Pattern for Personal Prayer

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.)

3 Responses to Pattern for Personal Prayer

  1. Ron August 17, 2010 at 1:29 am #

    Thanks, Peter. I really like the other-centered themes you’re underscoring here: it’s as if we should speak to God in the same way we would speak to someone we like a lot!

    Let me pick up on what you wrote about “expressing thankfulness in order to look beyond the gifts to the giver”. It’s so easy to offer a superficial “thank you”, but a bit more revealing to give a heartfelt thanks. I’m quick on the former; slow with the latter!

    And it’s really the latter that builds a bond: I’m touched whenever someone offers me an honest “thank you” that goes beyond a pro forma nicety. It tells me that what I offered them connected at the heart level. As I read through the Bible, then, it tells me something about God’s own heart when he invites us again and again to “give thanks” (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:18). He even links our failure to give thanks as a primary indicator of sin in Romans 1:2 (“they refused to honor him as God or give thanks to him”).

    All that to say that any pattern of prayer should include lots of thanksgiving simply because it’s so appropriate (given that all we have comes from God) and it’s so important in redirecting our focus as you’re promoting here, Peter. So, thank you for such a helpful post; and I thank God for your partnership here at Cor Deo!

  2. Tony Thomas August 24, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Thank you for that posting. As someone who comes from a background in which prayers almost always came ‘ready made’ [and in which prayer was specified as a penance – a very confusing message about something that should be a delight] I find any guide to prayer a helpful consideration. My own current method is not dissimilar to the pattern you suggested but which has amazing scope for improvement.

    Also, in realisation of how quickly I turn God for his help, I try and and respond equally quickly and adopt “on the hoof praying”. That is making specific thanks contemporary with the realisation of a prayer answered or benefit realised. Both Peter’s and Ron’s comments will help me build on that.

  3. Huw August 27, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Thanks Peter – very helpful.

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