Let’s be honest. Our prayer lives need some help! Some of us pray as if God is a cosmic genie, granting wishes and doing the bidding of those who pray the most or the best. Others treat prayer like a fire alarm—pull in case of emergency.
For those of us leading Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and small groups, prayer is often more like an administrative task to check off our to-do list rather than an encounter with a living—and listening—God. So how do we spice up our prayer lives and get out of the repetitive rut?
Below is an acronym I learned years ago that time and again has helped me resuscitate my prayers:
- A – Adoration
- C – Confession
- T – Thanksgiving
- S – Supplication
Let’s break down what each of those terms mean and exactly how they shape our prayers.
One of the most helpful things I’ve experienced in both personal and communal prayer is the power of adoration. The goal of adoration is to offer our highest compliments to God. Prayers of adoration are prayers of praise for who God is, what He’s done, what He’s doing, and what He will accomplish in and for His people.
An easy way to practice prayers of adoration is to simply pray Scripture back to God. Read Revelation 5:9-13. Now read the first verse and pray according to the themes addressed in it. Continue reading and praying in this manner through verse 13.
Another way to pray adoration is to make a list of God’s characteristics and use each characteristic as a focus of your prayer. If leading your group in prayer, pray either of these two options out loud.
Confession is a way to recognize and clear away relational barriers between us and God. Sometimes we enter into confession of sin knowing full well the ways we aren’t in line with God’s commands. Other times we enter into prayer without an immediate sense of where we’re sinning against God. In times like this it’s helpful to recall Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.”
During confession, avoid vague prayers such as, “God, forgive me for being sinful.” While it’s true that God is able to forgive and we are sinful, the Holy Spirit convicts sinners of specific sins. Confession might look like, “God, I confess that I lied to my boss to cover up a mistake I made at work.”
Confession doesn’t have to be limited to personal times of prayer. It is a great practice to lead your small groups through. Here are a few steps to communal confession:
- Spend 2-3 minutes silently reflecting on the ways your thoughts and actions are displeasing to God. Pray Psalm 139:23-24, and invite the Spirit to point out your specific sins.
- Enter into a 5-10 minute time of corporate prayer. Begin the prayer time by acknowledging the corporate sins of all people: our innate tendency to rebel against God, our pursuit of other gods (wealth, security, approval, status, etc.), and so forth. Then open the prayer time to the group. Encourage your group members to be bold in their confessions, but also to be mindful of things that may be more appropriately confessed one-on-one with a leader. Ensure your group that they can trust God is faithful to forgive them of their sins.
- Close the prayer of confession by speaking aloud this pronouncement from Numbers 14:18-19, “The LORD is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.”
First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Prayers of thanksgiving are often reserved for times of obvious blessing—a painful relationship is mended or financial crisis averted. But the passage above reminds us that prayers of thanksgiving should be prayed in all circumstances, even when we don’t understand our present difficulties and trials. A couple of tips for praying thanksgiving include:
- Spend 5-10 minutes sharing things for which you are thankful, either in a journal, on a scrap piece of paper, or out loud if in a group. Include specific instances of God’s blessing and faithfulness to you.
- Now read Romans 8:31-39. Spend a few minutes identifying and briefly summarizing a current trial or difficult circumstance you’re facing. Pray for this situation (and the situations of others, if in a group), and trust in God’s infinite wisdom and goodness.
Supplication is another way of saying, “Take your requests to God.” You may feel like asking God for specific things is selfish or un-biblical. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In Matthew 21:22, Jesus says to His disciples, “And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” In Matthew 7:11, Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
We must balance this freedom to ask with an acknowledgment of God’s perfect perspective and will. Honest prayers of supplication are always submissive to God’s will and purposes. Prayers of supplication are also wonderful opportunities to pray on behalf of others. Just as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27), so should we pray on behalf of others.
Begin your time of supplication by praying for God to align your prayers with God’s will. An appropriate prayer might sound like, “God, I acknowledge that You have a perspective on the needs of Your people that we don’t have. I pray that Your Spirit would bring us into alignment with Your will so that Your desires become our desires.” Take a few minutes to write down three personal prayer requests, three requests on behalf of a specific person, and three requests on behalf of a larger group of people, like the church or a nation hit by natural disaster. If you’re praying with your group, take turns praying out loud through your lists.
Diligent prayer is something we, as leaders and as Christians, can’t neglect. Adding variety to the way and words we pray is a guaranteed way to keep your prayer life from becoming routine.
Posted by Joel A. Lindsey. Joel is the pastor of theology and care at The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the co-author of *For the City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel* with Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter. Joel and his wife, Melissa, have three sons—Eli, Beckett, and Schaeffer.