It all started with back pain. At first, it was annoying and I figured it was just part of getting older. But, as the pain got worse and interfered with my ability to function, we realized that this wasn’t normal. My wife, Rachel, and I did some research and were surprised to learn that with my kind of back pain, the real root of the problem was a problem with my… breathing. I wasn’t breathing correctly and other muscles in my back and shoulders were trying to compensate. We learned that attempting strengthening strategies without addressing my breathing wouldn’t fix the problem. Honestly, it felt embarrassing, laying down on the ground trying to relearn how to breathe and having to admit a lack of competence in that supposedly basic part of being alive. But after just a few days and weeks of breathing properly, most of my pain and discomfort went away. I am now a big believer in the importance of breathing correctly!
The breathing process is a helpful analogy to our life in Christ. Both breathing in and breathing out “are necessary for life; one without the other is indeed problematic. Breathing out is only possible by breathing in; whereas breathing in is only possible by breathing out. In this analogy, breathing in is likened to the contemplative, or spiritual communion that fosters a deeper relationship with Christ, as we are being conformed into his image (Rom 8:29). On the other hand, breathing out is likened to reaching out in mission in the areas to which we are called.” (Finn and Whitfield ed., Spirituality for the Sent: Casting a New Vision for the Missional Church, 173.)
Another way to frame this topic, is to think about two important words from the Gospel of John. In his new book, Abide and Go: Missional Theosis in the Gospel of John, Michael Gorman notes that, “John is a gospel of profound spirituality and expansive mission. It is the gospel whose motto is ‘abide and go’” (26). He reminds us that, “spirituality and mission are not only related; they are inseparable: the verb ‘abide’ or ‘remain’ … appears eleven times in 15:1-16, and the verbal phrase ‘bear fruit’ … occurs eight times” (96). These important ideas of abiding and going and inter-connected in John 15. We can’t have one without the other.
The Gospel of John wants to teach us to breathe well. We need to “abide” (Breathing in) and “go” (Breathing out). If we as ministers and those we serve don’t get this right, we will experience more than mere back pain. Failing to breathe correctly, trying to only breathe in or only breathe out, leads to serious health problems. When we focus only on abiding in Christ, we can develop an ingrown spirituality. When we put all our attention on going and doing, we will quickly run out of energy and pass out (as Jesus told us, “apart from me you can do nothing” – John 15:5). The key is developing the proper pattern of breathing in (abiding) and breathing out (going and bearing fruit) and seeing that as the rhythm of our life in Christ. It takes practice, especially if we’ve developed bad habits of breathing incorrectly! The truth is, abiding leads to abounding – bearing fruit only happens when we are connected to Christ. And being connected to Christ means that we will be people who bear fruit. May we be a people who learn to breathe well and live well – a life of abiding and going.