yet time will not exist in heaven.  This is a paradox.  If the primal purpose of God’s plan is the eternal redemption of humanity so that He and we could spend eternity together, then paradox must be a core element of theological reality.  What other paradoxes are there in God’s reality?  That Jesus could be both fully God and fully man at the same time?  That our works save us, but we are saved by faith alone?  That we are told to have faith, but that faith is a gift from God that we could never conjure by our own will?  The arrival of the Kingdom has not come to pass, yet it is already here?

God’s reality is full of paradox.  This is one reason it is called a “mystery” and why it confounds those who are not humble enough to dismiss their logic.  For we have only two options: deny this reality because we can’t comprehend it or accept it in faith even in the midst of incomprehension.  Such a faith itself is a paradox for how can one believe in something he cannot understand?  Yet faith we have because it is a gift of God.  And we cannot claim any credit for it.  Look for and enjoy the paradox.  Revel in the mystery of God.