Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Thinking analytically about ACTS prayer

Friday July 10 2015

Thinking analytically about ACTS prayer

I became a committed Christian at 19, and soon after that I started hearing about ACTS prayer. This pattern for prayer was recommended by many of my mentors as a good idea for both individual prayer and group prayer. The acronym stands for:
     Adoration
     Confession
     Thanksgiving
     Supplication (prayers where we ask for something)

The idea was that we always should start our prayers with praise and adoration, because we are entering into the presence of a holy and mighty God. Entering into the presence of a holy God will make us aware of our own sin, so confession should come next. When we confess our sins, we are thankful God forgives us, so thankfulness would logically follow. Only after these three steps should we offer prayers about our concerns.

One question immediately arose for me: What exactly is the difference between adoration and thanksgiving? I was told that praise and adoration relate to who God is and thankfulness relates to what God does.

Over the years I’ve pondered that distinction. Sure, a statement like this is obviously praise: “I praise you for your holiness.” And a statement like this is obviously thankfulness: “Thank you that we have food on the table today.” But what about: “I praise you (or thank you) for your forgiveness in Christ.” That has aspects of praise because God is a forgiving God. It has aspects of what God has done, because our forgiveness comes through Christ’s death and resurrection.

I decided that a lot of prayer has aspects of both praise and thankfulness, and that’s okay. I don’t need to nitpick about those two categories.

I’ve used ACTS to analyze the pattern of prayer in many different settings. I observe that Christians engage in a lot of praise through music: singing in worship services and through singing or listening to Christian music in the car, while doing tasks like washing dishes, etc. I observe that we engage in a lot of supplication. We ask God for things in corporate prayers at church, in prayer times in small groups and committees, and on our own. “Help me, God” prayers come pretty easily to most people. And “help my friend (or family member or work mate)” comes pretty easily to our lips as well.

In my childhood, every single worship service had a prayer of confession. The same was true in my early adult life. I worry that fewer congregations today use prayers of confession during worship. In order to confess our sins privately, I think we need public models for confession.

And I think thankfulness needs some careful pondering. We do well at the kind of thankfulness prayers that overlap with praise because these ideas are common in hymns and praise songs. In our singing we thank/praise God for saving us, redeeming us, freeing us, giving us a purpose, etc. But I think we do less well with thankfulness for daily blessings. Maybe some people still say grace, which involves thanking God for the food on the table and perhaps also for the people with whom we eat that food. But what about thanking God for our homes, our cars, our jobs, our bank accounts, our family and friends, our computers and phones? What about thanking God for the beauty of a child’s smile, a tree, a flower or a cloud?

Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, has motivated many people to write daily lists of things they’re thankful for. My friend Kimberlee Conway Ireton has blogged quite a bit about her thankfulness list. (Here’s a fabulous post by Kimberlee on gratitude.) My husband and I have a twenty-year spiritual practice. Every time we pray together (these days it’s on Monday mornings), we start with thankfulness. Sometimes we pray thankfulness prayers for 20 minutes before we move on to other aspects of prayer. (I wrote about our thankfulness practice here.)

ACTS has shaped helped me pray in a balanced way many times. But are ACTS prayers enough? Is something missing? Next week: evaluating ACTS against the Psalms, often called “the prayer book of the Bible.”

 

Other posts on prayer:

Celtic Christianity: Wholistic prayer
Two options for what to do when the news overwhelms you
Breath Prayer
The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices

The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices, part 2
Psalm for 2014

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