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As is often the case with slightly weird TV series, people have suddenly become much more interested in something we usually take for granted. I am talking about breathing, and the BBC series Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof, which has certainly got people talking – mostly about ice baths and cold showers – don’t try this at home – but also about his focus on very deliberate and conscious breathing.

Breathing is obviously an important way to stay alive, and our bodies have a built-in system of sensors and signals to make sure we keep doing it. When you hold your breath, carbon dioxide builds up as your body uses up oxygen.  After a minute or two for most people, the result is an overwhelming urge to breathe.  All sorts of alarms go off.  The brain tells the body it has to breathe. The diaphragm gets electrical signals to stimulate breathing.  Very powerful instincts come into play to enable us to survive.   Human beings can survive without food for surprisingly long periods, and even without water for some time, but without air, we very quickly die.

The Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate at Pentecost to give life to the church, is sometimes described as the breath of God.  The church is the body of Christ, but without breath, a body is just a pile of bones – think back to that vivid OT story in the book of Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones, which as they are breathed upon become bodies, then stand up to become a mighty army, a powerful, united force for change.

Many of our churches are full of tired people, and perhaps your congregation feels more like a valley of dry bones than it does a mighty force for change.  And the truth is, without the Holy Spirit, that’s just what we are.  We can be a body, with all the right bits, but without the breath of life in us which comes from the Spirit, we are as good as dead, ineffective, incapable.  Just as we need to breathe physically to live physically, we need to breathe spiritually to live spiritually.

And I believe God designed us to need that spiritual breath constantly, minute by minute, day by day. It’s as though our souls too have a built-in system of sensors and signals to make sure we keep breathing in the Spirit.  When we hold our breath alarms go off.  The brain tells the soul it has to breathe.  Powerful instincts come into play to enable us to survive.   Human beings can survive without the Holy Spirit, but eventually, as we ignore those alarms and sensors, they become merely background noise, and spiritually we slowly die.

To live the lives God created us to live, we need the Holy Spirit as surely as we need the air we breathe.  Jesus promised that the Father would send us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit who will teach us everything, and enables us to pray prayers releasing miracles.

Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples, his sending of them as the Father has sent him, was marked by him breathing on them and telling them to receive the Holy Spirit.  In Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples he records Jesus telling them to wait until they had been ‘clothed with power from on high’.  He promised them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them, power to become his witnesses to the whole world, life breathed into them!

And then we see the day when this powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit to equip the church for ministry happened, the first Pentecost.  Dramatic, life changing, newsworthy, confusing, controversial, remarkable.  Something as vividly transformational as a pile of dead bones coming to life and forming an army.  From that day, the church became a force to be reckoned with.  From that day, they changed from a small bedraggled bunch, regrouping behind locked doors, to a growing revolutionary community of thousands, who performed miracles, saw healings, began to change the world.  Pentecost was the day the church as a living agent for change, a body filled with the breath of God, was born.  It was a new beginning.

The Holy Spirit in the Bible seems to come in different ways, between two extremes – the kind of power-giving, dramatic, noticeable way that brings about supernatural transformation, of one sort or another, and the gentle, ongoing, almost imperceptible way that gives us ongoing life, as we breathe in and out, as we allow ourselves to be nourished and kept alive with oxygen for the soul.  I think we need both. 

Obviously we need the minute-by-minute life giving breath of the Spirit to keep us healthy, to sustain our spiritual life. We also need the infilling of the Spirit if we’re to be those who live as kingdom people, making disciples, sharing hope, transforming our communities and worshipping God together.  The life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit is on offer to all people, men and women, young and old, children and adults, those far away from God and those who are near.

Today, of all days, is a day on which we can come together as church, and ask for God to breathe on us afresh and fill us as with strength to live a healthy and sustainable spiritual life daily in relationship with our loving Father. 

Come Holy Spirit, breathe life into your church today. Amen


  • Where have you seen the Spirit breathe new life into an aspect of your church’s ministry? How can you share and celebrate that?
  • When has your spiritual life felt dry and breathless? What can you do to restore a healthy pattern, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill you afresh?


Page last updated: Wednesday 18th May 2022 1:08 PM
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