Why I Don’t Use the ACTS Model of Prayer (at least not when I’m in trouble)

As a child I was taught an acronym for remembering what key things to pray, and what order to pray them in. Maybe you know it too: ACTS. It stands for,

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • Supplication

Let me say up front that I’m not here to totally slam this model of pray, and I’m definitely not here to express ingratitude for those who taught me to pray like this.  I appreciate the desire to stop people treating God like a vending machine, and I see how guidelines that put ‘supplication’ (I.e. “Please can I have…”) last, guards against that.

But sometimes we just need help, and if we feel the need to go through steps of praising God, saying sorry, and thanking Him for past help before we ask for the present help we need…well it might just be too late to ask.

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Let me illustrate by way of a story. I’ll save my personal tales of woe for another day. For now, I’ll pick on the apostle Peter.

You might know the story (see Matthew 14:22-33 for the actual account): Jesus disciples are in a boat, crossing over a lake at night, Jesus walks past on the water, Peter gets out on the water to join Him, does OK for a few steps then freaks out and starts to drown. At this point Peter cries out to Jesus. His prayer, if I can call it that (and it’s my blog so frankly I’ll do what I want!), is quite simple: “Lord, help me!”

I think Peter’s cry is a good model for prayer. It might not surprise you to hear that on occasion I find myself in trouble. Sometimes this is because of events outside my control, but often-like Peter-it is because of my own lack of faith or just because of plain stupidity or sin. In these occasions if I follow the ACTS guidelines I’ll end up like Peter would have if he’d used them: sunk. Which is why I tend to follow Peter’s guideline instead: I simply cry, “Lord, help me!” And as Jesus took Peter’s hand and pulled him onto the boat, so Jesus pulls me from my trouble.

Now, in the story Peter (and the disciples) do show adoration of Jesus. And since Peter was rescued from drowning and then told off, I assume thanksgiving and confession also featured. My point is that these happen after Peter has asked for, and received, the help he needed. God won’t despise us for calling on Him to help us, and because He’s not a vending machine we don’t have to go through steps to earn the right to ask for help. We can’t earn the right to receive help.

So, this week I commend to you a fairly simple prayer. One to use in times of trouble and one you can pray for missionaries in Japan (and yes, other people, if you must!) when you hear that they’re in trouble:

Lord, help me!

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