The pattern of praying

ACTS is an oft-suggested pattern for prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (requests). For years I found this pattern bothersome and peculiarly legalistic, as it seemed as if I often had to go through “preliminaries” to get to whatever was whipping me to prayer in the first place. The praise and thanksgiving could not flow naturally. Then it dawned that the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, which is, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the “special rule of direction” for all prayer, start right after the opening address. Therefore, requests are an acceptable and perhaps even desirable starting point in prayer. Note how David gets right down to business in Psalm 51 (“Have mercy on me, O God”). Or witness Jesus Himself in John 17 (“Father, the hour has come; Glorify Your Son…”).

In his Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, GI Williamson makes some additional observations about the Lord’s Prayer:

As we consider this pattern of true prayer, what are some of the characteristics that we immediately notice? (1) One is the utter simplicity of this prayer. There is nothing here of high sounding words, or poetic phrases. There is no use of words that have an impressive sound. The author once knew a fine Christian who had a habit of using this phrase in almost every prayer, “according to Thy riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” It is a fine sounding phrase. But what does it mean? If we but listen to our own prayers as we speak them, we will notice this tendency to depart from direct and simple expressions. We will notice that we have a tendency to put a sort of “spiritual frosting” on the cake of prayer. This, we learn from this prayer our Lord taught His disciples, is quite unnecessary. It adds nothing. It only tends to falsify the true expression of the desires of the heart. (2) We also note how brief this prayer is. No petition has more than ten words… And yet how common it is… to talk about prayer as if it were the amount of prayer that matters, rather than the content. We forget that Christ Himself said that we are not heard because of how long we make our prayers (Matthew 6:7). The pattern prayer taught by our Lord is a sort of summary of what the whole Bible teaches… (3) And yet, how comprehensive this prayer is. Instead of covering a little with much speaking, it covers much with little speaking. This is how we ought also to pray. God calls us to intelligent interest in Himself and all His works. He calls us, in other words, to a prayer life that embraces the whole realm of existence in heaven and earth.

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