Breath Prayer

Dr. Sachi Nakamura(JCFN Board Member, Christian Book Translator, Spiritual Director)

This month, I would like to introduce a spiritual discipline called “Breath Prayer.”

Breath prayers are simple and short prayers that are repeatedly recited in your heart as you breathe in and out. It is a simple yet powerful prayer that can be prayed anytime and from anywhere. Breath prayers help us to turn our thoughts and focus back to God and restore our souls when we are feeling confused, anxious, and weary. It can be done anywhere, such as during our commute, while doing household chores, or in our walks. Practicing breath prayer can remind us that the Lord is with us throughout our day. Paul may have had this kind of prayer in mind when he said, “pray without ceasing.”


The history of breath prayer is said to go back to the fifth or sixth century.  At that time, there were people known as the “desert  fathers” and “desert mothers,” who lived secluded lives in the Egyptian desert. The prayers that those desert fathers used to pray were passed on to the Eastern church, and became known as the “Jesus  Prayer”. Jesus Prayer is a short prayer consisting of saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,  a sinner.” It is said that they used to pray this as they breathed for tens and hundreds of times each day.  


Breath prayer consists of two phrases. As you breathe in, you pray the first phrase. Then, as you breathe out, you pray the second phrase. Since it is hard to do this prayer out loud, we pray in our hearts. For example, if we are using the Jesus Prayer, it will look like this: (while breathing in) Lord Jesus, (while breathing out) have mercy….”


When you are actually praying, you do not pray out loud. In Greek, the word for “breath” is pneuma. Pneuma can also mean “spirit.” The Holy Spirit is also called Pneuma. As we slowly breath( pneuma) and prayer, we can become aware of the Pneuma, who lives within us. We are reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit that lives within us to comfort, encourage, empower and instruct us.   


There are no rules for what kind of phrases can be used in breath prayer. 


Let’s look back to Jesus’ interaction with the blind Bartimaeus in Jericho. Bartimaeus shouted to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Then Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Imagine Jesus gently asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?” What will you ask Jesus for?

“Lord, have mercy on me.”  

“Lord, help me.”

“Lord, be with me.”


Another good way is to choose a short Bible passage and use it for meditation in your prayer.  


For example, you can pray and meditate on the phrase “The Lord is my Shepherd,” as you breathe. 

Take a big breath as you say in your heart, “The Lord is…” Then, slowly breath out saying, “my Shepherd.” 


Or, you may also pray the name of the Lord, Yahweh as you breathe. “Yah,”  “weh.” Again, “Yah,” “weh”.


As you breathe out, try to let out the worries, fears, or frustrations in you, or anything that may be pulling you away from God.  As you breathe in, try to take in God’s love, grace, mercy, and the life of God that sustains you as much as you can.   


I really hope that you will try this breath prayer for yourself.  


To Understand Returnees (8)- When a person feels, “I will come back to this Church.” #2

For the booklet download:  LINK

The previous articles links.


  1. Who Are Returnees?
  2. How can I approach them? –“Are Returnees Space Aliens?” #1
  3. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #2
  4. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #3
  5. How can I approach them? ー”Are Returnees Space Aliens? #4
  6. How can I approach them? ー”Are Returnees Space Aliens? #5
  7. When a person feels, “I will come back to this church” #1


When a person feels, “I will come back to this Church.” #2

Well, we are in Japan!?

We may hear the voice that says, “That being said, sticking to the past events forever and cannot focus on what is in front of a person is not healthy, so would not it be better for the person to have let bygones be bygones?” It could be true. However, experience of living abroad has a powerful influence on that person, and it already became a part of his/her personality. As it is written in Bible, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.“ (Romans 12:15), I think we can help the person to truly “live” the entire life including his/her overseas experience when we accept his/her ideas and feelings, stay there for him/her and treat him/her with the love of Christ.


When “In other countries,” is repeated, I feel that my church and the way as a Christian is denied.

If this makes you feel such a way, I do not know how to apologize to you. Whether the person who talks about churches outside Japan is a returnee who does not know church in Japan or someone who knows both churches to a certain degree like us, he/she never means it. When we say it, it comes from our wish that, “please understand the differences. If you understand them, it helps you to understand and welcome returnees,” meanwhile, for the case of returnees, they may do so because of their simple desire to share their experience, the sense of nostalgia, as an expression of reverse culture shock or the frustration at himself/herself not being able to fit in a Japanese church in front of them. They may pour out, “I wish it were like church outside Japan,” even though they know it is impossible, but they are not denying or hoping it to be changed overnight.


About “culture and good news”: From a worker involved in cross-cultural ministry called overseas Japanese ministry

Now, I think it is necessary to talk about the ideas on “culture and good news,” which is the premise of this work. In our work of overseas Japanese ministry, we always mention that there is the “true nature of good news (permanent)” and “expression in each culture (changed by culture)” to those who became a Christian outside Japan. When my husband and I studies at seminary in the UK and in the US, how we draw a line between these two was the major theme. Learning of Missiology was a big help. In the modern Protestant missionary history, Western missionaries brought in the culture of their homeland as well as good news to the country where they were. Therefore, the study to distinguish permanent things and things that could be changed by culture (things that are OK to be changed) was advanced. Currently, in the area of cross-cultural ministry, encouraging the expression based on each culture is becoming all the more valuable.

Christianity (Protestant) in Western countries is also Christianity that flourished in the culture. Before that time, Christianity was a culture in Near East and Mediterranean Sea regions. How the good news in Judaism culture recorded in the Bible and the good news in gentile culture are different is the basis when we think. Christianity was already introduced in the UK in the 4th century. As time went by, each era had the way of expressing good news. Mistakes that should not happen, such as confrontation against Catholic, religious oppression and bloodshed because of that, were experienced. Modern English church seems to deal with potential issues with the developed knowledge through the long history. It is not completed at all, but I think there are many things we can learn from them as older brothers and sisters with longer experience in Christianity.

150 years have passed since the good news was introduced to Japan through a missionary form the western nation. Although it was popularized and grew in the postwar period it seems to be still in the phase of “how to protect what was introduced.” We have to find answers as Japanese for issues in daily life and the issues of how to live in the environment with pagan religion by learning theology from Japanese perspectives. Western theology provided us the framework. We have to apply it to our reality as Japanese. That should be put into practice by each Japanese Christian. That is what we are thinking when we challenge our work.

The way and/or ideas of each religious community and denomination and the form of service and/or administration policy have historical necessity and a reason for existence. When a change occurs there, that is the time when a person becomes a living stone of the body of Christ and dedicates oneself, one who loves the body of Christ recognizes the needs of change, find way to change, find answers and put it into actions.

Whether the person is a returnee or not, a newcomer must respect and accept what has developed there, and he/she needs to be a living stone himself/herself. If wishing for a change, as a living stone, one must live together with other living stones, brothers and sisters.

Therefore, when we lead returnees, we try to deliver the message of 1 )it is a mistake to seek for a church that is similar to the one the person has experienced before returning to Japan, in other words, to distinguish the expressions brought by the nature of the good news and each culture, and teach him/her to seek for permanent things beyond culture (Bible, God in the Bible, faith to believe that Christ is the savior, and others, 2)we try to teach, “you never lived in Japan as a Christian. Church in Japan teaches it and supports you. Learn deliberately there.” How our Lord will develop churches in Japan? We are praying that He will returnees as a catalyst, but how would He give answer to it? I would like to look forward to it and protect, and sincerely obey with what is given to us as our role.

to be continued….

To Understand Returnees (7)- When a person feels, “I will come back to this Church.” #1

For the booklet download:  LINK

The previous articles links.


  1. Who Are Returnees?
  2. How can I approach them? –“Are Returnees Space Aliens?” #1
  3. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #2
  4. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #3
  5. How can I approach them? ー”Are Returnees Space Aliens? #4
  6. How can I approach them? ー”Are Returnees Space Aliens? #5


When a person feels, “I will come back to this Church.” #1

Returnees continue to gather at church, grow as a member of the church to be combined as an essential part of the body of Christ and receive blessings. Dedicate themselves. Become a pastor ・ missionary ・ worker for the Lord. God is equipping such resources. It is an awesome work of God. Returnees go back to Japan and visit churches. What are the keys for them to feel, “I will go there again” or “I would like to continue to attend there.” Let’s look at the cases of “I stopped going there because of this.”

Case 3: Ms. C (single woman, saved and baptized in the UK and returned to Japan)

It has been a few years since I returned to Japan. I visited several churches, but currently I am staying away from church. I am an introverted person, not good at expressing what is in my heart, and I had a very tough time to get used to live in the UK and it took me a long time. However, when I got used to, I had many people who had become “lifelong mates.” It was painful for me to leave the UK. Still now I take every chance to exchange emails with my friends in the UK. Upon my return, I visited many churches and tried to get used to it. I am sure about my salvation and I also served at the churches I visited. Yet, when I talk about my experience in the UK, which is very important for me, people at church does not show their interest at all. The impression I receive from their responses are,“Even if you say so, that is about there. Focus on what is in front of you. Forget about the UK. It is useless to talk about it.” That makes me think that I am denied and I feel like I cannot be myself, which makes me stay away from fellowship. I think that my current faith life is OK, and this is the only thing I can do.


Accepting differences

Ms. C’s personality of having difficulty in saying what she thinks seems to be one of the reasons that she was not able to come to stay at church. English Christians accepted Ms. C of few words with tolerance. They understood and loved her. However, the brethren in her home country treats her differently (refer to the sentences with dotted underline). They indicate to her with or without words that she cannot be accepted unless she becomes like them. Yet, what would have happened if they treated her with an attitude of, “It is OK for you to miss theUK all the time, you do not have to be the same as us.”? Ms. C would have not felt like she was denied. How can we treat people in such a way?


For accepting differences ~~~Always the case with reverse culture shock…Twitting by returnees lasts 6 months in average.

Not all returnees keep talking about the life outside Japan for a long time like Ms. C, but more or less, every returnee will have a similar tendency. They have reasons to talk about their overseas experience. One of them is that their experience as Christian is only from outside Japan. Another reason is that is a form of reverse culture shock which every returnee goes through.

When people live in a different country ・language ・ culture zone, human being goes through the following 4 steps; (1) “excited: feeling like a tourist,” (2) anger or escape: what are these local people!? Or avoid having contacts with people,” (3) “depression: I cannot be like the people in this country no matter how hard I try,” (4) “Calmness: I can be myself.”

When Japanese go overseas, these are the 4 steps they have to struggle to go through, and eventually they get used to the life of the local area. Then when they return to Japan, they repeat the same process. Yet, that shock tends to be bigger than the one that they experienced when they went abroad because when they go abroad they are prepared to go somewhere with different culture to a certain extent, but when they return to Japan, they are often unguarded. Since they are returning to where they were familiar with, born and raised, they do not feel any worries, yet with that in their mind, when they actually return to Japan, their ideas and values are largely affected by that of the overseas culture and are not like that of their home country, which is shocking to them. In that process, there are some words and attitudes that may be difficult for “standard” Japanese to understand, but they gradually get used to the life in Japan naturally. It is just impossible to go back to how they were before they left Japan, and they settled “himself/herself who has overseas experience.” Even though there is some range for that period depending on a person, usually people calm down in 6 months after going through the following 4 processes; “excited: returned to Japan! I can eat nigirizushi and anything I like whenever I want to eat and as much as I want!,” anger or escape: why does not my friend understand me? (since there are some areas that only people who have overseas experience can understand.),” “depression: I became an “eccentric person.” I cannot fit in the society in Japan.” and “calmness: it is OK even some people think I am strange. I had good experience overseas and live and let live.”

In the process of reverse culture shock, these returnees held back when they are treated like Ms. C, as she was said, “Even if you say so, that is about there. Focus on what is in front of you. Forget about the UK. It is useless to talk about it.” Even if you want to say such things, please bite back and just accept them saying, “Oh, I see. That is great. That is right.” In this way, they can feel, “I am accepted. What I experienced there was still good.” And can stay in the fellowship.

To be continued….



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