You have a chunk of time and decide to pray. Now what? Perhaps a pattern would be helpful? Now some might object that this would squelch the reality of a true relationship. Then again, when Jesus was asked how to pray, he responded with a pattern.
As a young believer I was taught the A.C.T.S. acronym. Adoration leads to confession, to thanksgiving and finally to supplication. It made sense and proved helpful over the years. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the tendency of my flesh to “meify” the pattern. Adore (because that cracks open the door for God to be favourable to later requests), confess (since sin always gets in the way of getting prayer answered), be thankful (again with an eye toward what is to follow), and then finally get to shopping, uh, I mean, supplication (the real goal throughout). Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?
Over the years I’ve developed a three-part structure that I follow in focused prayer times. I begin with “Redirecting the gaze – dependence.” Recognizing the tendency of my fleshly self to curve in on myself, I begin by looking to Him. All the concerns, the anxieties, the cares are cast on Him (because He cares for me). As well as petition, I may find myself confessing, or expressing thankfulness in order to look beyond the gifts to the giver. If I stop here there is a danger that I am loving God for my own sake, so I move on to loving God for God’s sake.
The second stage is “Responding to the object of the gaze – devotion.” Time spent in God’s presence will lead to devotion, to adoration, to praise, to worship. Now the worshipful part of prayer is not a duty, but a delighted response. Yet if I stop here I suspect I still fall short of all that a relationship should include. I’ve moved from a me-focus to a God-focus, which is good. But in a genuine relationship two hearts will start to beat together in shared values and desires…
The third and final stage is “Reflecting the heartbeat of God – intercession.” God passionately and sacrificially loves others. Time spent with Him will stir the same in my heart, the spreading goodness will spread. So my responsive and God-reflecting heart will be stirred to pray for the world, the church, the widow and the orphan, the lost, the injustices, the mission field white unto harvest, etc.
Does this progression reflect a relational responsiveness to our others-centred Triune God?
Jesus answered his disciples with a pattern that is simpler still – pray to your Father about the Father, then pray to the Father about the family (give us, give us, give us). Love God and love others.
A pattern for prayer. By no means an exhaustive post on prayer, feel free to go where you like in your comments, but perhaps this post might be a helpful nudge for some.
(I just started A Praying Life by Paul Miller, so far so good. Maybe a review on here in due course.)