Several different periods in my life, I have followed the ACTS prayer formula — Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Recently during a Bible study on prayer, I had some new thoughts about this formula for praying.
See, I’ve also been told over the years that we should always start our prayers by confession. That a holy God cannot hear us or look upon us until we have asked Him to cleanse us. Well, that always made sense, but it goes against the ACTS prayer model. So, in this Bible study, a lightbulb went off in my mind.
When I start my prayers with Confession, I tend to give a laundry list of my sins. Father, please forgive me for yelling at my kids when they wouldn’t stay in bed last night. Please forgive me for thinking hateful thoughts about so-and-so. Please forgive me for being sarcastic with my husband. Please forgive me for calling that driver an idiot. And on and on. I suppose that’s an OK way to start. And I certainly need God to forgive me for those sins, those sinful actions. But I think that I often addressed only my sinful actions, and not my sinfulNESS. Does that make sense?
The problem isn’t really sarcasm with my husband; the problem is that I think I know it all. The problem is I am not humble; I’m prideful. The problem isn’t that I yelled at my children for getting out of bed; the problem is that I’m selfish. That I want them to stay in bed because it’s easier for me, because I want to watch Survivor without interruption. And when I’m listing down my sinful actions and asking for forgiveness, I think I often miss the point.
But lately, I’ve been keeping a prayer journal, writing down my prayers. And I’m following the ACTS model of prayer. I start with Adoration. Because I don’t want to say the same things every day, I’ve been choosing a Psalm and I’m writing down qualities of God I see in that Psalm for which I can express adoration.
A few days ago, I read Psalm 4. As I read, “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness,” I wrote down, “You hear me when I call.” And I spent a moment quietly praising God for listening. Then I wrote down, “You are righteous.” And I spent a moment thinking about how right and perfect He is and praising Him for that. Then I read, “You have relieved me in my distress.” And I wrote down, “You are my relief when I am distressed.” Then I spent a moment or two recalling times when my Father has been my relief and my soul lifted praises to Him for that. And on I went through the entire Psalm.
Then I began the Confession part of the prayer. And this time, instead of writing down a laundry list of my sinful actions, I decided to compare myself to the Adoration list, point-by-point. So I wrote, “I don’t listen to You as well as I should.” And I thought about that a moment. God always hears me when I call, but I often miss His still, small voice because I’m not listening. And I felt remorse for not listening to Him, and I soberly sought forgiveness for that flaw in my character because no matter how much I try, I will never hear God like He hears me. Then I wrote, “I am not righteous without You.” No matter how good I am, I’m not righteous. Not a bit. I confessed that to God, my imperfection in light of His perfection. And on I went, comparing myself to Him and confessing how I do not measure up. Confessing how, in light of this comparison, it is obvious to me once again how much I need Him.
This sort of confession leads me right into Thanksgiving. Because I see afresh how I cannot even compare to Christ, because I see once again my great need for Him, because I see how undeserving I am of His mercy and grace, I am thankful for His many blessings poured out freely — not because of me, but because of His loving and merciful nature. And I then pray with a truly thankful heart.
Finally, I move into supplication. But because of the time I spent praising God for His character, adoring His nature that is so different than mine, and because of the time I have spent acknowledging how lacking I am without Him, and because of the time I have spent being truly thankful for His blessings and provisions, I ask differently than I would had I rushed in with my list of things I want. Now, I want Him most of all. I want His will. I still ask for my headache to go away, but I also ask that I would not allow the headache to make me hateful and grumpy, that I would be filled with Him so much that a headache can’t undo it all. I ask for others, for their needs, and for God to be glorified in their lives as well. And I ask for my Father to help me be content with Him Alone.
I don’t know who came up with this model for prayer, but it’s really quite brilliant. When I start thinking of Who God is, it totally changes my heart and as I pale in comparison, I am led to confess not only my list of sins but my total sinfulness, my inadequacy in all ways. Then as I think of God’s mercy in spite of my wretchedness, I am humbly thankful. And after I think of His blessings and kindnesses, I ask differently. I see anew that all I really need is Him, His Spirit filling me and changing me, increasing within me as my own nature decreases.