Tuesday, 24 January 2017 17:28

When you pray, keep it simple

Written by  Harold Bales

All religions that have staying power make prayer and meditation central to their common life. This is certainly true of the great religions in the biblical tradition: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Just read the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament, and note the examples of the “Chosen People” communicating with the One who chose them. Or read the New Testament teachings of Jesus about how to pray.

Islam arose after Judaism and Christianity and is noted for its emphasis on prayer. Most devout Muslims pause to pray five times daily. They kneel and touch their foreheads to the floor as they pray. This often leads to the formation of a callus on their foreheads from praying.

In the New Testament, the only thing His disciples are reported to have asked Him to teach them was how to pray. That’s how Christians got “The Lord’s Prayer.” People of faith are always interested in knowing more about the spiritual practice of prayer. What does it mean to pray and how to do it? This is a life-long quest for the most devoted.

Pastors know that prayer is fundamental to faith and they work hard to teach and encourage people to pray. Pastors are big on giving advice. Usually the best advice is the most simple advice. The best advice is easy to remember. The best advice is derivative of the collective wisdom of the past. And the best advice is practical and useful in the here and now.

Here is an example of good advice from the founder and pastor of one of America’s non-denominational, mega churches. His name is Bill Hybels. He said this about prayer: “One prayer routine that is balanced and easy to remember is found in the word ACTS, an acrostic whose letters stand for adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.” Now what could be simpler than that? Here are some of my own thoughts on ACTS.

Start prayer with adoration of God. This is the hard part of prayer. For one thing, expressions of adoration come easy to most of us, but this requires real passion. We adore our families and close friends. But I’m not just splashing holy water and blowing smoke here. It is really hard for most religious people to think of God as adorable. Think of adoration here as in worship, veneration, praise and celebration. If you try to think of God as cuddly and cute, lots of luck to you!

Next comes confession. Now, this is no picnic but it has to be done. Think of it as a reality check. If it isn’t painful for us, we aren’t being honest yet. Dump your unresolved guilt.

Then comes thanksgiving. This is pure pleasure. When we start naming the things for which we are happy and feel blessed, it does not get better than that.

Finally, we get to supplication. If I were to ask you when you last supplicated, you probably would think I had crossed the line into inappropriate nosiness for a polite society. It’s an old word for “ask.” Actually, we are all very good at asking for what we want. And that’s okay. God responds with “yes” or “no.” We understand “yes,” and we are happy. The most important answer is “no,” about which we are left to ponder.

ACTS: let us keep it simple. And let us pray.

Harold Bales is a retired Methodist minister who lives in Concord. He enjoys hearing from his readers, so send him an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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