- What Is the ACTS Prayer Model?
- Is the ACTS Prayer Model Biblical?
- Why the ACTS Method Is a Great Prayer Outline
- The Origin of the ACTS Prayer Model
- How to Pray Using the ACTS Prayer Method
- The ACTS Model and Its Place in Christian Discipleship
- A Summary of Key Takeaways
- HIM Publications Books on Prayer
What Is the ACTS Prayer Model?The ACTS Prayer Model is an acronym based on the word “ACTS” to guide people in four elements of prayer:
- Adoration: Glorifying God
- Confession: Repenting to God
- Thanksgiving: Expressing Gratitude to God
- Supplication: Making Requests of God
God, you’re awesome! I’m sorry for what I did this morning. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Please help me grow as a disciple today.This prayer model can be used for short prayers, or it can be used for long hours of praying. We’ll get into the details, but an important question first.
Is the ACTS Prayer Model Biblical?Yes and no. It’s biblical, yes, because each part is in the Bible, but no, the model itself is not found in Scripture. While Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray through the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 (also called the “Our Father Prayer”), he does not say it’s the only way to pray.
The Lord’s Prayer is our primary guide for prayer.
We find all sorts of prayers throughout Scripture and church history that don’t follow exactly the Lord’s Prayer; that doesn’t make them wrong. It just makes them different. The Lord’s Prayer, I argue, is primary, foundational, and fundamental for disciples of Jesus, and we must always come back to it. As I argue in my spiritual formation class session on prayer, the Lord’s Prayer is vital, but other prayer models can facilitate different aspects of it. As long as our use of a prayer model doesn’t neglect or contradict the Lord’s Prayer, it can be useful. The ACTS Prayer Model can be useful, but it must build on our understanding of how Jesus taught us to pray. Other prayer models can be useful as well. Take the John 17 Prayer Model (at least that’s what I call it:
- Jesus prays for himself
- Jesus prays for his disciples
- Jesus prays for the world
Jesus prays centrifugally, and we can, too.
This is what it looks like for us:
- We pray for ourselves
- We pray for those under our care
- We pray for the world
- Centering Prayer: This is using one word or phrase throughout the day to center yourself through prayer on God. See Basil Pennington’s book on the subject, Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form, for the ancient roots of this type of praying. I haven’t read it yet, but I have respect for the tradition of which he’s a part.
- Breath Prayer: This is a simple way of meditating on Scripture or a truth of God by breathing a prayer to God as you do.
- The Jesus Prayer: This is an ancient example of a breath prayer, where we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”
Why the ACTS Method Is a Great Prayer OutlineWhile many forms of prayer exist, the benefits of using the ACTS Prayer Model come in strong. It’s:
- A way to instantiate the Lord’s Prayer
- Easy to remember
- Simple to use with kids
- Parts are found throughout Scripture
- It has an early-church precedent
The Origin of the ACTS Prayer Model
Is It Origen (with an “e”)?Why did I come back to the ACTS Prayer Model? At the time, my church was using the model during Sunday worship. Each time it came on the screen, I would think, Why aren’t we using the Lord’s Prayer as our model? The Lord humbled me, though, when I stumbled upon an ancient use of this model (although not in the same order). While I haven’t found anyone who knows the origin of this English phrase, I have two interesting findings to share. Before I tell you about the ancient use case, let me give a brief history of this phrase in English. The English acronym A-C-T-S cannot be older than English itself because it’s unique to English. The version of English we speak today is only about 500 years old, and there’s no regular occurrence of “ACTS prayer” in the English language until 1828–1839, according to Google’s Books Ngram Viewer. While my research is not totally conclusive, The Book Ngram Viewer tool scans all available books in its database—which is enormous—for its data. I entered “ACTS prayer” and set the year range from 1500–2019, and this is what it came up with. Note: The Book Ngram Viewer is case sensitive, so it did not account for occurrences when the word “Acts” was not all caps. This chart shows when it was used in all caps for ACTS and lowercase prayer only. As this chart shows, the phrase “ACTS prayer” was used for a decade in some books in the early 1800s but went out of use until 1984. In 1984, we start seeing this phrase again, which reached its peak in 2013. So while the concept of the ACTS Prayer model appears to be relatively recent, the concept has ancient roots.
Here’s where it gets exciting.
I mentioned that Scripture doesn’t teach the ACTS Prayer Model explicitly, but I happened upon the church father Origen using a version of the ACTS Prayer Model in his catechumenate treatise On Prayer (pages 95–114)! He didn’t use the exact terminology and he arranged them in a slightly different order, but he used all four elements. A little background on Origen. He is an early church father who lived AD 185–254. Church history knows him for his work in Alexandria, Egypt, as he trained disciples, wrote down his teachings, and promoted Christ through his ministry. Here’s what I discovered: While I had developed a sense of distance from the ACTS Prayer Model due to my focus on the Lord’s Prayer, reading the following section in Origen’s treatise changed my heart. I realized that while this model is not in the Bible, the four elements of the ACTS Prayer Model have ancient roots.
A Quote from Origen’s On PrayerI added the elements in brackets to help you see this overlap (emphases are mine). This is from Origen’s book On Prayer. Writing in the third century AD:
33.1 I think that I should bring this treatise to its conclusion by treating the sections of prayer. It seems to me that four sections, which I have found distributed throughout the Scriptures, should be described, and that each prayer should be constructed in accordance with these sections. The divisions are as follow:I was blown away when I saw how Origen’s prayer elements overlap with the ACTS Prayer Model from the first half of the third century—just a few hundred years after Christ walked the early!
[Adoration, again] And every prayer should be brought to its conclusion with the glorification of God through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
- [Adoration] At the beginning of prayer, in a preface, glory should be ascribed to God according to one’s ability, through Christ who is glorified with him, and in the Holy Spirit who is to be hymned with him.
- [Thanksgiving] After this we should each place thanksgiving, both general, enumerating all the benefits that are extended to so many, and for which thanks are given, and those particular blessings which each has personally received from God.
- [Confession] After thanksgiving, it seems to me that we should become a pungent accuser of our own sins before God, first so that we can ask healing, to be delivered from the disposition that instigates sin and second to gain forgiveness for past actions.
- [Supplication] After confession, it seems to me that we should add in the fourth place petition for what is great and heavenly, for ourselves and for people in general, and also for our family and friends.
Isn’t that incredible?
This was a moment of realization for me because he divides the core elements of prayer into four parts, each corresponding to what we call A-C-T-S. He uses different language, but then again he’s writing in Greek, not in English.
Origen Connecting ACTS to Other ScripturesTo make this discovery even more profound, he even discusses the Scriptural precedent for each element:
33.2 As I have said, I have found these sections distributed throughout the scriptures. The ascription of glory in these words of the one hundred third psalm: “Lord, my God, how exceeding great you are. You have put on thanksgiving and majesty, being wrapped in light as with a garment, stretching out the heaven like a curtain, covering its upper story with waters, making clouds a chariot, walking on the wings of winds, making angels of its breath and ministers of flames of fire. He sets the earth on firm foundations, unfaltering for endless ages, with the deep as a covering garment, waters standing on the mountains. They shall flee at your rebuke, they shall shrink in fear from your thundering voice” (Ps. 103:1–7). Indeed the greater part of this psalm consists of the glorification of the Father. Anyone may select for himself numerous passages and see how widely this section of glorification is distributed.
33.3 This may be cited as an example of thanksgiving. It is found in the second book of Kingdoms, and is uttered by David in astonishment at God’s gift and giving thanks in these words, after the promises to David through Nathan: “Who am I, O Lord, my Lord, and what is my house, that you have loved me to such an extent? Indeed, I have shrunk very small in your sight, my Lord, yet you have spoken on behalf of your servant’s house for a long time to come. This is the human law, O Lord, my Lord. And what should David go on to say to you? And now, Lord, you know your servant. You have done this on behalf of your servant, and in accordance with your heart you have done such great things, so that your servant should know that you should be magnified, O Lord my Lord” (2 Kg. 7:18–22).
33.4 An example of confession is: “Rescue me from all my transgressions” (Ps 38.9). And elsewhere: “My wounds stink from corruption because of my folly. I am troubled and bowed down to the uttermost; all day I go around downcast” (Ps. 37:6–7).
33.5 As a petition, note the twenty-seventh Psalm: “Do not lead me away with sinners, and do not wipe me out together with workers of wickedness” (Ps. 27:3) and other similar passages.I so appreciate how he ends this section:
33.6 It is right that we should begin with glorifying and leave off our prayer with glorifying, hymning and giving glory to the Father of all, through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, to whom be glory for ever and ever.This text is why I try to begin and end with a little glorification inclusio—starting and ending with glorification.
How to Pray Using the ACTS Prayer MethodNow, let’s go into more detail on what each part of A-C-T-S is and examples of each from Scripture.
1. Adoration in the ACTS Model: Glorifying GodStart with adoration, which gets at the heart of the first line of the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father in heaven, your name be holy.” “Adoration” is the “A” in ACTS, and it means adoring God with your words. This can be as simple as, “God you’re awesome,” or more detailed, such as, “God, you astound me with how personal yet infinite you are, how you relate to me with both grace and firmness, and how you guide me during my work day.” These are short prayers and just a few quick examples. You could adore God for hours if you wanted! What’s the difference between this and thanksgiving (the “T” in ACTS)? Adoration and thanksgiving have a main differentiator:
Adoration praises God as a person, while thanksgiving thanks God for his gifts.
One is about who the person is (Adoration) and the other about what they do (Thanksgiving). Those are not strict categories, but I’ve found the distinction helpful. So typically, for me, adoration starts with “You are…” and thanksgiving starts with “Thank you for….” We see adoration throughout the Scriptures. For example:
- Psalm 8: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
- Psalm 18:1: “I love you, O LORD, my strength.”
- Psalm 29:1–2: “Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.”
- Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
- Luke 1:46–48: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
2. Confession in the ACTS Model: Repenting to God“Confession” is the “C” of ACTS, and it means repenting of our sins to God. James 5:16 says,
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.While the context of this passage is about confessing sins to another person and receiving physical healing, the principle applies more generally to disciples of Jesus who are expected to confess their sins. Confession can also be called repentance. Repentance in Hebrew connotes physically turning around, while in Greek, it means changing your mind in a way that leads to fresh action. “Repentance” is a stronger word than confession, but it’s appropriate for what we as Christians must do regularly. Your repentance can be as simple as, “God, I’m sorry for what I did this morning; help me act differently,” or more detailed, such as, “God, when I was harsh with my kids today, I crossed a line, and I’m so sorry for my actions. Will you please forgive me?” These are short prayers, which can totally be okay. But feel free to go long, too! For example, when going through programs like Celebrate Recovery, or when using something like Neil Anderson’s The Steps to Freedom in Christ, you can go into extended times of repentance (among other forms of prayer). Must a Christian confess and repent after conversion? Yes! While we’ve been saved from our sins:
A life of humble confession and repentance characterizes those who are still being made holy.
John tells us:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:8–10, emphases mine)The first verb here for “to be without sin” is in the present active indicative tense. That’s fancy speak for If we claim to presently be without sin … . The main verb of the next italicized phrase, “If we claim we have not sinned,” has a verb in the perfect tense. Again, that’s Greek grammar speak for something like If we claim to not be in the present state of not having sinned. The focus here is on the present state of our past sins. Together, these cover the present and past sins we’ve committed, and we’re culpable of both. Either way, we cannot claim—neither past nor present—that we have no sin. Bottom line:
We still sin as Christians, and it’s necessary to confess our sins.
And when we do, God heals us! Confession is a sign of humility, too, as Jim Putman and I talk about in The Revolutionary Disciple as one of the four core practices of a humble disciple. The example of David in Psalm 51 inspires me to know that God forgives even great sins: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1–2). David had just sinned through adultery and murder, but he came back to God in humble confession. How fast we confess our sins to God reveals our level of tolerance to distance in our relationship with God! We don’t have to wait to come back to him to confess. As soon as conviction hits, we can go ahead and get on our knees before his throne, where grace and mercy await us (Hebrews 4:16). I like the fact that “Thanksgiving” comes next in this model because it’s a smooth transition from confession. We can immediately thank God for his forgiveness.
3. Thanksgiving in the ACTS Model: Expressing Gratitude to God“Thanksgiving” is the “T” in this model, and it means expressing gratitude to God for what he’s done or will do. While I tend to focus on who God is during Adoration, Thanksgiving is where I focus on what God has done for me. This can be as simple as, “God, thank you for my life,” or a more detailed prayer, such as, “God thank you for my children, my spouse, my job, my house, the way you redeemed me, how you have changed me for the better, and how you’re encouraging my spirit through friends right now.”
These are short prayers, but go as long as you like!
Expressing gratitude to God not only gives him the praise he’s due, but it’s also good for our souls to practice being grateful—besides just at Thanksgiving time! Sometimes my family and I will sit back from the dinner table and just go around to name one thing we’re thankful for. Other ways to do this in general? I highly suggest making a gratitude list, texting your discipleship group what you’re thankful for, or just enumerating to God what you’re thankful for. In Scripture, we find prayers of thanksgiving on the lips of:
- David in 1 Chronicles 16:8 (which later became a refrain in Psalm 136): “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
- Jesus in John 11:41–42: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (see also Matt 14:19 and 26:26, where Jesus gives thanks for bread).
- Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:4: “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus” (see also 1 Cor. 10:30; 14:18; 2 Cor. 8:16; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2:13; 3:9; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:3).
These are just a few passages of thanksgiving in Scripture.We must remember the important story about gratitude from the life of Jesus (Luke 17:11–19). On Jesus’ way to Jerusalem, ten lepers come to him, and Jesus sends them off to be healed at the temple. But only one of them comes back to thank Jesus—the Samaritan. Jesus replies:
“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17–19)
Thanksgiving is important to Jesus, so it should be important to us!
Make a daily habit of thanksgiving. How can you become more thankful?
- Make a gratitude list each day for seven days.
- Tell someone you love that you’re thankful for them today.
- Thank God as soon as you remember a gift he’s given you.
4. Supplication in the ACTS Model: Making Requests of God“Supplication” is the “S” in ACTS, and it means making requests of God. Your requests can be as simple as, “God help me have strength today at work,” or more detailed, such as, “God would you please show me the path forward on a major decision I need to make before noon tomorrow? I need your help!” These are short prayers just to give you a flavor for what supplication can be. Go long if you like! This type of prayer is commanded of us in Scripture when Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). The Greek word for “petition” in Philippians 4:6 is also used when Paul writes to the Ephesians to make prayers and “requests”: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). This Greek term for supplication can also be called an “entreaty.”
Supplication is when we ask something of God.
What can we ask for?
- Jesus says ask for anything: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14).
- Paul says, again, to make “all kinds of prayers and requests” (Philippians 6:18).
- James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
- Zechariah’s prayer for a son: “But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John’” (Luke 1:13).
- Paul’s prayer for the Israelites to be saved: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
- Jesus’ prayers on earth to the Father during his earthly ministry: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
- Prayers for healing: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
A Beautiful PrayerOne of my favorite prayers of supplication comes from Ephesians. What a beautiful way to pray for someone! Check it out:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14–19)
A quick anecdote about supplication.
A friend of mine in high school said he didn’t want to ask anything of God for himself because he thought that was selfish. I was perplexed! It’s not selfish, though, it’s human. We can make it all about us by making requests only for ourselves. But we can make prayers for ourselves and for others—and that’s right and good. Remember Jesus prayed for himself in John 17, and he prayed for others. Now that you know the what this prayer model is, why to use it, it’s historical context and scriptural overlap—let’s talk about how to use it in discipleship contexts.
The ACTS Model and Its Place in Christian DiscipleshipGod’s grace in the Holy Spirit fuels discipleship, which is following Jesus. Our part in the process begins with us. That is, before we can fully help others with a particular discipline, for example, we must incorporate that practice into our lives on a personal level first. Only then can we think clearly and lead effectively those under our care. We don’t have to be perfect to start leading, but we ought to be on the journey toward holiness on a personal level from the beginning.
Personally: Praying ACTS on Your OwnA few tips for incorporating the ACTS Prayer Model into your personal prayer life. Step 1: Create a consistent prayer routine. If you have a consistent time to pray, ACTS can be one of your tools. While I still recommend the Lord’s Prayer as the primary model of prayer for disciples of Jesus, ACTS can serve as a supplement to helping you cultivate a rich prayer life. Watch my class session on prayer for how to establish a prayer routine. Step 2: Use a prayer journal to track your prayers and progress. A prayer journal, or simply a prayer list, can become a great way to track your prayers and progress, especially supplication requests. Read my blog “How to Keep a Prayer Journal” for more on how to do that. Step 3: Be patient and persistent in prayer. When you’re developing your prayer life, don’t expect to see “results” right away. Some advice from learning the hard way:
Make sure to align with God before you try to achieve for him.
This alignment happens primarily through prayer. As you continue to grow, remember Jesus’ story about the persistent widow in Luke 18:1–8. Luke summarizes the point of it to say that Jesus’ disciples “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). As the Psalmist tells us, “Wait, Israel, for GOD. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always!” (MSG).
Go deeper into personal prayer by reading the chapter on prayer in my book Your Spiritual Formation Plan, which provides foundational practices for a variety of core spiritual disciplines.
As you get a grip on the ACTS prayer model in your personal prayer time, try praying it with your family.
As a Family: ACTS for KidsThis model of prayer is great for the family to pray together, especially with young kids. While teaching the Lord’s Prayer is vital and important, that happens in due course as kids get older. Let me tell you from my experience:
Try teaching a three-year-old the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer!
I’ve tried it, and while they can learn the words of this prayer—which is great—it will be some time before they can easily track with the rich meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. As of the time of writing this, my daughter is four. We’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer about five times a week since she’s been alive, together and aloud as a family. We don’t make her say the words, but she sometimes mouths them out of her own will. When we started using a simple version of the ACTS prayer model instead at the table, however, she not only prayed it with us but also got excited about it! Even more, our eighteen-month-old son will say some of it with us! I say that to encourage you that young kids can more easily pray the ACTS prayer, which helps get them ready for learning the Lord’s Prayer one day. That’s a win! Here’s what we’re praying right now as a family in call-and-response format. I pray what’s in bold, and the family repeats it.
Our daughter says all of it, and our son says “God,” some form of “thank you,” “help,” and “Amen.” When we’re feeling really spiritual, we’ll sometimes end our short prayer time after a meal with specific prayers about one aspect of A-C-T-S. For example, we might go around the table and thank God for one specific thing.
A Sample Prayer for KidsDear, God. Dear, God. You’re awesome. You’re awesome. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Thank you. Thank you. Help me. Help me. Amen. Amen.
As a Church: ACTS During WorshipMy home church has for months now been using the ACTS Prayer Model in our Sunday morning worship gathering for a corporate prayer time. It works like this: We all pause during worship as four slides come on the screen with prayer prompts. For example, the slides show:
- Adoration: “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6b)
- Confession: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
- Thanksgiving: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13–14).
- Supplication: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
A Summary of Key TakeawaysThat wraps up this blog on everything you need to know about the ACTS Prayer Model. Let me know what you thought! I’m curious if you think there’s any area I didn’t cover adequately, or perhaps I missed an area. Leave a comment to let me know your input, feedback, questions, comments, or just a thumbs up! In summary, here are a few key takeaways from this post.
- The ACTS Prayer Model is an acronym for praying through Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
- While this prayer model is not explicitly used in Scripture, each part is found in Scripture.
- The ACTS Prayer Model does not conflict with but extends from the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6 and Luke 11).
- While the English origins of this prayer acronym are relatively recent, the origins of this kind of prayer in terms of substance go as far back as Origen in the third century (On Prayer, 33.1–6).
- A is for “Adoration,” which means adoring God with your words.
- C is for “Confession,” which means confessing our sins to God.
- T is for “Thanksgiving,” which means expressing gratitude to God for what he’s done.
- S is for “Supplication,” which means making requests of God.
- You can effectively use the ACTS Prayer Model to grow in personal prayer, prayer with your family or close community, and in prayer with your church.
HIM Publications Books on Prayer
- Dave Clayton, Revival Starts Here: A Short Conversation on Prayer, Fasting, and Revival for Beginners Like Me
- Dave Clayton, Jesus Next Door: A 30-Day Prayer Guide to Help You Practically Love the People Around You
- Jennifer Barnett, First Freedoms: Drawing Near to God by Cultivating a Wholehearted Prayer Life
- Chad Harrington, Your Spiritual Formation Plan