Many people find it helpful to have a bit of structure in their prayer life, as a way to help ensure they’re praying over a wide range of topics and people, and maintaining a helpful balance in what they give their attention to. One very popular prayer scheme is ACTS:
- Adoration: the ACTS scheme begins by focussing the mind on God with a time of ‘adoration’ or worship. Praising God for who he is and what he has done for us in Christ.
- Confession: next it is right that we spend a bit of time acknowledging the ways in which we’ve failed to live with Jesus as Lord in our life, and asking for God’s forgiveness.
- Thanksgiving: there is much to be thankful for in the Christian life – not least of all the forgiveness which our confession makes us mindful of. There’s also something very healthy about making it a regular part of our prayer times to bring to mind all of the other little ways in which God has answered our prayers and blessed us abundantly.
- Supplication: only after we have worked through our prayers of adoration, confession and thanksgiving to we finally turn to ‘supplication’ – bringing our requests before God. Putting this at the end can help guard against the ‘shopping list’ mentality of just coming to God with our list of wants and expecting him to grant them like some kind of genie in a bottle.
Another very popular prayer scheme along the same lines is STOP: Sorry, Thank you, Others, Please, which similarly puts God first and ourselves and our requests last. Even the Lord’s Prayer itself can be used as a very helpful structure for guiding our prayers.
Of course, within some of those overarching headings you can further break it down. Ever since reading Don Carson’s “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” as a student, I’ve always used lists to help me with my intercessory prayer – the “Supplication” or “Others” bits of those schemes I’ve mentioned. Don Carson writes this:
It is difficult to pray faithfully for a large spread of people and concerns without developing prayer lists that help you remember them.
I’ve tended to find it helpful to have a few categories which help me pray for a spread of issues:
- Close friends and family – these are the people I want to be praying for every day, the people who are part and parcel of who I am as an individual
- My church and small group – part of being part of the body of Christ is praying regularly for those in my local church, and especially within my small group, for whom I have an extra responsibility of care.
- My evangelism – we know that it is the Lord’s work to open the blind eyes of those who don’t yet know him, and so I am called to pray regularly for opportunities to share my faith, and for the particular people that I rub shoulders with regularly that God might have mercy on them. If I don’t make a point of praying regularly for this, then I should hardly find it surprising if I don’t see God at work!
- Wider society – the Bible calls us to pray regularly for our politicians and those in authority over us, as well as for the lost in our world.
PrayerMate is a mobile app designed to give a helping hand, particularly in this area of intercessory prayer. Categories like the ones above are at the core of its design, so that each time you fire it up it gives you a selection of items from across all of your categories. For instance, for me this morning it suggested a devotional prayer (perhaps part of the “Adoration” section of the ACTS scheme), a prayer for my wife, for my oldest son, a couple from my small group, a Christian software developer who I meet up with from time to time, an aspect of the life of my church and today’s prayer point from the UCCF Christian Unions prayer diary. That’s seven items from seven different categories – just about at the limits of what my little brain is able to cope with!
If you’re somebody who would find this kind of structure helpful to you in your prayers, then you might find the PrayerMate app helpful. It comes preinstalled with some suggested categories, and of course you could leave them as they are and you’d get on just fine. But I strongly suggest that you tweak them so that they make sense for you and your particular context. Step one, then, is to decide what categories you want to use.
Some general guidelines
If there are particular people or causes that you want to be praying for every day, PrayerMate tends to work best if you give each of these topics their own category, just for them. That way, you can make sure that category appears every day, and you also have the flexibility of creating more than one subject in each category to help you pray for a spread of concerns for each person. For example, you could have a “My job” category, with subjects for “Evangelism”, “The people I manage”, “Working as to the Lord”, etc. – and you’d be prompted to pray for a different one of those each day. The flip side of this is that if you have too many categories, you’ll probably find yourself being overwhelmed with things to pray for each day. After about seven or eight prayer points my mind starts to feel a bit swamped, so although I have categories for my wife and my son, after that I then just use fairly broad categories for all of the other friends I want to be praying regularly for.
How to manage your categories
To manage your categories, press the cog icon in the top right hand corner of the app to access the “Settings” menu, where you’ll see all of the default categories. You can add new ones easily enough (you might also want to use the “Change category order” screen to drag your new categories higher up in the order). You could also rename existing default categories to reappropriate them – to do this just tap into that category and then edit using the ‘name’ field. To delete a category: on iOS you can swipe its row to the left in the settings menu, or on Android you can hit the “Delete category” button in the top right of the category’s page.
Each category has two main settings: the number of items per session, and whether it’s “pinned”. The items per session slider lets you ask for more or fewer items from that category. For example, you might just want one prayer point from your small group, but then two or three from your other “friends” category. The “pinned” setting only appears if you turn on the ‘global item limit’ (see below) – it tells PrayerMate to prioritise this category so that it will attempt to always give you at least one subject from this category. Used sparingly, this is handy for those really important people in your life.
Extra credit: global item limit
By default, PrayerMate will always show you every category in your database, and fill up the ‘items per session’ for each category. Often, however, you’ll find that this gives you just a little too much to pray for each day. Under the “Advanced settings” menu, therefore, you can turn on the “Apply global item limit” setting. This is applied on top of your per-category limits, and lets you specify the total number of items you want to pray for in any given session. PrayerMate does the hard work of keeping track of who you’ve prayed for and who hasn’t appeared in a while, and as long as you haven’t gone overboard on “pinning” too many categories, it will then make sure to rotate through your prayer points over time to make sure that eventually you get through everybody in your database.