In the context of this quarter’s lessons focused on physical health, Gen. 2:7's teaching that God created human beings by use of His breath, rather than only speaking us into existence, is a fascinating insight. Breath was God’s first gift directly to human beings. Having the breath of life has remained primary ever since the Garden of Eden. Just holding our breath for a couple of minutes demonstrates plainly that without sufficient oxygen, we become desperate for air. One wonders whether we might become also desperate for God’s spiritual breath if we choose to hold ourselves away from spiritual beliefs and commitments.
In spite of the wonderful physical atmosphere God created, however, humans continue to pollute their atmosphere, suffer from poor ventilation, and many choose to inhale addictive fumes (tobacco or marijuana smoke, glue fumes, etc), which rob their systems of health. Fortunately, God blessed our church early in its history with Ellen G. White’s advice to avoid tobacco many decades before it was scientifically respectable. Abstinence from smoking continues to make up a large proportion of Adventist health advantages. Also, White urged people to open their windows, assuring better ventilation, as well as get fresh outside air in their lungs.
By considering the issue of stewardship of our physical atmosphere, the lesson author continues the earlier emphasis on Christian environmental responsibility. Thinking about the air we breathe goes beyond our own personal health. How we use our influence and our votes to urge improvements in air quality, including avoidance of second-hand smoke, is also relevant.
What especially interests me about this topic, however, is the parallel opportunity to reflect about our spiritual atmosphere and how we may build or deplete its life-giving properties. The concept of such an atmosphere is introduced by Ellen White as a talent of influence.
“Every soul is surrounded by an atmosphere of its own – an atmosphere, it may be, charged with the life-giving power of faith, courage, and hope, and sweet with the fragrance of love. Or it may be heavy and chill with the gloom of discontent and selfishness, or poisonous with the deadly taint of cherished sin. By the atmosphere surrounding us, every person with whom we come in contact is consciously or unconsciously affected." (Christ’s Object Lessons, p.309).
She continues to describe the far-reaching influence of our personal atmosphere, for good or evil.
This renews a question recurring to me throughout the previous quarter’s lessons on Fruits of the Spirit. How do we become Christians who produce good fruit? Is it through what we do, or fail to do? We often cite the need to “abide in Jesus,” based on John 15:1-6. If abiding in Jesus, the Vine, produces fruit in us, then, how do we “abide?” It is the gardener who prunes and fertilizes the vineyard; the vines only grow. Perhaps, I reflect, this question of “how” nags at me, because I was reared on how to be acceptable to God by doing good works and avoiding sinful behaviors. So, I notice that tension still exists in me between works and faith with respect to sanctification. Among my fellow Sabbath School class members, sharing my question produced many nods around the room. Cognitively, while we Adventists who were raised with more emphasis on works than on God’s grace may rejoice that His grace suffices for us, emotionally and experientially we may still be questioning Thomases!
When we pray for the Holy Spirit, what do we hope will happen? Some outward manifestation of God’s grace in our church family? That God’s breath will energize us with love, joy, hope, and peace so that we are alive spiritually?
Perhaps an analogy to our respiratory anatomy and physiology is useful. Breathing is subject to the autonomic nervous system. We can hold our breath, over-riding the autonomic signals for a while. But most of the time, we breathe without giving thought to doing so. I wonder if God’s gift of spiritual breathing is also under the autonomic direction of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit?
In Romans 8, Paul explains in Romans 8:1-2 (Message Bible):
“Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.”
Perhaps, then, what we “do” is to open our soul-windows and doors to invite Christ inside to be in charge, through His Spirit, of our lives. Ellen White comments on Matt. 5:20: “If they (the Pharisees) would open their hearts fully to receive Christ, then the very life of God, His love, would dwell in them, transforming them into His own likeness...” (Mount of Blessing, p. 55).
Interestingly, the last of the Seven Churches, Laodicea, is the one which receives the invitation to receive Him when He knocks: “Here I stand knocking at the door; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sit down to supper with him and he with me” (Rev 3:20 NEB). Over and over, through the gospel writers, Christ urges us to seek Him so He can dwell with us (see Luke 11:5-13). Seemingly then, our daily “work” is to ask for His presence so He can enter and dwell within us. Satan certainly has many ways to distract us from companionship with Jesus, even through apparently “good” activities as well as subtle pleasures and self-focused plans. So to breathe well spiritually, we constantly need the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide our decisions, words, and insights since, without His divine breath, we may make poor choices about how we spend our time, interact with others, etc.
Regarding choices: on the Mount of Blessing, Jesus called for His followers to do things which seem to be unnatural human behavior. For example, “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who treat you spitefully (Luke 6:28, NEB). His explanation is that as children of God, we must be “compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36, NEB). God is kind to everyone, those who believe and those who don’t. In addition, Jesus directed His followers to be reconciled to those who have wronged them (Matt. 5:24).
What has been your experience in praying for God to bless those who have wronged you? A prayer to share His love so you can learn to love them and become reconciled with them? I have found that the results can be remarkable – with the aid of the Spirit by grace we are empowered to move away from bitterness and resentment, and into reconciliation! Such a change in our attitudes may be how we spread a heavenly atmosphere of compassion and hope.
We can consider further Jesus’ admonishment to “Pass no judgment, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned...give and gifts will be given you” (Luke 6:37, NEB). Next Jesus compares our attempts at judging others as trying to remove a speck of dust from our brother’s eye while a plank is stuck in our own eye! Indeed, what a frosty atmosphere we can make when we criticize, gossip about, and judge the worth of others! Ellen White urges that, rather than judging with cold harshness those fellow believers who make mistakes, we need to love them as Christ loves them:
If matters of difficulty between brethren were not laid open before others, but frankly spoken of between themselves in the spirit of Christian love, how much evil might be prevented! How many roots of bitterness whereby many are defiled would be destroyed and how closely and tenderly might the followers of Christ be united in His love. (Mount of Blessing, 59).
If our own attempts to do good works seem difficult, tiring, or frustrating, perhaps we are being blessed with a reality check! By our own efforts, we are only feeble imitators of holiness without God’s love dwelling within us.
The hymn “Breathe On Me, Breath of God” captures our need. In making this prayer, we can have perfect confidence that God’s answer will always be “Yes!”
Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew. That I may love what Thou dost love and do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me Breath of God, Until my heart is pure, Until with Thee I will one will – To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly Thine, Till all this earthly part of me glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die, But live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.
Edwin Hatch and Joseph Harker # 265, The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal
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Patricia B. Mutch, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita of Nutrition at Andrews University, where she served in a number of positions, including as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Vice-President of Academic Affairs.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2370