28You give to them, so they may gather;
You open your hand, so they may be satisfied with good.
29You hide your face, and they are disturbed;
You bring their breath to an end,
And they return to their dust.
30You send forth your breath, and they are created;
So you renew the face of the ground. — Psalm 104:28-30 (Author’s Translation)
12Because just as the body is one but has many parts, and all the body’s parts are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For you were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether you were Jews or gentiles, slaves or free before, and all of you have drunk of one Spirit. — 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (TFBV)
[I wrote a long paper on Psalm 104 back in graduate school. Most will find it technical and boring, but it forms the basis for much of what I say about creation.]
You may have some trouble seeing the connection between these two verses in English, so I’m going to take a rare detour into Greek to help. Some may be wondering why I say Greek when I’m dealing first with an Old Testament passage, but I’m looking at the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the Septuagint. The word for â€œbreathâ€ and â€œspiritâ€ in Greek is â€œpneumaâ€ from which we get such English words as â€œpneumatic.â€ It refers first to breath, and then later was used to refer to â€œspirit.â€ Jesus uses this kind of play on words in John 3 when he tells Nicodemus how the Spirit works.
Psalm 104 proclaims God as creator, and not just as a distant creator who made us and left for a cosmic game of gulf (with apologies to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), but one who is very present and involved. There are two ways I can think of my next breath. One is physiological. There are certain signals in my body that cause me to breathe in, my lungs function in certain ways and draw in the air, then use it to provide oxygen to my blood.
But the other way is to realize that God gives me the next breath. One way of understanding this doesn’t detract from another. In ancient times, before we learned about things like atoms and then subatomic particles, when you talked about the breath being under God’s control that meant that everything wasâ€”every moment of every day. I like to restate this passage in modern terms. God is involved in every movement of every subatomic particle in the universe. It doesn’t happen without his will. We can describe all of this by talking about laws of nature, but that is only because God’s will is so consistently expressed.
So how does this apply to my spiritual life? God’s Holy Spirit is the breath of life in the church, in his body of believers, and of course in each one of us. It is by God’s constant will that we can have spiritual life. Often we think of spiritual life as a series of disciplines. If we do certain things we will be spiritual and grow spiritually. But the fact is that God’s sovereign will provides breath. If he were to take it away, we would all whither. If he sends it back, we will come back to life.
But just as I can also talk about the work of the lungs and the nervous system in keeping me breathing, while simultaneously crediting it all to God, so I can talk about spiritual disciplines.
I will probably talk about this a couple more times. But today I want us to get hold of one lesson. No matter how we understand the mechanics, prayer time, morning devotions, fasting, and so forth, it will all work better if we understand and acknowledge the God who gives us spiritual breath by his will.