rotaryphone02I received the following questions:

Do you know much about prayer?  I know some, but I still have problems with what to pray about.  What does/should prayer look like?  I am kind of stuck with the “A.C.T.S.” version of prayer.  But, I’m not sure if it is the best way to pray.  A=Praising God, C=Confessing sin, T=Thanksgiving, S=Supplication.

When, I pray, whether or not I use that structure, I get easily distracted within my thoughts and lose my focus. I think that if I really wanted to pray to God that I would be “vigilant” and persistent. Then I also feel like I don’t deserve to pray to God or that God does not hear my prayer.

I know not to necessarily expect an answer for my prayer, but rather the peace of God to guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.  But, I am a very anxious person who worries a lot. And, when I pray, I still worry about stuff.

I think that prayer should look like talking to God. That is really and truly what we are doing when we pray. Many get all caught up in making prayer into a religious act. They look for some “formula” that will bring forth the “power of prayer.” I do not believe that prayer is powerful, I believe that God is powerful. It is an amazing thing that we, as sinful and fallen human beings, can talk to Him. Yet He loves us, and hears us.

In the dispensation of grace, we have no right to expect that our requests in prayer will be granted. Many get caught up in passages where Christ promised His disciples certain things about their prayers. However, we are not the disciples, and we are not living in the Acts period. Our only promise is that God will hear us, and so we are told that we should not cease praying. Philippians 4:6-7 is our best pattern for prayer today. We are not promised that we will receive what we ask for, but we are promised that a true union with God will guard our hearts and minds.

Some suggest that God always answers prayer, just He answers “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” Since God does not speak audibly in this dispensation, this seems to me rather disingenuous. Christ did not always answer requests made to Him, even to say no, like in Matthew 15:22-23. He is under no obligation to say anything just because we asked. Many are asking things that are inappropriate for the dispensation of grace. I do not think that these get an answer.

Too often, prayer devolves into a laundry list of things we want. It is good to have other elements to our prayers than this. The “A.C.T.S.” prayer you mentioned is one way of attempting to do this.

Praise is certainly always appropriate.

I definitely do not try to work confession into my prayers. Usually, when I realize I have sinned and not done what I should have before God, I immediately speak to Him and apologize for it. Then I tend to figure the matter is done with, unless I need to plan ways to not give in to this weakness in the future. I certainly do not store up past sins to remember them the next time I pray so I have a “confession” section to my prayer. These things are best dispensed with immediately and then done with. If anything, discuss with Him ways to do better in the future. We are already forgiven, so an apology is all that is needed, no need to ask or beg for forgiveness.

Thanksgiving is always good and appropriate. God detests an attitude of unthankfulness.

Supplication has to do with asking for things. This is fine, although some ask for things that are not things God is doing in the dispensation of grace. As we learn more what God’s plan is, we can learn to ask more in line with His will. Yet I would not wait until I have it all figured out until I prayed. I will make my requests known to God. As I learn more, my prayers may be more appropriate, but that does not mean that God does not want to hear from me.

My requests should be largely for others, not just for myself. Often, I find myself asking for things for others that have more to do with the things of God than with physical blessings. This, I realize more and more, is the most important thing. Of course, if someone is desperately ill or in dire straits, that figures largely into what I will pray for that person.

As far as getting distracted or losing focus, I will often experience the same thing. I am talking to God about something that I really care about, and I find myself starting to mull over it instead of talking to God about it. There are several things you can try for this. You can try praying out loud. Even when you are alone and praying to yourself, there is no necessity to pray internally. You can also pray with your eyes open. There is no reason, other than liturgy, for having them closed. Some of my friends would sometimes go on “prayer walks,” where they would walk around campus and pray out loud as they went. I suppose people thought they were very strange, but they were mostly walking at a time and place where few people were. This allowed them to focus pretty well. At any rate, my point is that if you are having trouble focusing, you can try changing venues for your prayers. There is no “right formula,” and prayer walks is just one idea.

Sometimes you have to be persistent before you start to want to be persistent. Focus more on doing the right thing than testing the winds to try to decide if you really feel like you “want” to do the right thing.

As far as deserving to be able to pray to God, of course you don’t deserve it. Who could? If it was up to us deserving it, none of us could pray. The reason we can pray is because of God’s love for us, not because we deserve it. All we can do is take God at His word that He hears us. As you make God’s Book more and more a part of your life, such doubts will start to become less and less.

As far as still worrying when you pray, it is very hard to trust God, especially in this time, when we don’t have any guarantees that everything will work out right (short of the kingdom, that is.) Not worrying about anything is a very high standard, and one that it will take some time and work to attain. Perhaps we can never attain it completely. Yet it is good to keep Philippians 4:6-7 in mind, and be striving to attain to it.

6. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7. and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.