By: Leanna Hollis
It’s funny how God works, isn’t it? When I signed up to write about how to pray ACTS, I thought the topic was how to pray according to the book of Acts.
My mind’s eye filled with lame men who walked and thousands of converts to Christ in a single afternoon. Miracles. Release from prison. Big, showy answers to prayer.
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Doubt nagged at me until I finally checked. “ACTS in Prayer” is a prayer method described by Pastor E.W. Price, Jr. in a tiny, thirty-one page booklet published by Broadman Press in 1974. Forty-six years ago.
Disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. Write about someone else’s booklet? It felt like a high school book report gone bad.
I finally sat down at my desk to start my article, rummaged in the middle drawer for a pen, and the will of God slammed me in the face. Sitting on top in the back of the drawer was a copy of Pastor Price’s booklet from 1974. I have no idea where it came from but all doubt about the “book report” vanished. Clearly, there was something in ACTS I needed to know.
Our culture of instant gratification leads us to approach prayer as if God is a divine vending machine or a heavenly drive-through. We insert a prayer. He dispenses an answer. We give our order, wait long enough to drive around the building, and receive our answer at the window. Easy, right? If you’ve ever prayed, you know it doesn’t work that way but I have to admit—sometimes I wish it did.
So What is Prayer and How Do We Do It?
If we consider prayer nothing more than an opportunity to present our list of requests, we miss the point of two-way communication with God—intimacy with the One who loves us most.
The objective of prayer is not getting what we want but getting to know God on an intimate level and allowing Him to mold our desires to His.
Pastor E.W. Price Jr’s small pamphlet outlines his four-step technique for prayer and includes:
- Affirming God’s presence and Adoration of Him,
- Seeking for self and others.
After reading this pamphlet, a small group of women and I worked our way through these four steps. We found cut-to-the-heart conviction in Pastor Price’s plain writing and a renewed sense of joy in our time with the Lord.
How to Pray According to ACTS Acronym
Step 1: Affirming God’s Presence/Adoration
Our inclination was to begin with a recitation of our needs rather than spend even a moment greeting and adoring our Heavenly Father. Affirmation of God’s presence and adoration of His character required a consistent, intentional decision. Although not our default, we learned to treasure the stillness required to sense His presence.
Psalm 46:10 directs us to “Be still and and know that I am God.” When we slow down enough to express our adoration of God, it allows us to be still, remember Who He is, and move our focus from ourselves to Him. Even when time is limited, we do well to take a deep breath, slow our minds, and direct our focus heavenward.
This is not a time to seek His hand or what He can give us. Instead, it’s a time to take our eyes off ourselves and our desires so that we may seek His face and recall the breadth of His character. We focus on who He is, not what He can do for us, how great He is and not how much He can give.
How do we offer adoration? We mention the ways we’ve seen God at work as well as His characteristics. Need some examples? He is faithful, just, righteous, forgiving, patient, merciful, and gracious.
Step 2: Confession
Nothing can separate us from the love of God but our sin certainly can and does separate us from communion with Him. I learned that truth the hard way.
Confession is not a general “forgive me if I’ve sinned.” There’s no “if” in confession. We have all sinned and none of us is as innocent as we would like to believe.
Confession is an honest and specific admission. “I did it and I’m sorry I did. Please forgive me.” This is not an opportunity to blame someone else. Instead, we take full responsibility for our own bad choices and actions regardless of the provocation.
Confession is not only a time for full responsibility but a time for full confidence. Just as there is no “maybe” about our guilt, there is also no “maybe” about God’s forgiveness. His Word tells us He will forgive and He will remove our sin as far as the east is from the west.
What should we confess?
Price divides our specific sins into four general categories:
- Sins against God: We are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we love anything or anyone more than Him, if we place anything as a higher priority in our lives than God, it’s a form of idolatry and a sin against Him. Not sure about your priorities? What do you think about the most? Make the most allowance for? Sacrifice for? If it’s not God, it should be.
- Sins of temperament: These “unseen” attitudes manifest themselves in a variety of ways. It would be hard to improve on Pastor Price’s list: “selfishness, pride, stinginess, fear, worry and anxiety, cowardice, jealousy, anger and bad temper, impatience, irritability, complacency, vindictiveness, peevishness, and lust.”
- Sins against others: Whether a judgmental, critical spirit, dislike, hate, malice, spite, unforgiveness, unwillingness to be reconciled, prejudice or unkind words and deeds, these sins are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father. Our behavior must reflect the character and love of God. When it does not, it is sin and there’s cause for repentance.
- Sins of neglect – This includes things we know we should do but haven’t. Putting off a phone call to a friend. Procrastination in writing letters or notes. Neglected Bible study or time alone with God. Delayed obedience.
Step 3: Thanksgiving
Scripture is filled with examples of people offering thanksgiving, from offerings in the tabernacle to the psalmist’s impassioned “bless the Lord…and forget not all His benefits…,” to Jesus before He fed the multitude. Thanksgiving may be an annual holiday in my country, but giving thanks is supposed to be a way of life no matter where we live.
Our thanks should be intentional, specific, and offered regardless of circumstances. When the Apostle Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God for you,” the “everything” to which he referred includes both the good, bad, and ugly circumstances in life.
It’s easy to give thanks for good things but what about when tragedy occurs? When our lives are falling apart? When we are sick and in pain.
Even in the most difficult circumstances there is always something for which we can give thanks. Family. Friends. Daily needs met. Hope. Peace. God’s presence in the midst of our trial. When our group began to list our blessings, we found even more for which we could thank God.
Step 4: Seeking for self and others
“We are spiritual paupers because we simply have not tapped God’s vast resources through prayer.” E. W. Price Jr.
I like to call to call this step supplication. We’re to pray about everything and worry about nothing. In some cases, we don’t have because we didn’t ask. Pastor Price recommends we divide our seeking into two sections.
- Prayers for ourselves (Petition): We can certainly ask for “stuff” during this time, but we would do well to begin with request for spiritual blessings such as the whole armor of God, the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the love of God described in 1 Corinthians 13. Prayers for wisdom and for protection from sin should be included here as well as prayers for provision, protection, and direction.
When I was sick with “the” virus during the pandemic, not one material blessing mattered. My entire attention was focused on my next breath, my next step, and the God who supplied those needs as well as everything else.
My workaholism, control, and skewed priorities fell in line. God had my full attention and what I wanted because a lot less important than His will. Though it was one of the hardest times of my life, it was also one of the sweetest. It changed my prayer life and my petitions for the better.
- Prayers for others (Intercession): Price suggests we divide our intercessory prayer list into major sections. Others. Family. The Church. Missionaries. The Lost. Special needs. The world and current events. The natural laws of nature. The possibilities for prayer are endless and there’s clear precedence in Scripture for prayer concerning everything from drought and famine, wet or dry fleeces, to the sun standing still. Nothing is too hard for God and nothing is outside His realm of authority. Don’t limit your prayers but what you think is possible. Remember, nothing is impossible for God so pray big prayers.
I’ve asked God for intervention in everything imaginable including elections, the outrageous behavior of celebrities, expansion of time, miracles of loaves and fishes, miracles of healing and much more. He’s responded in ways that still leave me breathless with awe. I hate to think I could have missed a mighty move of God if I hadn’t asked, but Scripture suggests it’s a possibility. We sometimes “have not” because we didn’t ask.
When we’ve finished all our petitions, there’s one vital step Pastor Price stressed. It’s one we must not omit. Surrender by praying in Jesus name and leave our requests in the hands of the One who loves us most.
How to Pray ACTS in Action
Spend time with God throughout the day by saying “I love that You are…” then calling out His attributes. A few of the characteristics of God our ladies’ group mentioned include: always present, all-knowing, faithful, creative, just, merciful, unchanging, long-suffering, compassionate, holy.
Write a prayer of confession and include all the elements mentioned above. Spend a few moments in silence after asking God, “What else?” Include any sins He brings to mind in your confession. If apology or restitution is appropriate, make an in-person, phone, or written apology.
Take a few moments to list all the blessings God has given. Make your list specific and detailed. Be sure to find things for which you can thank God in the most difficult times of your life, the deepest sorrow, the greatest hurts. His hand is not shortened by our adversity and His presence is often greatest in our most trying times.
Seeking for self and others:
Start by asking for the armor of God, fruit of the Spirit, perfect love of God, and wisdom. Feel free to expand from there but make your prayers specific and God-sized. Make a note of your petitions and the date. When the answer comes, be sure to give thanks and make a note again.
Make a list of family, friends, church leaders, missionaries, the lost, the backslidden, and special needs. Ask with faith and ask big.