The band practice stretched endlessly. Not just in terms of time, it was pulling on everyone’s patience, skill, and focus. Every minute was a struggle for forward motion, with a few reprieves of pure musical joy. At nine-thirty(ish) we finally called it a night. We doused the flames of sound and praise and headed out the door, but a small piece of song was still smoldering in my mind. No amount of mental exhaustion would put it out. It was a piece of lyric from Matt Redman’s song, Never Once:
Every step, we are breathing in Your grace.
Evermore we’ll be breathing out your praise.
Those words refused to leave me. Like the love of God Himself, the words stayed with me all night, claiming to reveal more about us and our Father than we usually take the time to notice. Like something new that, unexpectedly, uncovered something both ancient and beautiful.
I think we have been living with Grace much longer than we would like to admit. It wasn’t just at the point of a Christian “conversion”. It wasn’t when we asked for it. It wasn’t even at the cross. God has always been our life. And he has always been our breath. Actually, a tiny bit of Hebrew poetry reveals the truth behind our life’s reliance on our Grace-filled father:
YAHWEH God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
The birth of us, our soul’s first breath was a gift from God. A gift that we didn’t deserve. What entitlement does dust have to possession of a soul? to life? None. If grace- as we learned in Sunday School- means in its simplest definition “Getting what you don’t deserve”, then grace has always been the defining piece of our relationship with the Creator! Grace didn’t just start holding us to together when we realized it. It didn’t even start when Grace put on actual flesh and blood and became recognizable in Jesus’ face. It has always been there. From the beginning, God has only offered us grace. It has always sustained us, filled our lungs, and given us strength. Even when we don’t realize it. Some of us, in the midst of adversity, beg of God, “I need your grace! Now!”. With our very next breath, it’s as if God is answering, “You have always had it, child. Always.”
You have always had it.
The same is said when we, in our presumption, offer up all the great stuff we have done. We look to heaven and say, “Look at my wondrous works! Surely, I have earned the respect of heaven.” Again, with that next sip of tasteless oxygen, Heaven seems to reply, ” Did you earn that? Don’t forget, my child, your strength is my grace, not your work. In fact, my grace is what gives you the strength to do the work.” Or as Paul once wrote,
“How foolish can you be? After starting your lives in the spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?”
I remember hearing one of my favorite theologians make an observation. He said that long ago, Hebrew priests had such a fear of misusing God’s name that they never used it. Consequently, They forgot how to actually pronounce God’s name! We use the word, “YAHWEH” for the name of God that was forgotten. But truthfully, we don’t remember how to say this four hebrew-letter word. The best we can do is to guess the four letters phonetically as something sounding like, “Yoveh, haveh”. In an interesting supposition, he mentioned that the the words sound a lot like the sound of breathing.
Some rather crazy philosophers and writers have attested to this too. Perhaps, the most real and pure name of God is nothing other than the sound of human breathing. It’s an amazing thought! Firstly, it insures that the name of God can’t actually be taken in vain- at least not without death by asphyxiation- because wherever His name is spoken, there is life. I imagine it how ironic it must be for an athiest to proclaim aloud (no offense to my atheist friends), “There is NO God!”, and yet, with their next breath they proclaim the name of God, and give testament to His unfailing life-giving grace.
It also means that, no matter what we say, our exhaling of carbon dioxide and nitrogen will always the best praise and gratitude we can offer. To breathe in is grace; to breathe out is praise. Or as the words of Matt Redman sang out that night in our practice room:
Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise.
*Sources: Genesis 2:7, Galations 3:3, “Breath” by Nooma(c) and Rob Bell, Song “Never Once” by Matt Redman(c)