One of the most astonishing activities in the Christian spiritual life is prayer. But many Christians aren’t taught either its importance or how to do it. Thankfully, there is a mnemonic that can guide us in our talking with God (ACTS).
What Is Prayer?
The simplest definition of prayer is communicating with God. We pray because God commands it (Matt. 7:7), and it glorifies him. But it also blesses those who are praying. We can pray individually, in small groups, or in large congregations.
But should we pray to God the Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit? The answer is all three since each of them is God.
- Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we have direct access to God and his will (John 16:24)
- As his beloved children, we can address God the Father as our own “Father” (Rom. 8:14-15; Gal. 4:6).
- So we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus (Eph. 5:20), by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Jude 20)
But we also want to bring a humble attitude (Ps. 95:6), as well as a dependent and reverent (Heb. 12:28-29) heart into prayer.
What is the best way to pray? There is no “one way.” One popular method has its origin in the early church father Origen (A.D. 185–225, in On Prayer), who prescribed the “A.C.T.S. Model” of prayer.
Adoration means to worship and acknowledge God’s greatness. He is the most magnificent Being, and he alone deserves our highest respect. With the angels, we cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3).
When we adore someone, we focus all our attention on them. Adoration for God focuses our minds on worshipping him alone. An excellent place to start is meditating on his attributes. Praise him as:
- Creator (Neh. 9:6)
- Lord over all (Ps. 148; 150)
- All-powerful (Matt. 19:26)
- All-knowing (1 John 3:20)
- Everywhere present (Ps. 139:6-12; Acts 17:24)
- Entirely in control (Eph. 1:11)
- Perfectly holy (Exod. 15:11)
- And merciful (Exod. 34:6-7)
Take time to meditate on just one of those attributes and tell God, “I praise you, God, that you are (“fill in the attribute”).
Or consider spending time remembering ways God has blessed you, and then praise him for his faithfulness (Ps. 143:1), mercy (Ps. 51:1), love, and compassion (Ps. 103:1-18) shown to you through these things.
Or reflect on God’s glory (Ps. 19:1-6), majesty (Ps. 8:1), kingship (Ps. 93:1), justice, and righteousness (Ps. 97:2).
If you want adoration to enrich your prayer life, read passages of God’s attributes!
After spending time remembering who God is and adoring him, we inevitably compare ourselves with God’s perfections. The more we understand God’s holiness, the more we see our sinfulness.
Like the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, we cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5).
As we see our sinfulness, the gospel affects our daily life. God promises to forgive us (1 John 1:9) when we confess and sincerely repent of our sins (2 Chron. 7:14; Neh. 1:4, 7). So, once we confess our sins, we can remind ourselves of God’s forgiveness and ask for his power to move forward in victory.
We should be thankful to God for everything and in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:16–18).
We can thank God for his powerful work in redemption history:
- His unchanging love to his people (Ps. 138:2)
- Sending Christ for us (2 Cor. 9:14–15)
- Delivering us from sin (Rom. 6:17–18) and death’s power (1 Cor 15:53-57)
- Giving the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26-27)
And we can also thank God for his specific work in our lives:
- Answering our prayers (Ps. 30:2; 34:4)
- Providing for our material needs (Matt. 15:36)
- Helping us in times of trouble (Ps. 34:1-4)
- Bringing others into our lives to encourage us (Phil. 1:3-6)
It can be challenging to thank God when we are suffering through trials. But when we remember how he promises to use these trials for our good (James 1:2-4; Rom. 8:28-29), we can (and should) still give him thanks (1 Thess. 5:18). But that doesn’t mean we can’t also ask for his help.
When most people think of prayer, they think of “supplication.” Supplication means asking God to intervene and provide something for us or someone else.
There is nothing wrong with asking God for things! Jesus told us to bring requests to him in prayer, whether big or small (John 16:24).
But our requests should be sincere, genuine, and personal. They should arise from our firm belief that God rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). And when we ask anything of God, we must remember that we are dependent on God.
God is not a cosmic grandpa who dispenses gifts willy-nilly. Instead, in humility, we accept that he may say “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” It is his choice of how he responds. But our response must be to believe that whatever his answer, he is providing what he knows is best for us.
Whether for ourselves or others, we may ask God for:
- Forgiveness of our sins (1 John 1:8, 9)
- Spiritual blessings (Matt. 6:33)
- Wisdom (Dan. 9:20–27)
- Joy (John 16:23–24)
- Peace (Phil. 4:6–8)
- Guidance (Jdg. 1:1-2)
- Help in time of need (Heb. 4:16)
- Healing (Isa 38:1-10)
- Provision of temporal needs (Matt. 6:11).
And because we are under continual assault from Satan, our surrounding culture, and our flesh, we can ask God for deliverance from:
- Temptation (Matt. 26:41)
- Enemies (Ps. 17:8-9; 2 Chron. 14:11)
- Harm (Joel 2:32)
- Suffering (James 5:13)
- Anxiety (Phil. 4:6, 7)
- Fear (Ps. 118:5–6)
Praying for others (also called “interceding”) does make a difference in other’s lives, so remember to pray for your pastor, other Christians (Eph. 6:18), friends (Job 42:10), government leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2), and even your enemies (Matt. 5:4).
If you’re at a loss for words in how you pray these sorts of prayers, use one of the apostles Paul’s prayers that he prays for the Christians in various churches (Eph. 1:18–19; 3:16–19; Col. 1:9–12; 2 Thess. 3:5-13; Phil. 1:9–11).
The Best Thing We Could Do
Prayer is the highest activity of the human spirit. It is communion with God. Praying is a form of worship when we adore, confess, thank, and make our supplication to God. And the more we engage in worship, the closer we draw to God.
Origen, On Prayer, 23.1