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Acts to improve our understanding of prayer and make it more fulfilling

By Rev Dr Allen Sleith

Published 05/11/2016

Prayer is one of those subjects about which many people have an uneasy conscience. We acknowledge that it's important and that we're expected to do it, but our experience of it is often dreary and unfulfilling and our attempts to do it fitful at best and shameful at worst.

Furthermore, the pain of apparently disappointed prayer, perhaps in the form of grim or tragic outcomes despite our fervent hopes otherwise, can lead many to question its efficacy or puzzle over God's love or power or both.

Part of the problem might be that many people think of prayer as asking God for certain things. Well, it is, of course, but it's so much more. The acronym ACTS gives a more comprehensive and balanced understanding of prayer, where A = Adoration for who God is; C = Confession of our sins and weakness; T = Thanksgiving for God's gifts, actions and promises, and S = Supplication where we ask God to act or provide in two spheres - firstly for ourselves, which we call petition, and secondly for others and the world, which we call intercession.

Add to that lament or protest where we cry out to God in overwhelming distress and righteous anger, often found in the Psalms, though such visceral outbursts are rare and uncomfortable in the decorum of much contemporary public worship.

But more comprehensive still is contemplation. This is prayer as silence, often in the posture of stillness, waiting or walking when we let distractions fall away and let God be God.

Awareness enlarges as the Spirit makes space for grace within us and 'Deep calls to deep' (Psalm 42).

Since speed and rush are so often enemies of the Spirit, contemplation may be God's way of bringing us closer to the pace and place in which the peace that passes understanding can get a look in, letting go and letting God pray within us, for prayer, rightly understood, begins and ends with God (Romans 8:26).

Perhaps that's partly why God gifted us in the following proportions: two eyes, two ears, two legs but only one mouth. As in life, so in prayer, looking and listening, carefully done, shape our speech for the better.

Belfast Telegraph

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