It’s been nearly two years now since my husband preached a sermon on “The ACTS of Prayer” and changed my prayer life. It had only been a few months since I had started seriously pursuing the discipline of prayer– journaling my prayers was the key that opened the door for me to a vibrant prayer life. But this simple formula (not original with my husband), became the simple, easy-to remember format for my morning prayer sessions. And it’s fair to say it changed my prayer life.
ACTS is an acronym that stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Adoration is praise and worship; confession is speaking the truth about sin and self before God; thanksgiving is– strangely enough– giving thanks; and supplication is bringing requests to the Lord. In my personal prayer life, I pray for my own needs most often during my time of confession, and my time of supplication is when I pray for others, although the two things do overlap.
This is not a magic formula for prayer. There is no such thing. A “perfect” prayer that flows from a hypocritical spirit is surely less precious to the ears of heaven than a desperate plea for help from a broken and contrite heart. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, and His prayer follows a different pattern, although I believe the same basic elements are present in both. (Kay Arthur’s book about The Lord’s Prayer was hugely instrumental in taking me from a prayer-warrior-wannabe to a prayer-warrior-in-training. I recommend it.) I like this simple pattern because it’s easy to remember and because it puts things into a right perspective for me.
So– for each Tuesday this month, Lord willing, I am going to talk about the ACTS of prayer, letter by letter, and how it looks in my prayer life. Not because I think I have it all down. If you could read my journals (please don’t), you would see that I am a mess and that so many of my prayers are almost incoherent pleas for help. The reason I’m doing this is because I believe that so many people really struggle in this area, and because by the grace and faithfulness of God I have found success and spiritual victory through seeking God daily in prayer.
As you consider your own prayer life, don’t fall into the trap of thinking yours should look exactly like mine. I am different than you are. Writing prayers works for me, but it might not work for you. That’s okay. What’s important is that you seek God daily and ask Him to meet you in your times of prayer. He will. And if there’s one thing that will change you, it’s meeting God every day.
Adoration is praise and worship, and I struggled a lot with this when I first started praying daily. Praise is different from thanksgiving, although they are related. I think of praise as being about who God is and thanksgiving as being about what He has done for me specifically. When I first started praying I had a really hard time knowing what to say beyond “I praise You Lord.” And so I turned to the book of Psalms, which is basically a whole book of biblical prayers of praise. I started by basically going through the Psalms line by line and praising God for what I saw there. For example (from Psalm 4)–
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! I praise You, Lord, for You are my righteousness.
You have given me relief when I was in distress. I praise You for giving me relief in my distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! I praise You, for You are gracious and hear my prayer.
2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? I praise You, Lord, for you will not allow my honor to be turned into shame.
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah I praise You, Father, for though men love vain words and lies, You are the God of truth.
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; I praise You for setting me apart as godly– not because of my righteous works, but because of the blood of Jesus.
the Lord hears when I call to him. I praise You, my God, for I know You hear me when I call to You.
Sometimes I skip a Psalm because it is talking about God’s vengeance on David’s enemies and I don’t feel like I have the right to pray about that the same way that David did as God’s anointed king over Israel. Sometimes I have to look words up. Sometimes I spend several days on one Psalm. Some days something strikes me and I end up with a huge long paragraph of praise. Often I am reminded of other verses I have learned and I incorporate them into my prayers of praise. My real prayers are more emotional, usually, than what I typed above.
I have found that adoring God through the Psalms has widened my perspective of God and opened my eyes to His glories. I started just naming attributes and praising God– awkwardly– for them, but over the months it has changed and evolved into something far more personal and beautiful than that. My first words to God each day are words of praise for His glory, His power, His beauty, His holiness, His work in the universe and in history and in salvation and in the hearts of man. I think of these words each day as my offering of praise to Him– the firstfruits of my words for the day.
Never underestimate the power of praising God using His Word as your starting point. The more times you write out (or say out loud, or sing) “God, You are my refuge. You hold me in Your arms and protect me like a shield. I can have full confidence in Your protection, because You are the God who made all the universe and holds it all in place,” the more your heart opens up to being changed by this amazing God. Speaking the truth of Scriptures to God burns that truth into your heart and mind as well, and God’s truth changes us.
We are so small, so frail and desperate. We must be reminded regularly of our insignificance before the overwhelming greatness of God, so that we approach Him with humility and with perspective. Do you really think that God– who created all the universe and holds it all together, who brought His people Israel through the Red Sea and through the wilderness, who formed you in your mother’s womb as a master artist– does not care about you and isn’t capable of guarding and guiding your life? My experience tells me that a right view of God leads to a right view of myself and of His tender care for me. It allows me to have faith when everything seems to be falling apart and my heart would otherwise despair.
If you feel like your prayer life needs a little juice, or you don’t have a prayer life at all and know it’s time to start, might I humbly suggest that you start with adoration? Begin in Psalm 1 and just praise God for who He is and what He does. If you don’t understand something, just keep going. Or stop and look it up! Either way you will be blessed. I am nearly to the end of Psalms on my third trip from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150. It takes me about six months to get through them. I am thinking of going to some of the other passages in Scripture that are basically just prayers of praise to God. We have so many reasons to praise and worship our holy Lord!
Don’t be shy before God– He already knows your heart. Praise Him for who He is, for “It is good to sing praise to the Lord.”
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Hallelujah!