You stumble out of bed and make yourself a cup of coffee. You settle down in your comfy chair with your Bible and a cozy blanket.
You open your mouth to pray and nothing comes out.
What on earth do you say to God Most High?
That used to happen to me. More times than I care to admit.
Then I dove into the Psalms. That changed everything.
The Problem with Formulas
When I was younger, I was taught the ACTS form of praying. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it.
- Supplication (asking God to intervene on behalf of yourself and others)
There’s no question that all of these aspects of prayer are important. They’re all present in the Lord’s Prayer, the model of prayer Jesus himself gave us.
But the problem with a prayer formula is that it can quickly become rote. We just go through the motions of prayer without making any meaningful connection to God.
When I was using the ACTS formula, instead of letting my words to God naturally flow, I found myself asking, “What can I adore God for today? What do I need to confess? What can I give thanks for?”
Mentally, I was just checking off boxes.
That’s not good.
How the Psalms Changed My Prayer Life
I’ll confess I’ve never been a huge fan of the Psalms before. I’m not a real poetic person. I love the epistles of Paul, because they tell me what to do.
What can I say? I’m more practical than poetic.
But this summer, as I was going through a difficult time in life, I decided to delve into the Psalms. After all, David, who wrote many of the Psalms, went through some really difficult times. How did he speak to God?
He was real. That’s how he spoke to God.
I love the Psalms of David, because he doesn’t hold back.
When he feels far from God, he writes,
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:1 (ESV)
And when he is sad, he laments,
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
And why are you in turmoil within me?
Psalm 43:5a (ESV)
When he is confident in the Lord, he boasts,
Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.
Psalm 144:1-2 (ESV)
I could go on and on, but the point is, David did not hold back his emotions when he talked to God. He didn’t just run down the checklist of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
Some of his prayers contain all four aspects of prayer. Others only contain one or two.
David poured out to God whatever was on his mind.
And that’s how God wants us to approach him.
I love how Paul Miller puts it in A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (pp. 32-33).
Jesus does not say, “Come to me, all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.” No, Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NASB). The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.
We don’t have to come with a prayer formula. We just have to come as we are.
God will do the Rest
One thing that is absolutely clear when I read the Psalms is that no matter how distressed David is when he writes, he always comes back to the sufficiency of God to handle his problems.
When he felt far from God at the beginning of Psalm 13 above, he ended with,
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 13:5-6 (ESV)
And in Psalm 43, our example of David’s sadness, he goes on to say,
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Psalm 43:5b (ESV)
Many years ago, while I was dealing with all of the emotions that go with infertility, I found myself angry with God. I was ashamed, so I stopped praying.Just keep talking to GodClick To Tweet
I sought counsel from my pastor at the time, and he said something that has stuck with me for years.
“Lynnae,” he advised, “God already knows that you’re angry. Keep talking to him. As long as you are talking to him, he will work on your heart. But God is a gentleman, and if you stop talking to him, he won’t impose himself on you. He will patiently wait for you to come back to him.”
I began praying again, and I found my pastor’s words to be true. The more I read my Bible and prayed, the more God turned my angry heart toward him.
Prayer and Bible reading go hand in hand. To have a conversation with someone you have to know him, and reading our Bibles helps us know God.
When we pray to God, whom we know, and we pour out our hearts to him, he will turn our hearts toward him. And when that happens, our prayers naturally evolve into adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
Just be real and keep talking to God. Keep reading the Bible. God will take care of the rest. If you can’t find the right words, don’t worry about it. God understands.