In church, I was taught to pray following the pattern of A.C.T.S., or adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. As a child, the order of these steps seemed arbitrary and false. Often, the prayers I would hear began with “Thank you, God, for…” and rarely included any confession. Time and “The Phenomenology of Prayer” have given me more insight as to why this pattern is so ordered.
The book draws attention to five main divisions in prayer: praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition and intercession. Instantly I see similarities to the book’s outline and the A.C.T.S. pattern. Both start with giving glory to God for who He is. Both end with requests of God. While the two middle steps are reversed, I see no problem or conflict in this, as I will later explain. What is evident is that adoration, or praise, must come first. The book goes to great lengths to explain why: it is the single act within prayer that demands a de-centering of self. All other parts of prayer can be done with selfish intent, but not adoration. Through proclaiming the qualities of God and sincerely recognizing them, man properly positions himself before God. Adoration is the act of prayer that corrects one’ perspective. The world does not revolve around any human or humans in general; all creation was formed to focus completely on God. This idea of recognizing one’s place is shown in the Bible through the story of Tamar revealing Judah’s sin, Nathan accusing David of adultery and murder, and Saul on the road to Damascus. Each of these people realize who God really is and who they really are.
From this newly adjusted posture of being, two things become exceedingly apparent to the one praying: first, how infinitely good God is; second, how incredibly wicked the pray-er is. Seeing as though both of these realizations occur at the same time, no definite order can determined. That is why confession and thanksgiving can be switched around. Personally, I find confession to come before thanksgiving. I speculate this is because even after my de-centering, my heart is perpetually selfish and I can’t help but look at myself in comparison to the glory of God. Is this a bad thing? No. It is right for me to admit of my own shortcomings and my evil rebellion against the holy God of the universe. I am a wretch. It is wrong, however, for me to stay in confession without acknowledging how merciful and even gracious God has been to my wretched self. God’s blessings have sustained me despite my betrayal and disregard for His law and love. To remain wallowing in my sin without moving back to focus on God is a grotesque form of pride disguised as piety. Both confession and thanksgiving are necessary, no matter which comes first.
Supplication comes last, contrary to how most people (myself included) often enter into prayer. I found it interesting at first that the book decided to put petition—prayer for one’s own needs—before intercession, but now I think I see why. Jesus teaches us to address our own problems before attempting to attend to others. We are to remove the planks from our own eyes so that we might properly remove the speck from someone else’s. Praying for others is not wrong; correcting and rebuking others can be right. However, both must be done after one has met his own needs and has had his own faults corrected. Additionally, Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment is to first love God, and second love one’s neighbor as oneself. Subtlety, Jesus tells us that it is impossible to love someone else without loving oneself initially. Of course, it is impossible to love at all outside of receiving God’s love had responding to Him first. Within the greatest commandment, God shows us that adoration precedes and enables supplication, first for oneself, then for others.
The A.C.T.S. model serves as a great guide for worship in general. Reflecting on my own church’s order of worship every Sunday, I see how A.C.T.S. is the spine of our liturgy. Our service begins with songs of adoration, praising God for who he is. Following this is a time of both corporate and personal confession where each church-goer is honest with themselves, God, and those around them about their sin. Confession is immediately followed with an assurance of pardon, and extending of peace, and a time of corporate prayer where an elder thanks God for His faithfulness and voices prayer requests of church members. I love how intentional my church is with things as seemingly mundane as the order of worship on Sunday morning.
Personally, I’ve used the A.C.T.S. model to reconnect with people in my bible study back home. When I was involved with Young Life in high school, our weekly Campaigners bible studies always started with a brief “Highs and Lows” recap of the week. It gave each person a chance to share both a praise and prayer request. My A.C.T.S. method serves the same purpose. While it’s hard to keep brief, it focuses conversation on God and frees people to be vulnerable. I love it. I’ve attached my method below. Each point of A.C.T.S. has a bible verse, a quick thought, and a prayer. I’ve found this to be wonderful for reflection in a group and on my own time. I’d encourage you to read through it, reflect on your last few days, weeks, or months, and spend time with the Lord who loves you.
Adoration – Psalm 27:4 “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple”
Above and behind all our prayer, we must remember what we truly desire: unity with God and worship of His glory. Every step of prayer is adoration, but we must explicitly process through it first to attune our hearts as we go forward.
- How has God revealed Himself to you recently? What have you learned about the character of God? How specifically have you been adoring Him?
Confession – James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
Confession is not a time to wallow in despair, it is an opportunity to be completely honest about yourself. Not all we confess has to be our own trespasses. It is no less, but it is far more. We can confess our pain, our sorrows, our victories, our shortcomings. God wants it all.
- What has been hard recently? Where have you been hurt? How have you hurt others? What shame are you still carrying on your shoulders?
Thanksgiving – 1 Peter 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
God does what He does because of who He is—our good Father. As Paul writes in Romans 8:32 “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” We have much to be thankful for.
- How has God blessed you recently? What are some examples of answered prayer? What good gifts are you thankful for? Is there any blessing that was surprising?
Supplication – Hebrews 4:14-16 “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Know your own strength. You may be able to travel the world preaching the gospel, enduring prison and persecution for decades as Paul did. You may be a single college student who has very little time and energy to devote to ministry. No matter your calling, God sustains his children. We are not to live on our own. Pray for yourself and pray for your family of believers.
- How can you partake in the ministry of your brothers and sisters? How can you stay connected in prayer with your brothers and sisters? Who is God telling you to pray for?