I’m reading Victor Kuligin’s Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said. On some level, it’s like Hard Sayings of Jesus and Hard Sayings of the New Testament: it tries to explain away Jesus’ really difficult sayings (e.g., hate your parents, cut off your arm, pluck out your eyes, etc.). At the same time, after I read Kuligin’s explanations, my reaction usually was: “So that’s what Jesus wants us to do? That sounds so hard! I don’t want to do that.” Living a Christian life can be pretty challenging, even if we don’t take all of Jesus’ commands literally.
Kuligin really convicted me on prayer. So much of my prayer life consists of grumbling against God. Of course, I meditate on Scripture too, and there are times when God uses that to transform my attitude. For example, I was recently walking in the blistering heat, and I was complaining to God about my sad, sorry life. Then, my mind turned to Luke 9:49-50, in which the disciples tell Jesus about someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. That man was not a part of their group, so they were wondering whether or not to stop him. Jesus responded, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you” (NRSV).
Jesus wanted people to be free from oppression. Being inhabited by a demon is not fun, I’m sure! I learned that from a Touched by an Angel episode, “The Occupant.” It’s even scarier on The Exorcist! And Jesus welcomed someone who joined him in releasing people from all that. The disciples were thinking about their group: who was on the inside, and who was on the outside. Jesus was thinking about other people. He wanted them to be free–clothed and in their right minds (Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35).
I’m glad God used that passage to communicate Jesus’ character to me. But my prayers are still pretty selfish! I can glorify Jesus now that I see something glorious about him, but a huge part of me sees my quiet times as a form of self-medication, or as a way to become smarter, or as a means of entertainment.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, since the Psalmist expressed pleasure in studying God’s word. But I shouldn’t see myself solely as a God-consumer. “God, I’m dissatisfied with you because my life is this way! Why’d you allow me to be born with Asperger’s? I’m putting down ‘dissatisfied’ on my customer service survey!” “Okay, I’m here, Lord. Feed me, feed me, feed me! I want to be inspired! Some entertainment will help, too. And I’d also like some good ideas for my blog. Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee!”
In his prayer life, Kuligin uses an approach called ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. He states:
“ACTS…helps me to admit I am a sinner. I do not come to God with demands, calling him to task when he does not respond in the way I have predetermined. Instead, I come recognizing I am a beggar in need of mercy, grace, and guidance. When I make my confession before God, I admit my spiritual destitution and poverty. Without such an attitude, we can hardly expect God to answer our arrogant prayers. We must profess our dependance on him. Only then is his ear attentive to our petitions and requests” (217).
I heard of ACTS before. I once attended an evangelical Bible study, and we were praying within the ACTS paradigm. It seemed so artificial! I wanted to pray from the heart, not conform to a rigid pattern. Plus, the person in the group who proposed this model went on to become an atheist. “So much for empty formality,” I thought.
And, for a while, ACTS will probably be a formality to me, without a whole lot of feeling accompanying it. For some time in my prayer life, I tried to use a pattern: I’d thank God for three things, pray for three people, and make three supplications. But I eventually stopped doing that. It seemed like a ritual.
But, now, I find that I complain too much in my prayers. I don’t adore God that much. ACTS may be what I need to do in my prayers. Sure, there’s a place for speaking from my heart, but I also should get my mind off myself, once in a while.
As far as “confession” goes, I probably won’t do it the way most Christians think I should: confess a sin, and then stop doing it. Would be that I could erase pride, lust, hatred, greed, and unforgiveness from my mind! But I can confess to God that my condition is fallen and that I need his help to change. I am a beggar, after all! And that’s much better than me acting as if I’m above God, as if I’m in a position to dictate to him what he should do.