2 Models Of Prayer To Improve Your Worship Songwriting and Selection

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

A husband and wife pray together at Sojourn Church vision meeting“I don’t know how to pray. I run out of things to say when I’m talking to God.”

Most of us have said that at one point, and we’ve heard it from others. People fall into prayer ruts, whether its a list of things we want God to do for us, general words of praise or even something like “Now I lay me down to sleep …”

Praise & worship songwriters can also fall into ruts, basically writing the same song over again. And worship pastors can fall into a similar pattern, selecting songs for the gathered church that tread the same water.

In some ways, psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are “sung prayers,” so it makes sense that basic models for communicating with God in prayer would benefit the worship songwriting process, and the pastor’s song selection process. Let’s examine two of them here at My Song In The Night: the Collect, and the A.C.T.S. prayer acronym model.

A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)

A.C.T.S. is a four-part system you can learn easily, which assures that you don’t just pray, for instance, supplications (a fancy word for “requests” or “intercession”). You can walk through all four steps during each prayer, which eliminates that “Why can’t I think of anything to say” feeling. But a quick examination of each step reveals these categories also help modern hymn writers and praise song writers to broaden the subject matter of their songs. Follow along:

Hand raised in adoration during Christian worship service at Sojourn Community ChurchAdoration: Tell God what he means to you and how you love him. But don’t confuse this with Step 3,  Thanksgiving, in which you praise him for what he has done. In the Adoration step, praise him for who he is — for his nature or attributes. A partial list of God’s attributes:

  • He is holy
  • He is unchanging
  • He is eternal
  • He is omnipresent (everywhere, always)
  • He is omniscient (all knowing)

Tim Challies offers a free, downloadable infographic that focuses on God’s attributes here. If you write one song based on each attribute, then you’ve just received enough song ideas to last you for weeks or months, depending on how often you write. And we’re just getting started on A.C.T.S. — we haven’t even done The Collect yet.

Confession: Here’s where you confess and repent of your sins to God. Modern hymnody doesn’t do so well here. Look at the Top CCLI songs and you’ll see the contemporary American church doesn’t confess and repent in song much. This is why Sojourn chose not one but two songs of confession for our liturgically themed album Before The Throne: “I’m Coming Back” by Rebecca Elliott, and “Lead Us Back” by me and singer Brooks Ritter.

Thanksgiving: Here’s where you go back to praising God, but unlike Adoration where you praise him for who he is, here you praise him for what he has done. Contemporary worship songwriters cover this ground often, but many focus on their personal moment of salvation. This is a wonderful thing to sing about, but think of all God’s acts in history — not only yours but throughout the history of his church and the Bible. We have a never-ending well of material to draw from. Look at Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat) as an example of how she begins praising God for how he has blessed her, and then praises him for all he’s done in history.

Supplication: Here, you petition God; you request that he act, or make himself known. Specifically ask God to intercede on your behalf and for others who are tempted, wounded, struggling with circumstances or sin. The Book of Psalms can teach you about supplication (and the other steps, for that matter). Our pastor Mike Cosper & worship director Justin Shaffer adapted Psalm 130 into “From Deep Distress,” on Sojourn’s The Water And The Blood album. Kristen sings this duet with Brooks Ritter. Listen to this modern hymn of supplication here:

The Collect

The Collect form is a classic, 4-part prayer. The Collect prayer structure looks like this:

Address: A name for God (like “Merciful One, Holy Father, Savior, Redeemer, Creator, Almighty God …)

Acknowledgment: Here you make a statement about God’s character (who he is) or activity (what he has done)

Appeal: A request. In the A.C.T.S. prayer model, this is the supplication.

Aspiration: The hoped-for outcome of your appeal.

The address can shape the rest of the prayer, if you choose a name for God that relates to what you will acknowledge and appeal. Here is a quick sample:

God of wonders, you created everything we see, the big and small, the beautiful and the strange. You surprised your people with the wonders of creation, the glory of your presence and your sovereignty over the Red Sea, over raging storms, over death itself through your Son. Now we ask you to renew our sense of wonder. Week after week we come together, we read your words, we sing to you. But our hearts grow cold and we take our routines for granted. Shake us Lord, help us to see with new eyes. Inspire and move us, so that we break out of our self-made ruts and become passionate for you again.

Like the A.C.T.S model, you can write worship songs that focus on each of these four movements. You can also structure a single song with each of these parts. For instance:

  • Verse 1: Address and Acknowledgement
  • Chorus: Appeal
  • Verse 2: Aspiration
  • Repeat Chorus/Appeal

Or any number of combinations, including bridges and pre-choruses, or a classic hymn model — say, a 3-verse modern hymn with eight lines per verse, divided like this:

  • Verse 1: Address and Acknowledgment
  • Verse 2: Appeal
  • Verse 3: Aspiration

A.C.T.S. and the Collect model are two prayer forms that can expand your range of themes and bring new life to your songwriting, and your church’s worship services. Get to it, and feel free to share any songs you write based on these models.

Top photo by Dan Canales
Bottom photo by Chuck Heeke

Previous post:

Next post: