When I was a teenager, I found myself in a situation where I needed to talk to girls. Gasp! (Believe it or not, I occasionally even put myself in that situation.) At one point, I became friends with a girl and somehow got her phone number. We texted back and forth for a while but then things started to get serious. At that moment, I knew I would have to give her a call and have an actual voice-to-voice conversation. The prospect was terrifying because my biggest fear was running out of things to talk about! So, before I called her, I made a list of topics that interested me, included a few questions to ask her, and dialed the phone. We ended up talking for a long time. I consulted my list a couple times, but for the most part, the conversation flowed naturally.
Ok. Ok. So I had a nice conversation with a girl over a decade ago. Good for me. Isn’t this supposed to be about prayer? Right. Let’s get to prayer.
What is prayer? Prayer is simply a conversation between a person and God. For some reason people seem to get stuck when the time comes to pray. I get that. I often have trouble starting conversations or keeping them going. For this reason, the list idea I used as a teenager may have some merit when it comes to prayer.
You may have heard of the A.C.T.S. model or praying. It’s a good one. The acronym stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Basically, you take time to pray through each of these topics and when you are done, you end your prayer time. This model has been very helpful for me but it has its limitations. I have found myself in a few situations where I get to teach people to pray (usually children) and I found it tedious to explain what big words like “supplication” mean. I usually spend more time explaining the acronym than actually praying in these settings. For this reason, I went back to the drawing board, simplified the A.C.T.S model, and rearranged things so I could remember it. It goes like this:
The first phrase, “I love you,” is meant to inspire me to tell God what I love about Him. This is an opportunity to reflect on his attributes: “I love you because you… are holy, are just, are merciful, loved me first, etc.” This can beautifully lead into the next steps. Simply put, I like to start some of my prayers by telling God that I love Him and why I love Him.
The second phrase, “I’m sorry,” gives me an opportunity to confess my sin to the Lord. It doesn’t have to be extensive (and in group settings it doesn’t need to be graphic) but it needs to be honest. I am a sinner and I find it necessary to have a regular check-up with God and ask Him for forgiveness. (I mentioned that the first phrase can lead into this one because when I consider the perfection of God’s attributes, I am often reminded of the imperfection of my own. God is perfectly just, but I occasionally let things slide. God is merciful, but I hold grudges. Remembering who God is helps me understand who I am and who I want to be.)
The third phrase, “Please,” is the easy one. During this stage, I ask God for the things I need and want. I can also ask God for the things others need and want. Nothing is off-limits here so long as I remember that God gets to decide what he provides for me (and others). Indeed, when I ask God for things, I give him the right to say “no.” But I also give him the opportunity to say “yes”! (The first phrase, “I love you,” dovetails nicely with this phrase, at times. Here’s how: when I think of God’s attributes, I am often reminded of His ability and willingness to provide. For example, when I remember that He is wise, I can ask Him for wisdom in a difficult situation. When I remember that He is generous -and the owner of the whole world- I can ask Him to help meet a financial need.)
Finally, the last phrase, “Thank you,” forces me to stop and consider all of the good things God has already given me. I thank him for family and friends, for clothing and shelter, for food and transportation, and for so much more. There is a well-known phrase that tells us to “count our blessings.” This stage gives an opportunity to do just that.
If you are wanting to grow in your ability to pray, I hope you can use some of the phrases above to spark deeper conversations with God. Over time, you may find that conversation flows naturally. As you read the Word, observe things in the world, encounter needs, sin, receive blessings, take time to talk to the Lord about them. He loves hearing from you.
*When I pray for things that he has clearly shown to be off-limits in Scripture, I can expect him to say “no” every time.