Larry E. Wilson
You’ve been in a traumatic accident. Your body’s going into shock. You hear a first responder reminding you, “Keep breathing!” Even if your breathing’s ragged and shallow—even if it hurts—you need to keep breathing. That’s a helpful metaphor for our communion with God.
Right now, the body of Christ throughout the world is in trauma. The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping the globe, with social and economic consequences. We need to keep “breathing.” Think of worship—whether secret, family, or public—as spiritual breathing. Even in traumatic times when ordinary routines are disrupted, consciously keep “breathing.” Keep breathing in: listen to God speak to you by his Spirit through his Word. Then, keep breathing out: respond to God by speaking to him in prayer and praise.
Start by asking the Holy Spirit to illumine you—to open God’s Word to your heart and your heart to God’s Word. Read aloud if you can. Or listen as God’s Word is read. Just keep breathing in God’s Word in faith.
Try to get a balanced diet of Scripture. Some find it helpful to use some sort of devotional guide (for example, the daily devotional at OPC.org). If that helps you, then do so. But don’t let that supplant your listening to God speaking in his Word. The believer who meditates on God’s Word “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Ps. 1:3). Circumstances aren’t what makes the difference. The living God is.
“Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (Shorter Catechism Q. 98). Note well: we can go to God only through faith in Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.
Many have found that it helps their prayers to follow the acronym ACTS.
A—Adore (praise) God for who he is and what he is like. Give God the glory due his name. Try to respond specifically to the Scripture that you’ve just listened to.
C—Confess your sins to God. If all our sins have been forgiven in justification, then why do we believers need to keep confessing sin? Think of it like this. When you trust Jesus to save you, God as Judge declares his once-for-all verdict of justification. He nails all your sins—past, present, and future—to the cross. He takes them away from you as far as the east is from the west. Your guilt is gone forever. God counts you as righteous with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Thank God that salvation is by grace alone from first to last, so that your sins never imperil your righteous standing. But they do grieve your heavenly Father. They do hinder your fellowship with him. They do damage you and others. They do obscure your Christian witness. And they do thwart your usefulness as God’s servant. Therefore, it’s important that, day by day, you confess and forsake your sins specifically. Ask God to show you your sin and be quick to confess it to him.
T—Thank God for the many gifts that he’s given. Giving thanks to God in all things displays faith; it shows that the Holy Spirit is influencing you (Eph. 5:20). Thank him for his many blessings—both of this life and of the better life to come. Thank him for his gift of creation and his gift of salvation. Giving thanks to God expresses dependence on God. It develops humility as you reflect on the true source of your blessings. It encourages you, even in the midst of trials, to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness.
S—Supplicate God; in other words, humbly make requests of him. Try to follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. First pray for the Lord’s kingdom. Then pray for others. Then pray for yourself. It’s helpful to draw requests from the Scripture text that you’ve just listened to.
These aren’t rules. They’re advice. Don’t be overly rigid or hard on yourself in applying them. But whatever you do, keep breathing. If you’re doing very little right now, then it’s better to start by establishing a habit of spending at least a few minutes each day in deliberate spiritual breathing. Before we can run, we need to walk. Before we can walk, we need to crawl. Don’t be ashamed of that. Just keep breathing. Cultivate a habit of communing with God. It is a means to the end of drawing near to, and drawing strength from, the God who already loves you, already accepts you, and already welcomes you based on the perfect doing and dying of Christ alone. It is amazing grace, and it is received through faith alone.
So, endeavor to keep walking with God even in the midst of the craziness in your life. Whatever you do, keep breathing. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
Larry E. Wilson is a retired minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.