After many years of diverse career experience, I was excitedly counting down the days until my retirement. I eagerly anticipated being in control of my schedule and time while enjoying a slower pace of life. I envisioned more days devoted to serving in ministry at my church and deepening relationships...
When I pray, I’m less distracted if I have a course to follow.
There are several prayer plans out there. Such an aid is easy to remember and follow under various circumstances and pressures. Having a roadmap for your prayer time can help redirect misguided prayers and focus meandering prayers.
I most often use a well-known prayer guide that goes by the acronym ACTS.
This prayer aid helps remind me of my priorities in prayer. Even if I have only a moment to pray, and even if I’m pursuing a specific request or concern, praying through the ACTS roadmap helps me focus on God’s will and not my own desires.
ACTS stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Let’s go over each one.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. (Psalm 29:2)
When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he started like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). He expresses love in addressing God as Father and respect for him as the Ruler of heaven. He recalls God’s majesty and magnificence by speaking the truth that our Father is holy and perfect. Jesus begins prayer with adoration: praising and worshipping the Father for who he is.
Through adoration we express our love, awe, respect, and even reverent fear, of God. We declare his power, holiness, and eminence. We praise his justice, grace, mercy, sovereignty, righteous anger, and unceasing love. We sit in wonder at his unsearchable knowledge, his unfathomable wisdom, his unending understanding (Romans 11:33-36). We tremble at his unavoidable, undying presence and his intractable will. Basically, we gawk in amazement at everything that he is and sing his attributes back to him in worship.
This is the best way to start prayer. The act of adoration reminds us that our lives are not about us; they are about God. It also reminds us that he is more than capable of handling anything that is going on around us because of who he is. Priming our hearts with adoration before we continue in prayer will help ensure that we are seeking his will and glory—not our own.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Confession isn’t just admitting our faults, it’s about continual repentance—turning away from sin and toward God. We confess regularly, not because unrecalled sins wouldn’t be forgiven if we forgot to pray for them, but to acknowledge that we are still ever in need of Jesus.
Jesus’s work of salvation is complete and sufficient for the forgiveness of all our sins, but we need to remember that his work in sanctifying us—becoming more like Jesus—is not yet complete. Confession humbles us. We declare to God that we are lost without him, and affirm this through confessing our struggle with specific sins.
Confession is being honest before God about who we are, and what we’ve done, and who he is, and what he’s done for us. God sees us and knows us at all times. We can’t hide and aren’t trying to. God loved us enough to send Jesus to deal with our sin, and he loves us enough to give us his Spirit to strengthen and guide us in our ongoing battle with sin. Confession reminds us how much grace we have received from Jesus and how much we still need him.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things. (Psalm 107:8-9)
Thanksgiving naturally comes after confession. What do we have to be more thankful for than our salvation through Jesus Christ?
Thanksgiving is also a type of adoration, as we express our gratitude to God for all his provisions, blessings, and gifts. Giving thanks in prayer trains us to be thankful in all parts of life. When we give thanks to God, we are praising him for his control of all things.
Thanksgiving is appropriate and necessary “in all circumstances,” meaning we thank God in his discipline and in his blessing (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We strive to see his sovereign will, his holiness, and his goodness in all circumstances, regardless of the difficulty we are experiencing.
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
For good reason, supplication is last on our prayer roadmap. When we come to God with our requests, we need to remember who he is, our constant need of him, and his goodness to us.
Adoration, confession, and thanksgiving tune our minds to the truth that God is God, and we are not. Only then can we really make requests of him with a right heart. We can ask what we will, but must understand that he gives and takes away as he wills. We must learn to be content with how he answers.
Jesus models godly supplication in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even being fully God, and knowing the ultimate outcome of his work, he dreads the pain of the cross. Jesus is also fully man, so the cross is still a horror (Matthew 26:38). He knows that he will be separated from his Father, even if only temporarily. This has never before happened in all of time and space, and is the greatest sacrifice that our sin demanded of Jesus. Understandably, he looks on his immediate future with dread.
So he prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39b). Jesus honestly brings what is on his mind to the Father, but submits to his decision. The concern on his heart brings him to God in prayer three times, but at no point does he insist on his own way (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). He is emotional, intense, and straightforward. But, he submits and concerns himself first and foremost with the will of his Father.
This is what prayer is for—to orient us to God’s will. We fill our minds and hearts with his Word, and then we pray his words back to him.
We can come to him honestly as long as we also come to him humbly.
We can come to him with supplications as long as we come in submission.
We can come to him with our needs as long as we come to him for his glory.
We can ask for all that our hearts desire, but our hearts must be first and fully his.
Having such a guide through prayer reminds us seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). When we do that, he will be happy to give us the desires of our heart, because they will be what he also desires for us.