Sam J. Brock
The Christian Weapon
“The Efficacy of Faithful and Fervent Prayer”
First, a note on one of my references: For those that know me well or have read my last article (go read it you haven’t), it’s clear I’m extremely fond of R.C. Sproul’s teaching. So before you say “Sam, cite someone else!” I argue that He was an exceptionally wise and insightful theologian, therefore I will continue to cite him regardless of anyone pressuring me to jump off the Sproul train.
So now that I’ve got that out of the way… Roughly a year ago, I listened to an R.C. Sproul Sermon… and he mentioned a method of prayer that came in the form of an acrostic. The A.C.T.S prayer, which a vast majority of Christians are familiar with, was a brand new concept to me. As Sproul explained this handy tool to utilize when we spend time with the Lord, something dawned upon me. I realized (to be brutally honest) that my prayers were extremely self-centered and one-sided.
As I spoke to God, I only focused on the last part of the acrostic, supplication. Not only was I solely concentrated on supplication, but I was also usually only praying for the needs of myself, not others. So rarely would I thank God for the mercies and blessings in my life either, just my perceived needs (wants). Sounds extremely cold-hearted, right?
In light of this, I’m hoping to write an article that sheds some light on the other aspects of prayer, namely adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. We’re going to dive into why they are so vital to any honorable and heartfelt prayer and how we can continue to grow in such an essential aspect of the Christian faith.
I’d like to ask an important question from the outset: Why pray in the first place? Isn’t God Sovereign? Won’t he accomplish His plan regardless of our prayer?
Let’s break this all down.
We know that God is sovereign. Namely, He holds supreme, divine authority over His creation. Not only do we know that He is sovereign, we also know that He is not a passive God. As revealed to us in the totality of His sacred Word, His plan and His actions unravel this truth for us. Take a look at a couple of verses that simply scratch the surface of this divine attribute:
I know that you [God] can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
This means that our prayers do not change God’s mind or suddenly awaken Him from a cosmic slumber. His plan is plan A; we certainly don’t have the power to convince or persuade the almighty to veer off Of His sovereign plan. Additionally, God is “Utterly incapable of having an evil design, and He’s incapable of having a foolish design.”² We know that His plan is for His utmost glory, and we should find rest and immeasurable beauty in that.
But what about the fact that God already knows my heart? Just look at what David writes in Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
Taking this into consideration, one might argue: “God’s sovereign after all. He doesn’t need me to pray if my thoughts and desires are already revealed to him.” This is far from the truth.
Prayer in light of the sovereignty of God should not raise doubt, it’s a beautiful and intricate part of God’s ultimate plan of redemption.
As we wrestle and come to terms with this truth, we must also recognize that scripture is replete with commands for the people of God to pray:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
1 John 5:14–15
At this point I hope you are convinced of the undeniable importance of prayer (or, at a minimum, starting to consider that it may be quite important). It’s a privilege that God the Father, Son, and Spirit, command us to engage in such a personal and intentional act. The great reformer Martin Luther once pointed out, “To be Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” This is a truth that we must take seriously. And if we are to participate in this beautiful act every day, shouldn’t we strive to pray honorably?
So let us return to where we left off at the start of the article, the A.C.T.S acrostic. To those with different methods sufficient in each step covered, I hope this serves as a simple reminder or encouragement to remain steadfast in your prayer life. To those that have no disciplined form of prayer, my aim is that you take this to heart knowing that your petition to God is extraordinarily significant.
Adoration: “The process of expressing our love for our Creator and our awe at His majestic character.”³ We have to be reminded that it’s His glory that we pray for, not ours. Approaching God with humility in our admiration of Him is essential. A proper understanding of who God is, and who we are, allows us to adore Him with true reverence. A great reminder that fulfills this key aspect of prayer is written by Paul to the Romans:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
(For more on our nature of sinfulness, read Noah’s article “Getting Saved: Unwilling and Unable”)
Considering this truth, we must then focus our attention on God’s divine attributes. His surpassing greatness, unspeakable goodness, and super-abundant grace are a few to mention. Let us not only pray to God the father either. All three representatives of the trinity are to be praised in our adoration. For example, celebrate Christ’s willingness to die for you, a sinner, on the cross at calvary. Also, commend the Spirit for His divine guidance and granting of discernment and wisdom. It’s easy to fall into the trap of a singular prayer to God the Father, so I’ll mention to you again: Let the first step be the initial reminder that we must pray and adore in a trinitarian fashion.
Confession: We are “commanded to honestly deal with our sinful nature.”⁴ Let us not take such a command lightly. It should be a focus of our attention in prayer every day. I would say more, but the great sixteenth-century reformer John Calvin sums it up much better than I ever could.
"As for the confession of sins, scripture teaches us thus: because it is the Lord who forgives, forgets, and wipes out sins, let us confess to Him to obtain grace and pardon. He is the Physician so let us show Him our wounds and sores. It is He who has been offended and wounded so let us ask of Him mercy and peace. It is He who knows the hearts and sees all the thoughts so let us open our hearts before Him. It is He who calls sinners so let us withdraw to Him.”⁵
*Note: I take a page from the book of my church’s current interim pastor Stu Dix here. During his sermons, he loves to mention, “I could try to say it, but someone has already said it better than I ever would!” So in light of this, chew on the John Calvin quote for a bit and we will move on to the next topic.
Thanksgiving: Because of God’s divine attributes, His willingness to hear our prayers, His death on the cross, and so much more, we should express gratitude daily. Everything we possess comes from God and we must acknowledge this in our prayer.
Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!
1 Chronicles 16:34
We must be grateful for the blessings directly related to our personal lives and those that transpire around us. So give praise to God for your family, friends, church, elders, and occupation (the list is seemingly infinite!). Additionally, I’ll make note that thanksgiving and adoration can undoubtedly take place at the same time. For example, Adoring God for his everlasting grace and thanking him for its impact on our lives is a beautiful thing.
Supplication: “Bringing our requests for the needs of others and ourselves to God.”⁶ After studying the first three portions of the acrostic, I hope you can now see that supplication fits perfectly at the end. It certainly has its place in our prayer, but we must be mindful of the dangers of this final element. We will always be tempted to bestow selfish requests of supplication to our God. Our world is filled with sayings like “you deserve more”, and if we buy into such a worldly slogan, our requests before God will be in vain. Let this serve as a reminder to pray for the needs of others before yourself. There is a great deal of selflessness displayed in this. The people in your life would greatly appreciate your prayerful heart, regardless if they know you take part in this considerate act. Lastly, be content with the outcomes in respect to this final element. R.C. Sproul emphasizes: “A prayer of faith is a prayer that trusts God for the outcome, even if he says no.”²
To wrap things up, I commend you if you made it this far! As I mentioned previously, I wish I had understood the significance of prayer a lot earlier in my walk as a Christian. I hope and pray this article serves as a gut check to some (as many of these teachings once did for me) or at a minimum allow you to realize something new about the importance of personal time spent with God. Let us all continue with steadfastness in our adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication before the Lord.
*Final Note: I kid you not, there is a “Christian Prayer for Dummies” book. Within it, the A.C.T.S acrostic. So call me a dummy, but this guidance is, without a doubt, helpful. If our prayer isn’t intentional, it’s easily misguided and flippant.
“A Theology of Prayer in 3 Minutes.” n.d. www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OssBHX5rSiE&t=15shttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VxyGP7z2rk&t=1171s.
“Adoring Our Lord and Maker | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org.” 2018. Ligonier Ministries. October 24, 2018. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/adoring-our-lord-and-maker.
Pratt, Richard. 2016. “Honest Confession | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org.” Ligonier Ministries. June 18, 2016. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/honest-confession.
Calvin, Jean, and Robert White. 2014. The Institutes of Christian Religion. United States: Digireads.com Publishing.
Sproul, R.C. 2018. “A Simple Acrostic for Prayer: A.C.T.S.” Ligonier Ministries. June 25, 2018. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/simple-acrostic-prayer.
“10 Key Bible Verses on God’s Sovereignty.” 2020. Crossway. February 2, 2020. https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-key-bible-verses-on-gods-sovereignty/.
“10 Key Bible Verses on Prayer.” 2020. Crossway. March 11, 2020. https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-key-bible-verses-on-prayer/.
Beeke, Joel. 2016. “5 Methods for Fighting Half-Hearted Prayer.” Ligonier Ministries. March 30, 2016. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/5-methods-fighting-half-hearted-prayer.
“If You Don’t Pray, You Won’t Live.” 2018. Www.youtube.com. October 31, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJ9sfxMv3qE.