One of the simpler and most familiar structures for prayer is ACTS. Not that we need a formula to approach God, but it can be good to have a guideline to keep from forgetting anything important. I’ve been using this one lately to stay focused, and have found some other benefits as well.
- I have a bad habit of starting prayer in mid-conversation. I know we’re encouraged to develop the habit of praying unceasingly, but when I stop for an intentional “quiet time” prayer, just me and God, it’s worth going back to the beginning to remind myself Who He is. It’s polite, reverent, and it quiets my heart and puts everything in perspective.
- Thinking of God’s attributes and authority reinforces it in my mind so I’m less likely to feel alone and unprotected in the rest of my day. (How sad is it to need reminding of His care?)
- Looking at God’s greatness is a great way to notice my own smallness and failings. Not that He wants to put me down – He can’t grow me in His image if I don’t see the problems and ask for His help and forgiveness. Regular confession helps me recognize the “little” sins that are easy to gloss over and allow to fester.
- Receiving His forgiveness erases any barriers my sin has caused that might keep me from hearing or obeying Him.
- How can I be anything but thankful that He forgives me and wants to help and heal me?
- Gratitude is crucial to my well-being and with all God does for me, it’s rude to take His gifts for granted. (Again, how sad is it that we forget to notice and say thank You?)
- Okay, “supplication” is too outdated a word for something that’s still current, so I call this part “struggles.” It’s the “prayer requests” part that too often we jump into without bothering with the other aspects. Coming after the other parts of the prayer, it’s in better perspective. By this point, I’m better focused on God, we’ve cleared up any communications issues, and I’ve looked at some of the ways He’s showed His care. I’m now in a good place to confidently bring Him needs: mine and others’.
- I suppose the S could also be for “surrender” because that’s the best thing to do with these issues. In bringing them to God, I need to release them with “not my will but Yours.” This is so much easier after spending a few minutes adoring, confessing and thanking, because I’m more aware of our relative positions and abilities. I’m less tempted to be sure I know best, and less tempted to doubt His care, integrity or power.
- We don’t really end with the “please help”. If we pray until we have peace about what’s troubling us, we end with confident trust in God’s care. Adding another letter would mess up the memory device, so I’ll end with a period. “Full stop,” as the British would say. For the purposes of intercessory prayer, the period declares “ I’ve given it to God and I’m leaving it there. He will deal with it in His perfect wisdom, love and time. I will not fret in the waiting.”
- The period also reminds me to stop talking and listen. Prayer is, after all, dialogue. If I fill the time with my yammering, I miss God’s quiet voice.
ACTS. As well as the way this format helps me focus, I love how it can expand or contract to match the time I have for prayer. It’s a great way to start the day, and it puts me in an attitude of prayer that carries with me when I’m back in the fray. I still mess up, but even then if I’ve started well with prayer it’s easier to turn back to God and carry on.