In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, the apostle Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.” When I first heard that verse, I remember thinking, Pray all the time? How am I supposed to do anything else if I always have to pray?
Years later I realized that I could pray something short and repeat it throughout the day. So when I had a big decision to make, the prayer was, Lord, give me wisdom. Lord, give me wisdom. When it seemed as if everything was going wrong, I repeated, Jesus, You are good. Jesus, You are good. I found that I became less focused on me. And the prayers? They became more than just words—they became an attitude.
I discovered that there is a term for this type of praying: Breath prayers are an ancient Christian practice dating back to the third century. They’re meant to be short, around six to eight syllables long—so short they can be said in a single breath. Usually they begin with a name of adoration for God (for instance, Lord Jesus, Abba Father, Redeemer) followed by a petition or reminder (such as Guide me or You are enough). The most famous breath prayer, derived from Luke 18:13, is the “Jesus Prayer”—Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
If you find that you’re having trouble focusing your thoughts on God, you can pray the first part of a Bible verse as you breathe in and the second part as you exhale, such as “[breath in] Be still, [breath out] and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NIV). There’s nothing mystical about this, and Scripture doesn’t command the practice. But it can be a practical way of tuning out distractions so that you can concentrate more on the Person you’re talking to. Taking a moment to notice how your breathing is a natural part of prayer can help you recognize that your whole body—your whole self—is part of praying, not just your mind.
However we choose to practice them, breath prayers are merely a tool to prepare our heart for Jesus’ presence, inviting us to meditate on a verse, or to pause and focus on God’s solutions for our needs. It’s really quite simple: By praying more frequently, we’re able to talk with Jesus in an unburdened way, until a prayerful attitude becomes as natural as breathing.
Illustration by Tim Peacock