I would be the dummy in this case. As a young adult I once attended a study on prayer. That wasn’t a dumb decision. What was dumb – or naive, to put it a little more kindly to my tender ego – was what I did with the information. As naive people often do, I made the information into something I now don’t believe it was intended to be. In this case, I took something that I’m pretty sure was intended to be a useful aid – some might call it a “crutch” – and I used it to turn prayer into drudgery. Dumb!
The class taught a model for prayer called “ACTS.” ACTS is an acronym for Acclamation – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication. At first blush, who would argue that these are not good components for prayer? Not me. For over 20 years I put myself through the rigors of these four steps. Did I say “rigors?” Yep! Red flag!
I’m not red-flagging rigorous prayer in the sense of thorough, exhaustive prayer here. The “pray without ceasing” passage comes to mind. (First Thessalonians 5:17). Again, I’m throwing a flag on my interpretation of the steps. My interpretation, specifically in light of what I’ve since learned about how Jesus taught us to pray in “The Lord’s Prayer,” was messed up.
Before I get to the parts that really messed me up, I’m going to start from the beginning. The ACTS model begins with Acclamation – a fancy way of referring to an overwhelming expression of praise. This is my favorite part (and to tell you the truth, what I think is the greatest strength) of the model. I think starting prayer by recalling reasons to praise God is a worthwhile exercise. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us something similar. Only Jesus, knowing our frailties, put it much better. He taught us, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
The very first thing Jesus did in His model – even before having us remember God’s praiseworthiness, his “hallowed-ness” – was remind us weak struggling children that we’re praying intimately to our Father. He comforts us. Then He reminds us. Why should I find comfort and confidence in praying to the Father God I serve? Oh yeah…because He’s also the Only One who is sovereign over all things, times, people and places! Anything I can possibly pray about is within His power. Not only that, but by reminding me to pray “Thy kingdom come,” Jesus reminds me of my purpose on earth; i.e., my part in building up His kingdom. I’m not just praying about my concerns in an isolated context; I’m part of a much bigger picture. I need to remember that because sometimes my concerns seem overwhelming to the point of burying me deep and far from others and the work going on in the Kingdom. I’m part of a big, beautiful picture even though I have the privilege of talking to God about my particular concerns.
So what messed me up? I’ll get to that tomorrow.