". . ., but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26

I invite you to explore and reflect on the ways that we become more aware of how we can interact with God. I will discuss ways that we can become more sensitive and aware of God's presence in our daily life.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Are you like Jonah?

Last week I led a short Bible study for a women's group using the book of Jonah for a discussion on prayer. Quite a few people, the sailors and the people of Ninevh, end up praying to God and commit to changing their behavior in response to God's mercy and love.

The only person who does not do this is Jonah. He prays and talks to God, but he is too stubborn to really see and accept God's grace for himself.

At the end of the story (4:2) we find out that Jonah fled from the task God gave him because he was afraid that Nineveh would repent and that God would forgive them and spare them. He fails to see that God continued to pursue him because God also wanted to forgive Jonah.

The story could have ended in the first chapter when Jonah was thrown overboard. The disobedient prophet should have drowned. End of story. The sailors now prayed and made vows to Jonah's God, so even his disobedience brought a few people to faith.

But, God was not finished with Jonah. A fish swallowed Jonah, which saved his life. After 3 days and 3 nights in the fish, Jonah prayed to God. He was so stubborn that he avoided talking to God for 3 entire days, while in the belly of a fish! He did not talk to God before then because he did not want to hear what God had to say.

In response to Jonah's prayer, God had the fish spit him out on the beach. Jonah went to Nineveh. He told them about God's judgment. The people repented. God forgave them. Jonah got mad.

He did not want God to forgive them. He sat on a hill to watch the city, hoping that they would do something to make God destroy them. God did not leave him to sulk. God continued to reach out to Jonah.

The story does not really end. The Stubborn Prophet continues to wait and talk to God. God continues to talk to Jonah. God does not give up on Jonah. God is on the hill with him as the story ends.

Have you ever been this stubborn? Without God's mercy and love for Jonah--it would have been a very short book. Jonah argued; Jonah disobeyed; Jonah begrudgingly did what God asked him to do; Jonah got mad when God forgave.

Yet, when the story ends, God still cares for Jonah. God is still reaching out to him with love.

Even when we may not want to pray because we do not want to hear what God has to say to us--God will continue to reach out to us. Remember Jonah. Remember God's love for you. Pray and talk to God today.

I welcome comments at WordsandSigh@blogspot.com

Pastor Michael

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How important is prayer in your life?

We live in a world with many demands upon our time. There never seems to be enough time for many of us to do the important things that we need to do. What happens to our personal time for prayer? Does our time in prayer with God shrink as demands on our time grows?

One way to deal with time demands is to make prayer and time for prayer important. As you fill out your daily, weekly, and monthly schedules and appointments list the times each day that you want to spend in prayer. Fill them in with ink if you still use a paper calendar. Enter the times in your electronic helpers.

This can be an important reminder of how important prayer is to your daily life. You are more likely to follow through if you list time for prayer in your daily schedule.

Martin Luther made a very interesting statement about prayer that may help each one of us keep it in perspective: "When I start each day, therefore, I make it a point to spend an hour in prayer with God. But if I have a particularly busy day, and am more rushed than usual, I make it a point to spend two hours with God before I start the day."

Luther understood the importance of prayer. This statement shows how seriously he took his time in prayer with God. When life became more hectic and busy he realized that he needed to spend more time in prayer, not less.

I have discovered that I am not like Luther. I would not be successful if I tried to begin each day with an hour of prayer, much less two hours. I have been successful when I schedule prayer times throughout the day in ten minute segments.

Each time of prayer has a specific focus: family, congregation members, prayer list from church, specific ministries, etc. I have also found many opportunities for time in prayer when I looked for them. If I am visiting people or attending meetings, I take time to pray after I park the car. While waiting for a dental appointment, I prayed instead of looking at old magazines. Even waiting at the post office to purchase stamps or mail a package can be a time to spend in prayer.

A key step to being successful, is to claim the importance of prayer in your life and then act. Schedule it! Look for opportunities to pray!

Talk to God as often as you can.

I welcome comments at WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Pastor Michael

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Answers to Prayer

Once in a great while someone will approach me and ask me: "Why did God not answer my prayers?".

My first answer is that God did answer your prayers. Perhaps God said, "No!" or "Not Now!". We do not like to think about the times that God may say "No.". But what if God is saying, "Not yet." or "Wait a little longer."? How can we tell the difference?

I found one answer to this difficulty when I read an article in a Lutheran Women's magazine about five years ago that addressed this problem. A woman of mature faith was struggling because she felt that God did not always answer her prayers. She decided to keep a notebook where she would write down her prayer requests and then she would write down the date when her prayer was answered.

After a short time of doing this, she realized that God was constantly answering her prayers. She realized that most of the time she was not looking for God's response to her prayers, so she did not see them. Once she started intentionally looking for God's answers to her prayers--she became surprised at God's creativity and faithfulness in answering her.

This observation has transformed her prayer life. Instead of complaining about a lack of answers, she celebrates all the prayers that God has responded to. She still keeps her notebook of prayer requests and answers. It is now primarily a list of all of the prayers that God has answered!

She was also embarrassed to notice that God even answered prayers that she had forgotten about. God was more faithful to her prayer life than she was.

Try this exercise for two weeks. Keep a list of your prayer requests and write down when those prayers are answered. You will be surprised at how many answers you see once you start to look for them.

Pray and then look to see how God answers you.

I welcome comments at WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Pastor Michael

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Paying Attention

I have a great deal of difficulty paying attention to what God might be trying to tell me or to show me. I tend to forget who is supposed to be in charge of my life. I think that I am the one who makes all of the decisions and I do not leave any place where God can get my attention. I also become irritated when traffic and other things interfere with my time frame of getting things done.

The first time that I began to learn this lesson was on an Ash Wednesday. I serve two congregations. I had a morning chapel service for the children in the day care at one church and a late morning Ash Wednesday service at the other church. I had 15 minutes to make the 5 minute drive between churches.

Just before I left the first church, I received a call that Robert, a member, was dieing. I called the second church to let them know that I would be a little late and drove as quickly as I could to the hospital.

I was in an extreme hurry. But, I seemed to hit every light just as it was turning red. Each light seemed to take forever to turn green. I was getting very upset and became angry with the lights. By the fourth light, it suddenly occured to me that I was not being a very good pastor. What was I going to be like for Robert's family when I finally arrived at the hospital? They did not need an angry pastor who was upset about traffic lights.

I still kept getting stopped by every red light but I decided to use my time in a better way. I began to use each red light as a time to pray for Robert and his family. I did not hit a single green light on my way to the hospital. I was given ample time to pray.

As I walked through the parking lot it occured to me that God was trying to teach me something about the passage of time and how there is always time for prayer. When I finally entered Robert's hospital room, his daughter-in-law exclaimed, "Pastor Michael! How did you get here so fast?" (I realized that God wanted to make certain that I got the message.)

I now look at red traffic lights and congested roads as a way that God may use to give me opportunities for prayer. I think about people I will interact with and pray for them. I also use this time to remind myself that I do not work alone, God is with me.

I have no doubt that my blood pressure is quite a bit lower now whenever I am stuck in traffic and I spend time in prayer. It is not an interruption or delay---it is an opportunity for me to spend time in prayer.

What is God trying to tell you?

I welcome comments WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Talk to God today.
Pastor Michael

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Important Things

What are the important things that you pray about or pray for? Most of us probably have a rather short list of topics that we regularly pray about.

I want to suggest that our list is too short. There are many important events and issues in our life that would be enhanced by prayer.

First, it is important to remember that God is an active part of our lives and can help us in any situation. When we pray about something, we are remembering that we do not face life all alone. God is present to help us. We can receive the strength and will to face challenges with God's help.

Second, when we take time to pray about something, we are reminding ourselves what we consider to be important in our own life. Prayer is always a conversation with God. When we pray, however, we are also talking to ourselves about what is important. This kind of reminder can also help us keep our focus.

In our new Youth Group at my two churches we have decided to make prayer a part of every activity. When we put together health kits for Lutheran World Relief, we prayed for the people who would receive them and we gave thanks that we were so blessed that we could share with others. When we have a social, fun activity, we pray and thank God for our friends and the joy of fellowship. Before a nature hike, we thank God for creation and ask God to help us be better caretakers of the earth.

In each of these ways we reminds ourselves and teach our young people how God is a part of all aspects of our lives. We remember to not just be aware of God's presence when we are in church, but in every aspect of our lives.

Adults who model this kind of behavior and spiritual practice with children are teaching them how to handle the daily challenges of life. Adults who model this kind of prayer life are also reminding themselves that they do not face parenting on their own but have God to help them.

What are the daily events in your life that you could be praying for?

I welcome comments at wordsandsighs@gmail.com

Talk to God today.
Pastor Michael

Monday, April 26, 2010

Praying the Psalms

One of the greatest resources that we have in our life of prayer is the book of Psalms. The Psalms are the hymns and the prayers of the early community of faith. They were used in corporate worship and by individuals during personal time of prayer.

A good prayer exercise is to incorporate the Psalms into your individual prayer life. To successfully do this, you must first get to know the Psalms. Take the next 6 to 8 weeks and use one of your prayer times to read several of the Psalms. Read them out loud.

Take a few minutes to write down the ones that you like or that speak to you or for you. Write down any that you may want to remember as a resource. This could be a Psalm for giving thanks or it might be a Psalm of lament, that might help you one day.

Pay attention to the brief titles or descriptions that some of the Psalms have. Some of these mention instructions to the choir director or a melody that the Psalm was sung to. Unfortunately, none of the music has survived.

Others reveal that a Psalm was written at a particularly difficult time in someone's life. Psalm 51 was written by David after Nathan the prophet confronted him about his sins in seducing Bathsheba and killing her husband. (You might want to read 2 Samuel 11:1 to 12:14 and then re-read Psalm 51)

You may discover the riches of the Psalms and how they may enhance your life of prayer. The Psalms are one of the best resources to imspire us and help us to grow in prayer.

I welcome comments WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Read a Psalm today.

Pastor Michael

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Prayer is a conversation with God. Unfortunately, we usually do all of the talking and do not give God a chance to respond. (It cannot be a conversation unless both parties talk and listen.) God does respond and answer us, but we are usually too busy talking to pay any attention to God's response.

I suggest that you plan a time to intentionally listen to God. Write it down like your other prayer times. Begin your time by relaxing with the Jesus Prayer. (See Post for April 10.) Then sit quietly, close your eyes, and listen. Some people unclasp their hands and lay them palm up on their lap or on the table to signify their openness to God.

Breathe slowly and evenly. Remind yourself that you are open to hearing from God. Feel God's love and presence with you.

This will take some practice. Do not give up!

After a few minutes thank God for being with you. Take a moment to write down any feelings that you have. Practice this every day for at least two weeks.

You may even want to talk to God during one of your other times and ask God to help you to be a better listener. Have patience with yourself. Pay attention to the feelings that you have during your time of listening.

During the week you may want to read the story of Elijah in I Kings 19:9-13. He was waiting to hear from God and heard God in "a still small voice." You may want to meditate on a verse such as Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God."

Make time to listen to God today.

I welcome comments WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Pastor Michael

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

When I Cannot Pray

There are times in each person's life when it become difficult to pray. Words just do not come. It never feels like it is the right time or the right place. You may feel very awkward and think that no one is listening.

This is a natural part of prayer life. I have a few suggestions of things to do when this happens. (Notice that I did not say if it happens, but when it happens.)

Step 1 - Discernment
Are you really having a crisis of faith or are you just exhausted from a hectic schedule and lack of sleep?
Is there some strong feeling that is overcoming everything else: sadness, joy, anger, guilt, envy, greed, . . .?
Is there something that you do not want to be honest about with God?

Step 2 - Talk
Do not try to pray--just talk.
Talk to God about your inability to pray. Talk to God about what is bothering you. Do not fold your hands or close your eyes. Just have a brief conversation with God.

Step 3 - Be Gentle
This is not a time to feel guilty or to be mad at yourself. Do not focus on the frustration. Do not question your faith. If you focus on yourself and your inner turmoil, you will not leave space for God to be present.
This is easy for me to say, but I know that it will not be easy to do. Jane Redmont has written of a difficult time in her life when:
"There was a year, ...when I simply could not pray.
I remember this time as dry and somewhat sad, empty.
There was simply nothing. As I look back, I see that
this period was one of the most significant in my
prayer life, because I was truly carried by the prayer
of others, by the prayer of the community of faith to
which I belonged. ... I put myself inside the prayer
of the church. It cradled me. I moved me along.
It held me up."
When in Doubt, Sing, page 122.

Step 4 - Fidelity
Try to pray anyway. Do not worry about what to say. Try to be faithful. Use the familiar: prayers from your childhood, favorite hymns, familiar Psalms, the Lord's Prayer. Reading one of these aloud may help you.

Step 5 - Change
Try something different. Go to a different place to pray. If you always use words, then sit in silence. If you sit in silence, read from the Psalms. Sing your prayers. Change your prayer posture. You may notice an immediate change or it make take a week or more.

The above are suggestions. I do not imply that you follow all 5 steps and everything will be fixed. You may need to try all five or just one.

The difficulties with prayer, the emptiness, may be necessary as a part of your spiritual development. As a field may need to lay fallow before a new crop is planted, your prayer life may need a time of emptiness and rest.

God is always with you even if you may be unable to see or feel God's presence.

I welcome your comments Wordsandsighs.gmail.com

Talk to God anyway.

Pastor Michael

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Too Small to Pray For?

One of the biggest excuses that I hear sometimes from people is that they only pray when they are concerned about important things. "I do not want to bother God with small things." We may prefer to wait for something really important before we talk to God because we may think that if we do not ask too often, God will more likely grant our requests. God does not work that way.

We may even try to excuse this behavior as a way of not bothering God when some things are just not that significant. "God is so busy with the entire universe. My problem isn't that important."

I once had a parishioner show up at my office. She was very upset because a friend of hers told her that she was bothering God with all the little and insignificant things that she was praying about. She was concerned that she was selfish and taking up God's valuable time.

My answer to the above excuses and this kind of criticism is to ask people to read Matthew 10:20-31. Jesus is talking about how God knows if even one sparrow falls to the ground. He also mentions, "..., but even the hairs of your head are all numbered." To me, this does not sound like a God who gets bothered with prayers about small things.

Maybe if you prayed more often about even the small things, you might feel closer to God. Do not save God for a last resort when everything else fails. Pray to God about your concerns every day. If anything is a concern or important to you, it is important to God.

Maybe if you talked to God about the small things every day, it might be easier to talk to God when something serious happens.

Praying is not just a conversation with God--it is also an important part of our relationship with God. Can you have a close relationship with someone that you rarely talk to?

I welcome your comments WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Talk to God today.

Pastor Michael

Monday, April 12, 2010


Sometimes it may be difficult to begin praying to God. You may find that the words do not come or that you are not certain what words to use. You may feel that you need to talk to God in the way that we talk to God during prayers in a worship service.

Do not worry. One of the best things that I have found is to think about prayer as having a conversation with God. You can talk to God the same way that you talk to any one of your friends. I am sure that God even understands text-speak!

Prayer does not need to be conducted in formal church language. As Paul mentions in his letter to the Romans, sometimes we may not be able to express ourselves with words. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit will help us communicate to God with our sighs. (Romans 8:26) With that kind of help we do not need to worry about the words that we use.

I have found it helpful to make a list of people and things that I want to talk to God about. I add to it during the day and look at it before my time of prayer. I do not hesitate to look at my list while I am praying to God. This means that I do not worry about forgetting anything and I can be more relaxed during my time of prayer.

It is also helpful to remember that God is God. I sometimes have problems with names. If a name slips my mind, I do not need to worry because God knows who I want to pray about. God listens and responds to a situation even if I slip up with a name.

The important step is to have the conversation with God in the first place.

I welcome comments WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Take the time and talk to God.

Pastor Michael

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Jesus Prayer

It is helpful to prepare for a time of prayer. After going to your chosen place and sitting or kneeling, I have found it helpful to clear my mind before I begin to pray.

I was introduced to The Jesus Prayer at a pastor's meeting about 15 years ago. It is a short phrase that you think to yourself while you slowly breathe.

Lord Jesus Christ, (While breathing in.)
Lamb of God (While breathing out.)
Have mercy on me, (While breathing in.)
A sinner. (While breathing out.)

Repeat this prayer several times as you breathe. After 5 to 7 times begin your time of prayer.

The first time I taught The Jesus Prayer was during a sermon about our prayer and devotional life. We practiced as a congregation. It seemed as if everyone was breathing in unison.

About a year-and-a-half later I over heard two women talking about when they prayed this prayer. I was thrilled that someone remembered and practiced something from a sermon that long ago.

I had mentioned that some people would spend an entire time of prayer thinking The Jesus Prayer and breathing. Both women had tried praying this prayer when they could not sleep at night. They discovered that it helped them to relax and fall asleep.

The Jesus Prayer can help you slow down and relax so that you can focus on your conversation with God. It can also be a way to reassure yourself of God's presence in your life. Like all good habits it takes practice.

I welcome your comments, WordsandSighs@gamil.com

Talk to God today.

Pastor Michael

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Increasing Time for Prayer

Once I had settled on a better place to pray, I discovered that it was difficult to increase my time of prayer. My goal was to spend 30 minutes in prayer each day.

This goal was quickly frustrated. I was trying to pray for 30 minutes once a day. I found that my mind sometimes wondered,

Who could that be on the phone?
Did I hear someone at the door?
Who was I going to see today?

I would look at my watch and realize that I could not remember what I had last prayed about. Thirty minutes of prayer time seemed to be an unreasonable goal.

I decided to pray for a shorter period of time, but at multiple times a day. I would try 5 minutes of prayer at 6 different times a day. I used a small notebook to write down the 6 times. When some of these times did not work--I tore out the page and wrote a new schedule. Eventually, I began to keep this schedule in my daily work calendar.

I also chose specific themes for each prayer time: Family, Work, Thanksgiving, Personal Concerns, Members of My Congregations, and Community Concerns. You may choose your own themes. I change mine about once a month.

This type of schedule can make each time of prayer fresh and unique. I also use my small notebook to jot down people and concerns for each theme. This also serves to remind me about my prayer concerns and helps me to focus in each area.

You will need to develop your own personal pattern. Three times a day for 10 minutes may work best for you. You may need to try several patterns to find which one suits you. My notebook is a small spiral that can fit in a shirt pocket or in the car drink holder. When a schedule does not work, you just tear it out and try another one. This helps keep your focus on the current pattern and not on the ones that did not work.

I welcome your comments. WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Talk to God today.

Pastor Michael

Finding a Place

All of us have very good intentions about growing in our daily life of prayer. It takes time and effort to develop good prayer habits. We may find that this can be a frustrating process.

Several years ago, I decided to begin each work day with prayer and to increase the time that I spent praying each day. I would go into my church office, sit at my desk, and talk to God.

Unless,... the answering machine was blinking. It might be a new prayer request. Or, ... I might stop to turn on the computer so it could be ready by the time my prayer time was over. Or,... there was a letter I was waiting for on my desk. Or,... you can figure out where this is going.

Some days it would be 10 am and I would realize that I had not yet had my first time of prayer. I would be disappointed and angry at myself for not keeping my promise to pray. This would not be a good attitude to have, so,... I would delay my prayers until I had calmed down. (Repeat,...)

I decided that I needed to change my choice of place for prayer to begin my work day. I chose to turn away from my office and enter the sanctuary. This was a better place to pray at the start of each work day. A parishioner of mine confessed that she tried to pray each day when she arrived at work. She was frustrated because someone always interrupted her. She decided to stay in her car for a time of prayer after she arrived at work, before she entered the building.

You may have to change some of the places where you pray.

I welcome your questions. WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Find a place where you can talk to God.

Pastor Michael

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Welcome! I am going to use this site to discuss having an active life of prayer. We know that prayer is a conversation with God, but we sometimes get tongue-tied and do not know how to start or how to continue praying and talking to God.

Praying is talking to God. But, we live in a world where we carry on too many conversations at one time. We eat and talk with friends while we talk and text on a phone or computer while watching the latest news updates. How do we fit our conversation with God into this picture?

The first step is to pay attention. Praying is not a part of multi-tasking. God will give us God's full attention--we need to do the same. Pick a time and a quiet place to talk with God. Allow 5 minutes. This could be in a room in your home, your car in the garage or parking lot, pick a place where you will not be interrupted.

Talk with God. Tell God what you are concerned about. Ask God to watch over friends and loved ones that you are concerned about. Thank God for the day, for your life, for the spring flowers.

Let this time become a new habit. I will discuss specific ways that we can do this. I will also discuss scripture that can lead us an give us direction in prayer. I will make suggestions as to how we can build up our prayer muscles.

I welcome your questions. WordsandSighs@gmail.com

Take time to talk to God.

Pastor Michael