4 Steps To A Better Prayer: Supplication: ACTS Series

I. Hate. Asking. For. Help.

Asking for help makes me anxious.  Accepting help makes me nauseous.

I spend much of my time and effort avoiding help of any sort.

For fear that others might realize that I cannot do it all.  For fear that I might realize that I cannot do it all.  For fear that I might realize that God cannot do it all.

ACTS_SupplicationWhen we got married, my husband and I asked our wedding guests to sign our family Bible.  On one of the thin, cream pages, a family friend wrote in her lovely, loopy script: “Our God is a BIG God.  Don’t ask Him for things you can accomplish on your own. Ask him for awesome things.”

I stumbled upon these words a few months ago.  By chance.  By grace.  

A doctor had ordered some tests, and I was paralyzed by anxiety as I waited for the results.  I spent those frightening days sitting on the couch with my black lab, eating ice cream, watching Jim Gaffigan, and alternating between reading the Bible and Harry Potter.

When I stumbled upon those words, however, I realized that I could not will or work my health into being.  In fact, I could do nothing.  I could not accomplish it on my own.  I could only wait and hope.

Thankfully, my test results came back fine.  I was, indeed, healthy.  I was, however, still human.

Despite all the advancements we’ve made, humans have not yet conquered death.  The mysteries of life and death still elude us.  Only God understands them in their entirety. Only God can control them completely.  And, while I may like to believe otherwise, I need Him and I need His help.

Thankfully, however, He is not a distant God.  He is a God who became human, who knows the pain of life and the fear of death.  Just as Jesus sat in the Garden, begging that this cup might pass from Him, so He sat on the couch with me, begging that this cup might pass from me.

He is a God eager to hear from us, eager to help us.  He truly is a good God, a gracious God, a great God, ready to do the awesome things that we cannot do.

Asking for help still makes me nauseous.  Accepting help still makes me anxious.  I still fear asking for help.  But, following those scary days on the couch, I fear a life without God and God’s help more.

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Confession, and Thanksgiving.

4 Steps For A Better Prayer: Thanksgiving: ACTS Series

ACTS Series_ThanksgivingMy professor, an Old Testament scholar and professional trumpet player, made the comment almost in passing.  It was our last class before Thanksgiving break and finals, and he trying to cover as much information as possible.  After the hour-long lecture on the Pentateuch, he seamlessly and suddenly shifted gears.  “Now, before you go,” he said, “I want to send you off with a question to consider over the break.  To whom are we giving our thanks this holiday? Can we give thanks without a recipient?”  He paused to let the question sink in.  Then, he clapped his hands and dismissed the class.

Almost five years later, I am still wrestling with his question.  As someone who lives in two worlds, one that worships God and one that denies Him, the seemingly benign question is complex and controversial.  

To be fair, America’s first presidents gave their thanks neither to the universe in general or to Christ in particular.  Rather, they expressed their gratitude to a nominally Judeo-Christian deity. In the first Thanksgiving proclamation, George Washington devoted the day “to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, and that will be.”  He went on to list “all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

Similarly, Lincoln, in the midst of the American Civil War, described the day as one “of Thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the universe.”

The Bible, of course, abounds with more specific and poetic examples of thanksgiving. Countless men and women, from the Old and New Testaments, from the Psalmist to Christ, offer thanks to God the Father.  I could easily list endless verses.

I find these presidential examples, however, more striking and inspiring.  Prayer, in any form, is radical these days.  It acknowledges something bigger than, better than ourselves.

Our culture, to the contrary, insists that we can do it all.  We need only try hard enough or work hard enough.  Everything we have and everything we are is our own creation. Everything we lack and everything we are not is our own fault.  

The ancient Israelites, I think, would call those beliefs blasphemous.  God is our only Creator and Provider.  The presidents knew this.  My professor knew this.  And, yet, I always forget it.

The purpose of the Thanksgiving component of the ACTS prayer, for me, then, is two-fold. First, of course, it gives credit where credit is due.  It acknowledges the supremacy and generosity of God.

Second, however, it reminds us – and reassures us – of the supremacy and generosity of God.  It prevents us from believing the we are sovereign creators and providers. It keeps us from worshipping ourselves and others as gods.

After five years of reflection, then, my answer to the professor is simply no.  You cannot offer thanks without, at least subconsciously, naming a creator or provider.  To say “thank you” is to acknowledge a “you.”  

The real question, then, is who is the “you.”  Are we treating ourselves and others as gods? Or, are we recognizing and appreciating the Triune God?  

Only then, only after answering those questions can we truly embody the example of the Psalmist:

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;/ for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1; NRSV).

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Confession, and Supplication.

4 Steps For A Better Prayer: Confession: ACTS Series

ACTS_ConfessionJune 2011.  Washington, DC.

I don’t have a car, so to get to work, I walk the half mile to the Metro and take a train into the city.  

Today, I am carrying my purse, with my book, makeup case, and wallet, on one shoulder.  On the other shoulder is a tote bag full of promotional brochure, pens, and signs from a recent work event.  In one hand is my lunch bag.  In the other hand is my travel mug.

As I walk up the hill by the park, I readjust the various shoulder straps and reallocate the weight.  While I wait to cross the street, I rub my aching shoulders.  I make a scene at the Metro Station, searching for my train pass.  

It is 7:30 in the morning, and I am already weighed down.

***

We all know what it is like to have burdens.  They can suffocate us.  They can exhaust us.  They can overwhelm us.  

We shrink under the weight of our burdens.  We vanish under the magnitude of our burdens. We lose our strength to keep moving.  We lose our desire to keep moving.

Sometimes, I feel like I have too many burdens to count, much less carry.  My anxiety disorder. My student loans.  My social obligations.  My chores at home.  My tasks for work.  

But my heaviest burden, by far, are my mistakes.  My regrets.  My sins.  

They make every single one of my other burdens even heavier to carry and harder to tackle.

They keep me from getting a good night’s sleep.  Then, they keep me from embracing the new day.

Many would tell you that, in order to live a life without regrets, you should take yourself and your world less seriously.  Ignore them.  Forget them.  Just let go of them.

God would tell you that, in order to live a life without regrets, you should take your sins to Him.  Acknowledge them.  Name them.  And, then, confess them.

King David, following his affair, offers the most beautiful confession in Psalm 51.  He begins,

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2, NRSV)

Jesus expresses a similar sentiment when leading instructing the crowds in the “Our Father.” He prays,

“And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

In the Catholic tradition, the Act of Contrition elaborates,

“In choosing to do wrong
and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you
whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.”

These words, of course, are neither easy nor enjoyable to say.  Examining our lives and confessing our sins can ignite nausea and tears.  We are pained by the pain we have caused to ourselves, to our neighbor, and to our God.  

Upon hearing our confession, God forgives us.  Upon hearing our confession, God frees us. To live.  To thrive.  To flourish.  For our own good.  And for the glory of God.

So, in your next prayer, stop carrying your sins.  Stop walking through life with all that extra weight.  Start living your life unburdened.  Or, in the words of the soulful Sanders Bohlke,

“Bring your weary soul to the altar
Close your eyes and bend your knees
Lay your worries and your burdens down.”

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

4 Easy Steps For A Better Prayer: Adoration: ACTS Series

Since moving several states away from my hometown, I’ve missed a lot.  I’m not only referring to the emotion of missing some place or something or someone.  I’m also talking about the actual act of missing out.  I’m simply not there for birthday parties or marriage proposals; funerals or break-ups.  Perhaps even worse, I’m not there to go to happy hour, get a manicure, tan at the pool, or see to a movie.  I hate missing those moments, both big and small, good and bad, that make a close friendship.

ACTS Series_Adoration_1

I want to be a part of everything for my closest friends.  I want to celebrate the triumphs and mourn the disappointments.  I want to encourage and help; to challenge and push.

I want that sort of intimacy with Christ as well, and Christ wants that sort of intimacy with me.

Prayer in general, and the ACTS formula in particular, helps me form that relationship with Him. This prayer of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication helps me share everything with Christ.  The big and small, the good and bad.  It also invites Him to celebrate and mourn with me, to encourage and challenge me.

Over the next month, each Wednesday, I will reflect on each component of the ACTS prayer in more detail.  My hope is that, by examining each piece in more detail, we can all practice the prayer more thoughtfully and effectively.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We begin, of course, at the beginning, with adoration.

Adore, according to the dictionary, is “to regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; honor.”

The Psalmist adored God when he said, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;/ his greatness is unsearchable” (145: 3; NRSV).  Jesus adored God when he said, “Our Father in heaven,/ hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9; NRSV).  I adore God when I say, “Good and gracious God” or “God, you are all-powerful, all-beautiful, all-wonderful.”

We adore God because He, as an all-loving and all-mighty being, deserves of our adoration.  We adore God for the same reason we say, “I love you” to our spouses or “you are amazing” to our parents.  We want them to know how deeply we care for them.  We want God to know deeply we care for Him.

This adoration, however, also has a profound effect on us.  

First, adoration drags my attention away from myself.  Usually, when I sit down to pray, my instinct is not to say “good and gracious God,” but “woe is poor, pitiful me.”  My own fears and desires consume me.  I so often place myself, not God, at the center of my thoughts.  If not for the act of adoration, I would also place myself at the center of my prayer to God.

Second, adoration reminds me exactly with whom I am speaking.  In prayer, I am not speaking with my therapist, my mom, my girlfriend, or my husband.  I am speaking with God Himself.  This reminder isn’t meant to intimidate me; it is meant to encourage me. Yes, God is the Creator of the Universe.  And, yes, He want to be part of every part of my life.

Finally, adoration prepares me for the other components of the prayer.  When I appreciate the greatness of God, I am more inclined to recognize and confess my sins to him; I am more eager to acknowledge my blessings and thank him for them; I am more willing to ask Him not just for the small things but the miraculous.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have missed a lot since I moved away from my hometown.  I am not there for all the baby showers, the tumultuous romances, or the late-night ice cream runs.  I cling, then, to every phone call, postcard, and text message.  I may be far away from my closest friends, but I still want to be part of every part of their lives.

So, it is with our God.  He desires that intimacy with us.  Through our confession, our thanksgiving, our supplication, we invite Him to know us.  Through adoration, however, He invites us to know him.  And, that God, as the Psalmist would say, is “greatly to be praised.”

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about the Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

Scroll To Top