Can’t Anyone Teach Me How to Pray?

Can’t anyone teach me how to pray?” Flannery O’Conner once wrote in her journal. You’ve asked it. I’ve asked. We all have. We still do. How do we address an infinite, all-knowing, almighty being who is completely invisible to each of our five senses? And yet, as Tim Keller observed in the opening pages of his 2014 book on prayer, “We have to pray.” I just picked up Keller’s book, and already it promises to be a wonderfully helpful work on the why, what, and how of praying to the God who listens. In the introduction, Keller reminds us of these elements of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. I was taught these via the acronym ACTS. I was taught that every prayer ought to have each of these elements in that order. Yet, you will find that the 150 prayers we call the Psalms don’t follow this rule. Not even The Lord’s Prayer followed that rule. I prefer Keller’s description of these as traditional forms. This means a heart may truly pray in any one or more of these forms in any order, in any combination. Let me give a bit of description of each that I hope you may find helpful.


Adoration is offering praise for who God is, or contemplating the beauty, majesty, and glory of His being. Adoration is expressed with verbs like adore, love, worship, rejoice, honor, magnify, delight, and treasure.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”—Mary, the mother of Jesus


Confession is acknowledging who you are to God. It is giving God an account of how we have failed to love Him perfectly, disobeying Him in thought, word, action, and inaction. Confession takes it shape from verbs like confess, admit, acknowledge, and repent.

“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”—King David


Thanksgiving is declaring gratitude for what God has done and given. This isn’t mere politeness. Giving God thanks is an admission of dependence on Him for all things tangible and intangible, whether food and shelter, or mercy and love. Thanksgiving is declared with verbs like thank, give, and offer.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”—Psalm 118:1


Supplication is earnestly asking God for help in the time of need. It is the expression of our confident hope that God knows what we need before we ask, listens to our prayers, and provides much more than we need. Supplication is given voice with verbs like save, deliver, help, provide, strengthen, and comfort.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!”—Psalm 40:13

As we learn to pray, let us remember most importantly, that we pray to God our Father, through Jesus our Savior, by the Spirit our Helper. He invites us to pray, and delights to hear us verbalize our love, our repentance, our gratitude, and our  needs. Grace to you, Lon

Getting Beat Up By Your Idol

This week I got beat up by my idol. I stubbed my toe, broke my nose and limped away pathetically. Right now, it still hurts like the dickens.

You might think I’ve got a little stone god in my house with more arms and eyes than humanly possible. You might think I tripped over it during a midnight run to the fridge and smacked my nose on the coffee table on the way down. Or, you might think Carrie Underwood stopped by to club me repeatedly with a brick-filled Versace hand bag.

But, reality is stranger than fiction. I got beat up by an idol of my own making, without even knowing I had made it. I can’t see it, smell it, hear it, or touch it. But it is real. And it’s got to go.

What Happened?

The short version is that I made a presentation at work and it wasn’t well received by the one person I needed to persuade – the person whose opinion I valued most in that situation. In fact, rather than persuading him, I made him angry, angry enough to berate me in the meeting.

I responded calmly enough, and we worked through it, making progress over the next day.

What’s Happening?

But, despite behaving professionally on the outside, I was withering with self-doubt and insecurity on the inside. Am I a loser? Am I incompetent? Am I clueless? This may never happen to you, but I’m an average man trying to be significant in the world. And the thing I fear most of all in life is being useless – not having enough competence in something, anything, to make a meaningful contribution to the people around me.

And that fear can be just plain dangerous.

Tim Keller, a pastor and author from New York City, teaches that both blessing and hardship are tests that reveal the idols of your heart. These tests show us – despite what we say we believe – what we’re really depending on to feel significant, secure, important, happy, or loved. This situation showed me that too much of my sense of significance and security rests on my belief in my own competence. It revealed that I’m depending on my own competence as my functional savior, despite my profession of faith in Christ.

Physician, Heal Thyself

The trouble is that even though I know all this, I can’t help myself. I can’t tell myself to stop clinging that idol. My mind and will are powerless because it’s got a hold on my heart. My head says, “Just stop depending on that idol; you know it’ll never give you permanent satisfaction.” But my idol says, “Oh, you can’t be free. You are mine and you know it.” Just as Saruman, the White Wizard in The Lord of the Rings, had a hold on Théoden, the King of Rohan, my idol won’t let me go. I need a deliverer.

It’s Sunday Morning

And so, in an hour I’m going to church. I go to worship my Deliverer. I go to confess the idol of my heart – my functional savior. I go find grace to help in the time of need. I go to be delivered from my own creation. I go to hear the gospel and be reminded who my real Savior is.

God has given me His Son, His Spirit and His Church that I might experience a free, satisfying and significant life. But, I’m an average guy, and just like Jesus’ first twelve disciples, I’ll be nagged with fear and doubt for a long, long time. My need for a Deliverer won’t be a one-time deal. I’ll need a weekly reminder, a weekly course correction, a weekly re-orientation toward Jesus (at least). And no doubt, over time I’ll discover even more idols in my heart.

So, I’ll keep going to my Deliver. He’ll keep dressing my wounds and reminding me that He already purchased my freedom.

Three Hours Later…

As I worshiped and confessed, I found the grace I needed. Jesus said,

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners… – Luke 4:18

Yes, Lord Jesus. Your word is enough.

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