The “A.C.T.S.” Prayer Is Missing a Letter

Praying TogetherI don’t remember the first time I learned it. I’m not sure how many dozens of times I’ve heard it taught. I don’t know how many times I’ve practiced it, or even how many times I’ve taught it to others. I do know the “A.C.T.S.” formula for prayer has been ingrained in my mind for years. “A.C.T.S.” is an acrostic that stands for:

  • Adoration … praising God.
  • Confession … acknowledging sin.
  • Thanksgiving … giving thanks.
  • Supplication … making requests.

Growing up in church, I was blessed with many Sunday school teachers who both encouraged and modeled this approach to prayer. Looking back, I appreciate their desire to focus on God first in prayer. I appreciate their willingness to confess sin. I appreciate their insistence that we ought to give thanks in all circumstances. I appreciate their focus on interceding for others.

However, as I think about how the “A.C.T.S.” approach to prayer had shaped my prayer life, and as I compare my prayers to many of the prayers I read in the Bible, I grow more and more convinced that the “A.C.T.S.” prayer is missing a letter. That missing letter is “L,” and is stands for lament.

A lament is a “passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” In the Bible, laments are always tempered by biblical faith, but the actual expression is shockingly honest and intense. Despite their directness, biblical laments are far more than irreverent complaints. Instead, biblical laments are faith filled acknowledgements of reality.

You’ll find laments throughout the book of Psalms (3, 22, 28, 51, 74, 85, 102, 126, 137 to name a few). You’ll find laments coming from kings and prophets (1 Kings 19:1-8, 2 Kings 19:14-19, 2 Chronicles 20:1-12). You’ll find an entire book of the Old Testament devoted to “lament-ations.” You’ll find lament in the letters of Paul (Romans 7:7-25). You’ll even find a lament on the lips of Jesus, as he hung on the cross (Matthew 27:45-50).

As I consider these laments, I just don’t find a place for them in my “A.C.T.S.” prayers. They don’t fit neatly into the categories of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, or supplication. Of course, we ought to come to God in all of these ways, but there must be a place for lament. There must be a place for faith filled acknowledgements of reality. There must be a place for passionate expressions of grief and sorrow that are tempered by rock solid, biblical faith.

Lament is needed when you find out you’ve had another miscarriage. Lament is needed when you hear about the horrors of human trafficking. Lament is needed when you feel overwhelmed with disappointment. Lament is needed when you continue to struggle with a persistent temptation. Lament is needed when you deal with end of life issues. Lament is needed when you come face to face with the pain of infidelity. Lament is needed when you wrestle with loneliness and despair.

Lament is needed because we live in a fallen, busted, broken world. I certainly haven’t mastered this type of prayer, but I know my prayers need to include an “L.”

Originally published May 1, 2017 on