Prayer does not require an outline or a structure of any sort to be effective. On the other hand, considering an ordered approach to many prayers has the beneficial effect of framing the relationship and dialog with an appropriate perspective. Adoration and confession that precede the remainder of ones prayer reminds us that we are the created and not the creator. We approach the throne recognizing God as the Almighty and our fallen nature. We partake of the promise of righteousness-restoration (1 John 1:9) as we confess sin and receive forgiveness. Building upon this foundation we turn our thoughts to giving thanks.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
We will often whisper a thanks to God when we avoid disaster or receive a windfall, but so many of the blessings that rain down upon us go unnoted. Giving thanks as a part of our prayer life furthers the foundation lain by adoration and confession by drawing our minds upward and outward. We are forced to recognize answers to prayer, large and small, as well as those which have been lifted but not yet resolved. An attitude of thanksgiving also carries over to the burdens we are called to bear. As our attitude shifts, burdens that we once prayed to be removed are now realized as blessings. In giving thanks for trouble, discipline and infirmities our perspective is enlarged, seeing these things as the testimony that they are. An enlarged perspective sees the larger expanding picture of how God is working in the world. We may see how our struggles play a role in the bigger mission and turn from complaint to gratefulness.
Grace and peace to your spirit…
Countless prayers will be lifted heavenward this hour that stream from the hearts and consciousness of God’s people. The Father does not demand liturgical precision in our petitions, but He does expect them to arise from a right heart and a proper attitude. The ACTS organizational device prompts us to humble the heart, profess our thankfulness and verbalize our manifest sins. As Christ taught His disciples [then and now], approaching the altar is not to be done casually.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:8-9
The C in ACTS stands for confession. In many churches we are taught to bundle our sin into a nameless group, offering them with a repentant heart. While not technically wrong, this approach is a tool that enables us to avoid the raw details of our broken hearts. One of the things that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament raised was the specifics of one’s sin. It was necessary that the sacrifice offered match the sin, and so it was required that one enumerate in detail their failings.
Confession brings humility which brings the proper heart before the altar. Know that our sins are forgiven, better yet, forgotten (Psalm 103:12), frees us from the bondage in which we continually entangle ourselves. The burden on your conscience is lifted and the realization that you are being honest with God enables a new boldness in your prayers. To know that He continues to listen and respond to our repentance encourages us to return to our knees.
Grace and peace to you.
image lawrence OP
The ACTS prayer structure is a useful organizing device, bringing you to the throne of God through a series of attitudes that prompt reflection on your spiritual condition. Each letter in the acronym reminds you of the sequence of steps that guide the content of your prayer so you are properly addressing the Father. Why a structure? Our most common failure in prayer is come to the throne unprepared spiritually. We do not recognize God for who He nor do we pay proper attention to our own condition of sinfulness. Prayer must be brought properly (Proverbs 1:28-29) in order to be heard. We must recognizes God’s priorities of right relationship before asking that he address ours.
The A in ACTS stands for adoration. This is the attitude of giving recognition to God for who He is. We approach the throne of prayer in repose, face down before the God of all, treading on Holy Ground and suddenly aware of our less-than-holy condition before the One of Perfect Holiness. This Holiness gave Him the sole right to redeem us from our sinful condition, conferring righteousness upon us and giving us an entrance to His presence. The only proper way to enter this presence is with an awful adoration for who God is and what He has done.
A good way to begin praying in this fashion is to pray God’s word back to Him. Any number of scriptures praise the Father and beginning your prayer by lovingly reciting one of them puts your heart in the proper place. Try one of these:
- Psalm 8
- Psalm 19
- The Magnificat – Luke 1:46-55
- Ephesians 1:3-14
Experience in the Scriptures will train your mind and heart to praise God in your own words. Reflect on His attributes and His character. Praise His love that saved you. Adore His omnipresence, knowing that He is with you now on your knees as well later in car, stuck in traffic.
Approaching God in this manner adjusts the priorities of our prayer. What we felt was so important that it needed prayer is suddenly consoled at the memory of His greatness and the ways in which He has handled things for us in the past. A petition that seemed so critical is diminished by the realization that our needs have not aligned with God’s plan. The tone for the rest of our prayer is set.
Grace and peace in the Spirit to you.
Among Christians new and mature, the most consistent question that arises is how do I pray? The answer, of course, is that you just pray. Unsatisfying to a modernist, intellectually based culture but true. What the questioner is saying in the undertones is not how do I pray, but rather, what words do I use, how do I say them, and how do I maximize ROI? Crass perhaps, but we shouldn’t expect those new to praying to have adjusted their perspective upward yet.
To this end I want to begin a series that reiterates one of the most familiar structures used for guiding prayer, A.C.T.S. This prayer template popularized (if not created) by Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels is not meant to be prescriptive. The mature Christian who is comfortable in the presence of God will develop a personal approach to the throne and the ensuing dialog. The new or inexperienced prayer, on the other hand, benefits greatly from a way to organize their steps forward. A.C.T.S is but one of those organizational tools.
The acronym ACTS represents the words Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. When a prayer is mindful of these words, the throne comes into the view of one who is appropriately humble. Before making requests of the King, one recognizes His glory, confesses their shortcomings, gives thanks for who He is and what He has done, and only then places their requests before Him. This the opposite of our human tendencies on our best days, and stands as a contrast to our self-centered persons on the others.
We’ll examine each of these steps in detail but don’t wait to begin your life of prayer. God honors what is brought to Him with right hearts, regardless of form. Pray.
Grace and peace to you.
John MacArthur examines the Charismatic sects of the Church in his book Charismatic Chaos. His well reasoned critique is an indictment of a a faith based upon experience when that experience supersedes the Bible. As I have examined in a series of posts on this topic, at the core of Charismatic belief is the Doctrine of Subsequence (Fee), the second event that follows salvation in which the Holy Spirit is received. This doctrine is constructed around the event recorded in Acts 2:4: (1-4 included for context)
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
The Charismatic believes that this post-salvation experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit is a mark of spiritual maturity. When the Christian is lacking this experience, they are immature, carnal, disobedient, or otherwise incomplete. The danger in this approach, MacArthur says, is that it opens the door to the expectation of continued experience. He denies the validity of Subsequence, primarily because of its reliance on a very narrow interpretation of Scripture that does not consider passages that refute the position.
MacArthur begins by saying that doctrine constructed around the experiences in the book of Acts should at least be consistent throughout that single book. Subsequence as seen in chapter two should be witnessed in each recorded instance of baptism but this does not appear to be the case. In Acts 2 and 8, there appears to be subsequence. In chapters 10 and 19 however, the filling of the Holy Spirit accompanies salvation immediately. A secondary component of the Subsequence doctrine is that the Christian is to be earnestly seeking this second baptism. The scriptures in Acts do not support this expectation. In chapter two, the believers were simply waiting for their next move and in chapters 8, 10, and 19, no one is looking for the baptism. On this brief examination alone, MacArthur points out that the book most closely associated with the idea of subsequence does not provide the consistent pattern necessary to build a Christian doctrine.
It’s important to note that MacArthur is not denying the singular experiences of Acts and other books of scripture. The theological construct that applies to proper exegesis of these events is to view them in light of the transitional nature of the period. There was an overlap in the periods between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and (MacArthur says) “Although the disciples knew and trusted Christ, there were still Old Testament believers. They could not have understood or experienced the Spirit’s permanent indwelling until the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost.” (pg 177) In other words, markers defining transition served a specific, one time need in the establishment of the faith. MacArthur points out that this one time event is not meant to be translated as normative for all Christians.