Let’s get creative with ACTS prayer

by Christine Sine

by Lynne M. Baab

As a young adult I was taught the model of ACTS prayer. Pray this way, my mentors said. Begin with (1) adoration, because you’re entering into the presence of a holy God. Then (2) confession will come naturally because God’s holiness will make you aware of your own sin. After you confess your sin, you’ll be aware of God’s great mercy in redeeming us in Jesus Christ, so you’ll want to spend some time (3) thanking God. Only after all of that should you engage in (4) supplication, asking God to meet your own needs and the needs of those you love and care about.

I found ACTS prayer to be very helpful for both group and individual prayer. I have also found that it’s a bit limited. When I compare ACTS prayer to the psalms, often called the prayer book of the Bible, I find numerous ways the psalms are different than the pattern of ACTS prayer. So, let’s get creative and use the ACTS model as a springboard.

1. Let’s try TATATATA. Psalm 136 models this pattern. One way to define thankfulness prayers is that they focus on what God has done, in contrast with praise prayers that focus on who God is. Praise and thankfulness are very closely related with lots of overlap, but it’s still helpful to try to do both. Here’s an example of TATA prayer:

Thank you, God, for the food on our table today. You have provided for us so generously. In fact, you are a generous God, whose bounty overflows into our lives, and we praise you for your abundant love and generosity. Also, I want to thank you, God, for the people in my life who love me. I’m thinking especially of Francis, who helped me with my project at work yesterday. You are a relational God, and I praise you for the love between Father, Son and Spirit, and that you call us to enter into your love.

2. Let’s try CATS. Psalm 51 models this pattern in part. The psalmist comes into God’s presence with deep sorrow for sin, begging for forgiveness. By verse 15, the mood shifts to praise: “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.”

3. Let’s try TSTSTSTS. I believe prayers where we spend most of our time asking God to meet our needs or the needs of others can merge into a kind of consumeristic approach to the Christian faith: give me what I need and want. This tendency can be moderated by generous applications of thankfulness. Being thankful requires that we pay attention to what God is already doing. I like to begin my prayers of request with some thankfulness for God’s work in the situation that I already see. An example of TSTS prayer:

Lord, thank you for helping us in the first leg of our long trip. You kept us safe, you helped us sleep on the plane, and you gave us an interesting person to talk to in the airport lounge. For the remainder of the trip, please help us not to be anxious, help us to trust you, help us to arrive safely. As we travel we’re thinking about our friend, Jane. Loving God, thank you for all you’ve done to make Jane’s surgery go well. Thanks for the surgeon and the recovery room care that was so gentle. Now we pray for the remainder of her time in the hospital. Help her to heal well.

4. Let’s try adding statements of commitment to our prayers. ACTS doesn’t provide a structure to do that, but statements of commitment are a big part of the prayers in the psalms. Psalm 130 provides an example. The psalm begins with words of pain: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” By verse 5 the psalmist is speaking out words of commitment: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning.”

Also missing in ACTS are silence and lament, which provide even more options for creativity with ACTS prayer. Maybe you’ll be able to think of other ways to get creative with ACTS. Whatever we do in prayer, God welcomes us warmly as we bring our praises, confessions, thanks and requests.

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