Wednesday, December 9, 2015

PRAYER: A Pattern for Praying

The following is a pattern for praying that I've developed to help me and my wife to pray biblically and cover the ground that prayer should cover (even if not all at once in a single prayer):

PPraise: Or, we might say, adoration.[1] Praise and adore and exalt and magnify and glorify God for who he is, as the triune God of eternal glory (the essential/ontological Trinity); and for what he’s done, as Father, Son, and Spirit for our redemption (the economic Trinity/the Gospel). That is, worship God and give him glory for his nature and character (theology proper) and for planning and carrying out the glorious drama of redemption in fulfillment of his promises (the Gospel of God).

RRepent: Or, we might say, confession. But we’re also going beyond confession at this place in PRAYER. In addition to confessing our sin(s) at this point, we are also doing the hard heart-work (or hard heart work) before the Lord to renounce all rebellion against the King. Our confession and repentance here find their full expression in Y (yearning) and E (exert) below where we complete our turn from sin toward God, Christ, holiness, righteousness, godliness, truth, and love. And our repentance and confession ought to include both personal and corporate sins (or private and public), starting with the private, but then moving on to public sins (both national and ecclesiastical). We certainly see examples of both in Scripture (e.g., Psalm 51 and Dan. 9:3–20).

AAcknowledge: Or, we might say, thanksgiving. At this place in prayer, acknowledge all God’s benefits (Ps. 103:2). The supreme blessing, of course, is the pardon of our sin(s) (Ps. 103:3). Acknowledging this blessing fittingly follows confessing and renouncing our sins in the last place in PRAYER (R—repent). But we ought not to forget any of God’s provisions (e.g., daily bread, Matt. 6:11). And so we ought to thank God both for his free forgiveness and for his plentiful provision.

YYearn: Or, we might say, supplication. Yearning expresses what comes next in our acronym, and it gets at our great goal and good, namely, fellowship with God. I think yearning goes beyond the supplication of ACTS, or at least it focuses what we're seeking more specifically in a Godward way. And up to this point, if we’ve been praying at all, we’ve been enjoying fellowship with God. But in this place in PRAYER—yearning—we give ourselves even more to God. We want to seek to cultivate at this point a loving longing for the Lord (e.g., Pss. 42:1–2; 63:1). And our longing ought to be expressed similarly to the psalmist’s in Psalm 119, where there is longing to know and understand God’s covenant communication to his children (e.g., “Make me to know . . .” and “Teach me . . .” and so on throughout the whole of Psalm 119). God has made himself and his mind known. And so the psalmist’s love affair with the Lord of his life is a love affair with the law of the Lord. It is an intense desire to know and do God’s will. And alongside this longing for knowing and understanding, and indeed as a natural outworking of it, comes a longing for closer walk with God. “O for a closer walk with God!”[2] We know that “it is good to be near God” (Ps. 73:28). And we know that a sweet fellowship with the living Lord is so often spoken of in Scripture metaphorically as walking with God (e.g., “Noah walked with God,” Gen. 6:9). And no small part of this is our depending on him who is the Giver of good gifts to provide all we need, to provide "our daily bread."

EExert: Or, we might say, effort. This place in PRAYER goes even further beyond the ACTS formula than did the previous places in PRAYER.[3] And it is the move from being on our knees to doing good deeds in step with turning from the sin(s) we’ve confessed and forsaken and in step with the yearning we’ve expressed for a closer walk with God. Here we are readying our hearts—and hands and feet!—to get up and go out into our world “in the strength that God supplies” (1 Pet. 4:11). We are readying ourselves to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” knowing that “God works in us, both to will and to work his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). Our prayer in the yearning part of PRAYER no doubt slides easily into this part where our hearts are eagerly embracing faith and obedience and asking God for his strength and grace to do what pleases him.

RRejoice: Or, we might say, joy or delight. And perhaps you’re wondering why PRAYER finishes this way. PRAYER, if it’s praying in the Spirit, will probably be punctuated throughout with rejoicing in God and the Gospel. But I include rejoicing here, not just to finish the acronym, but because (as Paul puts it) it is safe for us (Phil. 3:1). Joy is so essential a part of the life of the disciple of Christ and child of God that we ought routinely to recall and practice it as a spiritual discipline. If Paul can say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4; cf. 1 Thess. 5:16), well, then, we really should rejoice in the Lord always. And perhaps there’s no better place to remember this than in prayer as we’re getting off our knees and moving out into the troubles and distresses of our circumstances. “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

Here, then, is a snapshot of PRAYER for your mind's eye (or perhaps to place in your Bible on a post-it note):

PPraise: glorify God for who he is (God’s nature and character), and for what he’s done (the good news in Christ).
RRepent: confess and renounce sin(s), both personal and corporate, both private and public.
AAcknowledge: recognize God’s pardon and provision, and give him thanks.
YYearn: long for the Lord, seeking understanding of his works, will, and ways, straining after a closer walk with God in them.
EExert: get up and go out into the world in the strength that God supplies.
RRejoice: “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

One caveat is in order before signing off. Please keep in mind that this acronym is intended as an aid to prayer, not as the law of the Medes and Persians. It is intended to assist with the various elements of praying and thus ought not to be worn like a straight jacket. In other words, don’t feel like you need to go back to R (repent) if you yearned (Y) before you acknowledged (A), or feel like you need to confess if you’ve left an element out. Prayer is personal, and it is particular to one’s situation and God’s guiding. But I do believe PRAYER covers the basic range of our communion with God, I seek to practice it myself, and I commend it for your consideration. 

[1] As in the familiar ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). You’ll note the similarity of PRAYER to ACTS, which is also a good guide, but you'll also see how PRAYER fills out and focuses prayer a bit differently.
[2]  William Cowper, “O for a Closer Walk with God” (No. 534) in the Trinity Hymnal (Suwanee, GA: Great Commission, 1990).
[3] And I really do believe that PRAYER, though similar to ACTS, does go beyond ACTS and fills out more what prayer ought to be, yes, including those elements (PRAY: Praise, Repent, Acknowledge, Yearn) that are so similar to ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication).

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