There’s a proverb that tells us, “Walk with the wise and become wise” (Proverbs 13:20). That makes sense. If we want to learn how to bat better, we’re not going to seek help from someone who doesn’t know anything about baseball, are we? If I want to improve my Spanish, I’m going to get assistance from someone who’s fluent in Spanish. And if I want to grow in my ability to pray, I need to find experienced pray-ers who can teach me and help me sharpen my skills.
One of the ways we learn from those who are more experienced is simply by observing them. Teachers can learn a lot just by carefully listening to good teachers. Writers can sharpen their writing skills by reading the works of notable authors. Scrutinizing performances by the greats can not only be educational for musicians, but it can inspire them to reach for greater musical challenges. Actually, much of what we learn to do, we learn by observing others, and this is true of prayer as well.
Thankfully, we have a real advantage when learning to pray. Not only are there mature believers around us who we can learn from, but we have prayers recorded in the Bible from the great leaders of the past. Who better to teach us about prayer than people like David, Daniel and even Jesus himself?
One of the most helpful tools I’ve found for praying is the acronym ACTS. I’m sure some of you are already familiar with this prayer aid. It’s especially useful—and even comforting—for people who aren’t quite sure how to begin praying and who could use some direction. What’s more, it’s biblical. So, let me introduce you to (or remind you of) this handy little tool and, at the same time, show you some of the wonderful examples of prayer that we have in Scripture.
ACTS gives us helpful memory pegs, sort of an ingredient list for healthy prayer. Here are the elements we should include in our prayers: A – adoration, C – confession, T – thanksgiving, and S – supplication (an old-fashioned word for making requests). We don’t have to pray these “ingredients” in order, but these are all essential components of prayer. Here are some biblical examples of ACTS in action:
My heart is confident in you, O God;
no wonder I can sing your praises with all my heart!
Wake up, lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song.
I will thank you, LORD, among all the people.
I will sing your praises among the nations.
For your unfailing love is higher than the heavens.
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
May your glory shine over all the earth.
You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
and they exist because you created what you pleased.
Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
But we have sinned and done wrong.
We have rebelled against you
and scorned your commands and regulations.
We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets,
who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors
and to all the people of the land.
Lord, you are in the right;
but, as you see, our faces are covered with shame.
I come to your altar, O LORD,
singing a song of thanksgiving
and telling of all your wonders.
You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!
O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
thank you for hiding these things
from those who think themselves wise and clever,
and for revealing them to the childlike.
There are two kinds of requests we make in prayer. We make requests for ourselves:
Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can’t find a foothold. . . .
Answer my prayers, O LORD,
for your unfailing love is wonderful.
Take care of me,
for your mercy is so plentiful.
Psalm 69:1-2, 16
Give us today the food we need . . .
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
And we also make requests on behalf of others. This is what is known as intercessory prayer:
I am praying not only for these disciples
but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one
—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you.
And may they be in us
so that the world will believe that you sent me.
Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!
I pray that God, the source of hope,
will fill you completely with joy and peace
because you trust in him.
Then you will overflow with confident hope
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I pray that your love will overflow more and more,
and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.
A few brief tips
Please don’t feel as if your prayers have to sound elegant, or that you have to use all the right catchphrases. I find that the most effective, meaningful prayers are usually the most simple. When we’re trying to use all the super-spiritual expressions, we’re often more focused on being impressive than simply communicating. Remember, Jesus warned against praying like the hypocrites who want to get all the attention (Matthew 6:5). God just wants to hear our heart. What means more to you from that special someone: a canned, recited sentiment they may not even completely understand; or simple words that reveal the true feelings in their heart?
And don’t feel as if you have to pray super long prayers, either. Jesus said, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again” (Matthew 6:7).
We have incredible examples of prayer in Scripture—which is wonderful—but we also have mature, experienced believers right in our midst. If you want to become skillful in your prayers, then spend time praying with people who know what they’re doing. Those of us in the Rincón area have a perfect opportunity in the new Knowing God through Prayer meeting, Tuesday mornings at 10:00. Praying alongside mature Christians such as Nick, Diane and Charlie is sure to help you grow in your prayer life! And, if you don’t already receive it, I would encourage you to sign up for Nick’s weekly Prayer Corner. Every week, he sends out reflections and insights that will strengthen you in your devotional life. Of course, as I mentioned last week, there’s no one more qualified to help us with our prayer life than God himself. We can always ask him to help us!
And here’s one last tip for the week. Years ago, someone suggested this to me and it has added greater depth to my prayer life. Do you ever sing to God in your personal prayer time? We sing to God in worship with the rest of the church. Why not in our own personal devotions? You may protest that you don’t have a good singing voice—but God gave you the voice you have, and it blesses him when we give everything back to him in praise and worship. And, besides, the Holy Spirit is the one who inspired that line about “making a joyful noise!” Look up all the places in Scripture where we’re instructed and encouraged to sing to God. Surely this can’t be just in the church gathering. If you haven’t done this before, it can feel awkward at first. But, if you give it a chance, it will add a new dimension of intimacy to your time with God. I encourage you to try it!
Why not spend some time now with God in Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication?
Next week, we’ll explore what it means to “pray without ceasing.”
Prayer: Learning from the pros [see above]