Seventy-three years ago, when I was 20, the main building of the Christian college I attended served many purposes. It held classrooms, dining facilities, the administrators’ offices, library and, on the third floor, a women’s dormitory.
People seemed everywhere.
There was no private corner where I could go right after breakfast with my pocket New Testament for a quiet time, and the men’s dormitory was too distant. So I found a place in the furnace room next to the coal bin, and each morning I sat there on a three-legged stool under a bare 25-watt light bulb and had my prayers.
That is not a boast. After a lifetime of attempting to make prayer a regular and central part of my life I feel I am still a beginner. Prayer is an inexhaustible subject and at 93 I am still a student of it.
But in this blog I share with you — as I have in past years — the format and strategy I often use to guide and enrich me in the practice of daily prayer. Call it the five stages of prayer: A-C-P-I-T.
1. ADORATION. Here’s one thing I’ve learned: prayers should always begin with time to focus on who it is we are addressing. We come before God with a keen sense of his majesty, his holiness, his infinite greatness and power. And we give time for these attributes to sink in.
The Virgin Mary burst forth, My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Her flash of reverence is worth our pondering. We can set our minds to adoration by repeating such Psalm fragments as, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Or, we can use the instruction of our Lord as a starting place. Jesus himself said of the Father: Hallowed be thy name. Hallowed means “greatly revered and honored.”
Adoration as an exercise clears the mind and takes us into the inner sanctuary of worship. It dispels the fog of our earth-bound living and awakens the soul to reality that is much larger than our realm of time and space.
2. CONFESSION. In a collection of prayers that John Wesley published before he was 30 years of age, he gave this helpful pattern for confession: “Heal, O Father of mercies, all my infirmities (_____), strengthen me against all my follies (_____), forgive me all my sins (_____). Wesley put blanks in so anyone using this prayer could personalize it. Our prayer should always have a place for self-examination and confession, sometimes made with tears and shame but always made with full confidence in God’s forgiving and sustaining mercy.
3. PETITION. In petition we bring personal needs before our Heavenly Father. They follow naturally upon confession. Our petitions are likely to grow out of issues we have confessed — our infirmities, our follies, our sins.
But we don’t remain there. We pray for more grace to overcome, more strength to do hard tasks, and a clearer vision to carry out our mission in life. George Buttrick wrote, “No situation remains the same when prayer is made about it.”
4. INTERCESSION. This means going beyond ourselves to pray for others — family, friends, work associates, neighbors, our congregation, enemies, other ministries, civic leaders in government, etc. To intercede thus for others near and far saves us from narrowness in our prayers.
The efficacy of intercession is one of the profoundest mysteries of the spiritual life. Prayer’s effects are often imperceptible. Answers to them on occasion may be immediate, but not always. And our intercessions are never to be viewed like approaching a vending machine, producing instantly what we ask.
Sometimes the answer is contrary to our desires. Isaiah the prophet proclaimed to a forlorn nation: They that wait upon the Lord (remain constant in their faith) shall renew their strength. James Hastings wrote, “It would not be unfair to estimate a person’s religion by the earnestness by which he longs for the welfare of others.”
5. THANKSGIVING. In adoration, where we began, we worship God for who he is; in thanksgiving, where we end, we praise him for all his benefits. For example, salvation through our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, typically springs first to mind. In response to that unprecedented gift it is good to let our spirits soar in thanksgiving.
We might next recall the largest blessings of our lives, and give thanks. And we also remember the smallest mercies, and give thanks. Giving thanks is like priming a pump. It may take a few pumps before the sense of gratitude flows. But even if our thanksgiving is sluggish at first due to fatigue or low mood, it will begin to flow.
After many decades of regular prayer, I commend it to you as a daily practice. Try out the A-C-P-I-T strategy. Find a time and place, if even in a furnace room and under a dim light bulb. And continue along with me to plumb prayer’s depths and joys.
Photo credit: Stephen Platt (via flickr.com)