Early in my Christian life I was taught an acronym to guide my prayer life. Having very little Christian background, I needed all the help I could get. The acronym is A.C.T.S. It seems that it first appeared in that form late in the 19th century in America.
“A” stands for adoration. Psalm 145:1 serves as an example: “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.” Our good and great God deserves no less.
“C” stands for confession. David provides a powerful example in Psalm 51:4: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”
“T” stands for thanksgiving, and…
“S” for supplication or petition.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians put both ideas together (Phil. 4:6): ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition [supplication], with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ Each of these practices has biblical backing as can be seen by the Scripture verses above.
Now that I have been a Christian many years, I have come to see a great absence in A.C.T.S. There is a practice of biblical praying that is missing, and without it, I believe Christian praying can become unreal and pastorally unhelpful.
Nonetheless, now that I have been a Christian many years, I have come to see a great absence in A.C.T.S. There is a practice of biblical praying that is missing, and without it, I believe Christian praying can become unreal and pastorally unhelpful.
A Missing “L”
I say “unreal” because bad things happen to believers. I think of a couple who lost a baby through an accident. I think too of a church where the pastor stole a large amount of the congregation’s money to feed an online gambling addiction. If such things are never made themes for prayer and we sing praise songs and say ‘happy’ things, then experience seems to be against such saccharine.
I say “unhelpful” because God’s people are deprived of a language to express anger and sadness before God and to God. What is missing? Lament. In fact, the biggest group of psalms in the Book of Psalms is laments. Lament gives us a language of address to God when life is perplexing, overwhelming and desperate.
Yet what is so interesting is that, in so many lament psalms, the psalmist starts in the pit but ends in praise. Psalm 13 is a good example. “How long, Lord?” it begins. “Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” But the psalm ends in song: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me” (vv. 5-6).
Lament in the New Testament
Lament is in the New Testament too. Indeed, on the cross Jesus took a lament psalm on his lips (Psalm 22:1): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”
Bearing the sins of the world sins was an awful burden. If scholars are right, his Psalm 22 quote had the whole psalm in mind. This lament psalm too starts in the depths but ends in praise and expressions of confidence in God’s sovereignty. As we read in verse 25 reads: “from you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfil my vows.”
For believers in tough circumstances, the journey from anguished questioning to robust confidence needs to be undertaken and not short-circuited. What difference would it make to our own prayer life and our church life if we could meet tragedy with prayers of lament? Christian realism requires no less.
Photos: Milada Vigerova, Unsplash; Jim Jackson (inset), pexels