Prayer. For many, the word prayer is practically equivalent to ask for something, plead, request, petition, supplicate, etc. But in this post I would like to give a more global definition of prayer. A number of years ago I heard someone talk about using the acronym ACTS to guide us in praying. I have found through my intensive Bible studies via translating the Scripture into Mixtec that this is a way which is very much in line with what the Bible teaches about prayer.
The acronym ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Perhaps you have heard the comment, “Why pray at all if God is in control?” The problem with this and other similar objections to prayer is that they focus only on the “supplication” aspect of it. God is worthy of our adoration all the time. We need to continually confess our sins, and be thankful in all things, even if we don’t have a long lists of requests. God commands us to pray and Jesus teaches how to pray and leads by example by praying a lot during His time on earth. It is a privilege to stand before the throne of the Almighty, all-powerful God of the Universe and know that He is paying attention to us. Since He is all-knowing and wise, He may say yes, no or wait to our humble requests.
In fact the one who benefits the most from prayer is us, as Philippians 4:6-7 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Let’s take a closer look at these four parts of prayer.
Adoration: To pray, we need to continually keep in mind Who we are praying to. He is the God who is in control, who is over all, and we need to recognize and acknowledge that. He is worthy of all praise and honor. We need to remember who is the Lord and who is the servant. I find it unbiblical when I hear people praying as if they are giving orders to God. “Heal this man now!!!” “Give me this and that thing!!! Our role is to bow humbly before our God and, when we have a request, to present it to Him, knowing He knows better than we do. We can rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus, but when it comes to talking to God, let us come as servants, not as one either ordering Him what to do or coming before him like He is Santa Claus and we are just there to ask, and ask and ask.
Revelation 4:11 declares why God is worthy: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Since this is true, He is always worthy of our adoration, no matter the circumstances.
Praying the Psalms is good too. Psalms is full of praise.
Another way people of the Bible exalt God in prayer is remembering all the great things He has done in the past, His faithfulness, and so He can be trusted to do something special now. Psalms 105, 106, 136, Neh. 9:6ff, Acts 7, Acts 13:16ff, to name just a few, are all classic examples of God’s people remembering the absolute faithfulness of God in the past. So as you come to God to pray, or are facing a difficult situation, take time first to remember all the ways He has helped you in the past.
Confession. Jesus said that if you are about to offer a sacrifice to God, and remember that you have an unresolved conflict with someone, go and seek reconciliation before going before God. I think we all know that it is hard to have a good relationship with someone if there is that elephant in the room of an unresolved issue. We need to clean the slate before God as we come before Him so we can have that open whole-hearted communication with Him. And when we sin, it is best to confess it as soon as we are aware of it. It is like getting a speck of dirt in our eye. Do we say to ourselves, “This really bothers me, but I think I’ll wait until tonight or tomorrow to try and remove it”? No, we start rubbing our eye or putting water it in right then. Many times it is easy to justify ourselves or rationalize things we have done, but we need to realize that we are coming before a holy God, and nothing with sin can enter into His presence. 1 John 1:8-2:1 states it well: If we say we have no sin, His truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. But if we do sin, we have an advocate before the Father, Jesus. So there is really no reason not to confess our sins before God. It is not like we can hide anything from Him. David tried to hide his sin for a while, but then finally expresses his deep repentance in Psalm 51. Romans 3 proclaims no one is good and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Thanksgiving: It seems the anti-thesis of gratitude is pride. I did it. But thanksgiving acknowledges that God did it. Sometimes He does things using me, but in the end He did it. Everything comes from God. Our health, our very breath to accomplish anything. Any money we have comes because He provided a job, strength to do it, provision to finish our studies, etc. We can be thanking Him for His great salvation, Hs mercy, His protection, His Word, and the list goes on and on. One thing I learned, for example, was that it was good to thank Him when I get safely to a destination, and not to think, I got here fine since I’m such a great driver. I have a mechanic friend who has told me that on a number of occasions a car has come in that he thought he could fix in just a few minutes, but after a few hours of frustration finally asked God to help him, and he was able to fix it in the next few minutes. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Some good thanksgiving passages are: 1 Thes. 5:16-18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 3:7, Psalms 7:17 and 100:4.
Supplication: I won’t say much about this one, since this is the most talked about aspect of prayer. I do remind you of what I mentioned above under adoration. He is Lord and we are the servants. We ask him, then let Him do as He wills. I think the best Scripture to guide us in this part of prayer is to model what Jesus said in Matthew 26:39: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Not my will, but Yours. May that be our attitude as we go before God with the needs on our hearts. Another great verse to remember when we are going through trying times and come before God, after we adore Him, acknowledging His power, confess and get things right with Him, and we thank him for His care, we can remember Romans 8:26-27: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
So to end with, there are a lot of things I could say about prayer, but I hope this simple ACTS formula can help you better understand some of the more important aspects of it, and to dispel the too common myth that prayer is almost synonymous with asking.