A Pepper Grinder Post

ACTS

I read a book recently where the author talked about a mnemonic for remembering elements that should be part of our prayers. I had heard about this years before, but had forgotten it. Here are the four elements:

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • Supplication

Put it all together and you have … ACTS.

I think this kind of thing is somewhat limited by nature. What about listening to God? What about expressing our emotions, like grief or anger, to God? Also, prayer should be communication, not a religious exercise. How many conversations do you have where you follow a list of types of communication to include in the interaction? To be fair to the author, he did not always follow this pattern himself. He said that if he was praying and felt little impulse or motivation, he would fall back on the old ACTS pattern.

angry birdsAlthough my first impulse was to dismiss the ACTS system as legalistic and wooden, it made me think about my own prayers. I had to admit that if I were to categorize my conversations with God at the time I read that book, it would be something like actS. Lots of asking God to do things for me, some apologizing, a little thanking, and a little telling God how amazing I thought he was. What's more, it struck me that my requests often had a whiny or even accusatory tone to them. “God, why can't you do something nice for me like you did for Ryan?” I thought about how I would feel if I came home from work and my wife talked to me the way I sometimes talk to God. It might be something like the following:

Husband: Hi honey, how was your day?

Wife: It was okay, I guess. Oh, but the toilet in the girls' bathroom is clogged. Can you unclog it, please?

Husband: Sure thing. I'll just change out of my work clothes and get right on it.

Wife: Oh, and you know the place where I saw the cockroach last week? Well, I saw another one today, and it totally creeped me out. Did you ever get around to putting out the cockroach trap?

Husband: No, I think I forgot about that. I'll deal with that right after I fix the toilet.

Wife: And another thing, the kitchen sink is dripping faster than it was. Weren't you going to fix that?

Husband (starting to look trapped): Uhh …

Wife: And while I'm thinking about it, I was walking past the Kirstenbaums' house today. I just love the flowers they have planted next to their walkway. They're blooming right now, and they're this beautiful shade of pink. How hard would it be to get something like that growing in our yard?

Husband (starting to edge out of the kitchen): Uh-oh, I think I just felt my cell phone vibrate. It might be a problem at work. I'd better go check on it.

(Note: my wife NEVER hits me with a barrage like that. The above is purely fictional.)

Just writing the above exchange, I can imagine myself looking for an excuse to get away. On the other hand, just imagine coming home to a woman who walks over to you, wraps her arms around you, and says:

Hi honey. I love you so much. I'm really sorry I was crabby this morning. I can't tell you how much it means to me that you work hard all day so I can stay home with the kids.

love birdsWhat a difference, right?

I'm not saying that every prayer time has to be perfectly balanced. The Psalms are great models in this regard. Some have all the ACTS components, though not necessarily in that order; some are pouring out strong emotions; some are almost all praise and thanks. The one thing I don't recall seeing is a Psalm that is asking God to do something, and never once has an element of praise or thanks. There may be days we are totally aware we have blown it, and spend much of our time with God asking him to forgive us and help us to change. There will be times we feel desperately in need of God's help and spend most of our time with him begging for that help.

My advice is: no matter how you feel, or what kind of day it is, don't forget to include some thanksgiving and praise when you talk to God. There are two basic reasons for this.

  1. For God. To have a successful intimate relationship, both people must be trying to make the other person happy. If we want to be close to God, we should be trying to please him. As I tried to bring out in the fictional husband-wife exchanges, telling God he's great, thanking him, and saying we love him are good ways to do that.
  2. For us. Since I started thinking about this, I've been making an effort to include more thanks and praise in my prayers. I started doing it because I thought it would be a good thing to do. However, an unexpected side effect has been that I often seem to feel happier and more peaceful after praying that way. A positive thinking guru would probably jump in and assert that this was because I was focusing more on the positive and less on the negative. I don't discount that, but I also think I am making more of a real connection with God when my prayers are seasoned liberally with praise and thanks.

When my prayers focus only on asking God for things, I treat him like a cosmic vending machine instead of what he is: my loving father.

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