It’s a small word, but it packs a powerful punch. Almost immediately upon hearing the phrase, “Today we’re going to talk about prayer,” most people experience an emotional reaction. For many, it’s a reaction similar to the reaction they have when someone says they are going to talk about diet and exercise.
“Yes, I know I’m supposed to do it. Yes, I know it’s good for me….Here we go with the guilt trip, again.”
Before you read one more word of this article, let me assure you that this is NOT the direction we are going to take. Trust me, after 30+ years of hearing emotion-driven sermons about how “God is just waiting to hear from you” or guilt-driven messages of “Someone’s life could have been totally different if you’d have just prayed for them”, I have no interest in writing from that perspective.
Instead, this article will focus on helping people who want to pray develop the discipline of prayer in their lives. Why am I going from this perspective? Because that’s the point of view from which Jesus approached prayer. He didn’t tell people, “You need to pray for this long, this often, in this place, and you need to enjoy it!” Instead, He demonstrated that prayer is the avenue to having an intimate relationship with the Heavenly Father. After His example of a personal prayer life wet the disciple’s appetites for relationship, He taught them how to pray.
Luke 11:1, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray,”
Honestly, I believe that this is where a lot of Christians get off track. They know they should pray. They want to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Then they go to their private place to spend time with God, find an uncomfortable position, and then wonder, “Now what?”
Do I just recite my list of needs?
Do I need to work myself up into a big, spiritual, intercessory frenzy?
How do I keep my mind from wandering off into the things I need to do with the rest of my day?
Rather than their prayer time feeling like an intimate conversation, it often feels like an awkward first date where both people want to be there, they want to develop a relationship, but because they don’t know where to get started the result is uncomfortable silence where one or both parties are wondering, “What should we talk about?” and “Is this soon over?”
So let’s talk about “How to Pray”.
More specifically, let’s talk about some practical ways to move your prayer life past the awkward silence, beyond a chore on your to-do list, and move into what prayer really is: two parties (you and your Heavenly Father) having a private, personal conversation.
To help you get started, I’d like to teach you a model that I learned when I was first incorporating the practice of spiritual disciplines into my own life. (Right from the start, let me say that I have no idea who created this model to give them credit. Personally, I learned it from my Mom.) Although I’m not a big fan of rigid formulas or “canned” approaches to prayer, the “A.C.T.S” model can serve as a guide in directing your prayer life from “awkward silence” into intimate conversation. Personally, I’ve found that hidden within the A.C.T.S. model are all of the elements that Jesus included when He originally taught His disciples how to pray.
So let’s take a look:
What does the acronym A.C.T.S. stand for?
Well, that’s great, now what do these words mean? Let’s break it down one by one.
Simply put, “adoration” means worship.
Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.”
Why start your time of prayer with worship?
Basically, because worship changes your focus.
As you sing or listen to praise and worship music, you begin focusing on the greatness of God, the wonders of His love, His power, and His sovereignty. Your mindset shifts from all the challenges in your life and moves toward His sovereignty, His control, and His ability to lead and direct your paths. Worship reminds us that we are small and He is great. As our normally self-centered minds adjust to this proper repositioning and realignment, we can’t help but be overwhelmed by His immense love for us, that One so great would care about us and call us His children. It’s in these moments that the ‘stuff of earth’ fades away, opening up our heart to talk to our Heavenly Father.
Perhaps that’s why even Jesus taught His disciples to begin their time of prayer with worship when He said, “Father, hallowed be Your name.” From a heart postured toward worship, they were then able to submit their wills to the Father and say, “Your kingdom come.”
So, practically speaking, how do we incorporate worship into our prayer lives? Well, here are some ideas:
----- You could start your time of prayer by listening to a Praise and Worship C/D for a few minutes.
----- Download a list of your favorite Praise and Worship Songs to your phone or computer and listen to them during your time of devotions.
---- Start your devotions by singing worship songs to God from your heart.
---- Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and verbally express your praise to God.
Personally, I do different variations of all of these things from time to time. Honestly, it isn’t really the method or even quality of the sound of music that matters. What I’ve found is that whenever I open my time of prayer with a time of worship, my perspective changes and open heart-felt communication quickly follows.
Being completely vulnerable, I will admit that whenever I enter into a time of personal, private worship, it almost immediately and spontaneously leads me into a time of confession. How could it not?
Think about it: Worship leads you into the presence of God. God is absolute holiness.
It’s usually during this time that the Holy Spirit reminds me of words I shouldn’t have spoken, something I shouldn’t have watched, or an attitude in my heart that doesn’t belong. That’s how worship almost seamlessly leads to confession, as I take this time to repent and ask God to forgive me for the things in my life that are offensive to Him---the things that don’t belong there. Quite frankly, many of these things are things that I am somehow calloused to until I enter into God’s presence.
In Psalms 51:10, King David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
I’ll be honest and admit that many times my time of confession goes beyond simply confessing things I’ve done wrong and into talking openly with God about things that are wrong inside of me. Let me give you an example. (But keep it to yourself, this is personal.)
A few days ago, I started off my time of prayer listening to some worship music. Soon, I found myself confessing the sin of being really short tempered in my conversation with a family member. However, the conversation didn’t end with me telling God I was sorry. Instead, I started pouring out my heart to God about some things this person did that were very hurtful to me, and how this person’s choices were creating a ‘poison’ in my heart that were triggering my short-temper. As the conversation of prayer continued, the Holy Spirit began helping me deal with the real issues of my heart, showing me things from a different perspective, and challenging me to make different choices that didn’t allow the poison into my heart that was causing me to sin. Rather than these moments being simply a recitation of things I needed to repent of, this time became a “healing session” as the Holy Spirit dealt with the root of my problem and began the process of “creating a right spirit within me.”
That’s why I believe that this time of confession involves not only confessing the sins we’ve committed that have offended God, but also talking with God about the people and situations in our lives that have offended us.
In Luke 11:4, we see that Jesus includes both angles when He teaches His disciples how to pray: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
Let’s be real: When your prayer life includes open and honest conversations with God about the REAL problems in your life---the relationship struggles, the issues in your mind and the heartaches in your soul---you’re getting into some pretty intimate territory. That’s when prayer becomes a relationship and not just an appointment you have to keep.
What is Thanksgiving? Basically, it’s giving thanks to God for all He has done and will do. It’s acknowledging that He’s in control.
We have so much to be thankful for:
----- Going back to “confession” we can be thankful for what Christ did at the cross, in paying the penalty for our sins, restoring our relationship with God, and providing healing for all of our physical, mental, and emotional wounds.
----- Looking forward toward “supplication” we can be thankful for the needs God has provided, the prayers He has answered, and the restoration He’s given.
----- We can be thankful that God already has a plan and purpose for every circumstance that comes into our lives. Even if we can’t see it now, we know that He is working everything together for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) Along these lines, we can incorporate Jesus instruction to pray: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:13)
Supplication is basically a King James Version word for the very practical practice of taking your needs to God in prayer.
Jesus put it more simply when He taught His disciples to pray “Give us each day our daily bread.” (Luke 11:3)
Paul puts it this way in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
So what are you worried about today? Prayer gives you the opportunity to talk to God about them. Ask for His wisdom. Ask for His direction. Most of all, ask Him to do miracles in your life.
Use this time in your prayer life to “Cast your cares on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
That’s where prayer shifts from reciting a list of things that you need to a Heavenly Being, and into relationship---sharing the needs in your life and your heart to with your closest Friend---your Heavenly Father. When we move past religion and into a relationship---that’s when our prayer life becomes a time we don’t want to miss rather than something we have to do.
So that’s the “A.C.T.S.” model for prayer. As I said before, it’s not a magic formula---it’s a guide to help you get started on the most amazing journey of your spiritual life: Developing a Consistent Prayer Life.
Before we go, here’s a few other quick tips to help keep your prayer life consistent:
---- Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
---- Get comfortable there---prayer is supposed to be heartfelt not painful.
---- Try to schedule it at a time in your day when it’s convenient and practical for you.
---- Remember prayer is about building a relationship---not putting on a show or clocking a certain amount of hours.
---- Relax and enjoy your prayer time just like you relax and enjoy your time with your most trusted confidant. After all, that’s what prayer is—a conversation between you and the Love of your Life---Jesus.