My friend Jennifer was an experienced pray-er when she got married, so she figured she and her new husband, Wayne, would have wonderful prayer times together. But to Jennifer's surprise, praying with Wayne felt forced and stilted. While Jennifer poured out her heart to God in private, when she prayed with Wayne, she edited her thoughts and feelings. Wayne, on the other hand, had only said a few prayers aloud in a formal church setting before attempting to pray with his wife. Knowing her skill in prayer, Wayne felt he couldn't measure up to Jennifer's expectations. Soon they prayed together less and less.
Their small-group Bible study proved to be the turning point in their disintegrating prayer life. There, an older couple, John and Margaret, became unintentional prayer mentors to Jennifer and Wayne. John and Margaret prayed aloud conversationally, with hearts wide open to God. Over the weeks, as group members prayed for each other, Jennifer and Wayne gradually felt more comfortable praying aloud as a couple.
My husband, Holmes, and I had our share of frustrations in our early attempts to pray together, too. I was a spontaneous pray-er, wanting to lift a problem to God on the spot. But Holmes liked to mull over the situation, praying later when there were no distractions. He tended to "think" his prayers, while I tended to be long-winded.
Like many men, Holmes had a private prayer life, so being willing to talk out loud to God with me felt risky at first. But as I limited my words, pausing between prayer sentences to make room for silence or for his prayers, Holmes opened up more. And my willingness to wait to pray about something (like after the kids were in bed) instead of demanding instant prayer time took more pressure off Holmes.
As we made our first halting efforts to pray together, we began seeing specific answers to our prayers about Holmes' job, our son's asthma, and our finances. These encouraged us to keep connecting with God and with each other. Over the years, we became more comfortable praying in the car while driving, praying for our children while taking a walk, or praying on the phone if one of us was out of town. And when our kids headed into the rough waters of adolescence, we had lots of extra opportunities to be on our knees together!
The Benefits of Couple Prayer
Why make an effort to pray together when there seem to be so many obstacles? Because praying as a couple holds a storehouse of blessings for your marriage; in fact, it's key to lifelong happiness together. Studies show that simply attending church or being a Christian doesn't divorce-proof your marriage. But couples who regularly pray together report enjoying the most satisfying marriages of alland the divorce rate plummets.
In our marriage, praying together brought the heart-to-heart connection for which I'd always longed. After only a few years of marriage, Holmes and I had become emotionally disconnected. But Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." With every prayer my husband and I uttered together, Christ became the third strand of a braided cord that brought more spiritual and physical connection into our marriage.
You don't have to pray as a couple every morning at 6 A.M. to experience the benefits. Karen and Doug, one couple we know, found a weekly prayer time together makes a huge difference in their lives. Every Sunday night after they put their kids to bed, they spend one hour praying for their children, their unsaved family members, Doug's outreach to international students at the university where he works, and specific burdens. "Prayer binds our two hearts together and makes them one," they say. "Before, we'd get disconnected from each other in our different pursuits," adds Karen, who home schools their children while Doug does campus ministry. "But prayer unites our hearts into a common purpose, and we gain a deeper appreciation for what each of us does daily."
Through these weekly talks with God, Karen and Doug also have seen him bring about positive changes in their daughter's behavior. And Karen's father, who resisted the gospel for years, recently decided to become a Christ-follower. These glimpses of God's grace keep them persevering for many other family members; they've seen what an eternal difference prayer makes.
Many situations can strain your marriage and pull you apart: a serious illness; the loss of a child; financial calamities; job loss; caring for a child with special needs. No matter what difficulties you face, prayer keeps your hearts close to each other and to God.
Busting Through Those Barriers
Someone once said, "It is the heart that prays; it is to the heart's voice God listens; and it is the heart that he answers." Maybe that's precisely why we sometimes avoid prayer with our spouseit's just so heart-to-heart. Whether your barrier is hectic schedules, awkwardness, or having different prayer styles, here are some ways to overcome the barriers and experience the blessings:
Pick some common ground. At the beginning of our couple prayer adventure, Holmes and I felt most comfortable praying for our children. (That's because praying for others together isn't as intimate as praying for your spouse's personal needs.) When our son Justin had an asthma attack, or our other son, Chris, was recovering from a broken collarbone, our shared concern for their well-being brought us naturally into agreement in prayer.
Praying together for your kids is a logical starting point. Once a day, after they're asleep, go into their rooms and pray for them. You can pray for their health, their spiritual growth, your dreams for them, their struggles and joys, and their relationship with each other, you, and the Lord.
Pray together for other people alsofor family or friends who are sick or in need of God's help, or for a couple you know who struggles in their marriage. The main thing is to start and to commit to keep going, even if it's awkward at first.
Try silent moments. If one or both of you feel self-conscious about praying aloud, sit knee-to-knee and express your most pressing concerns or needs to your spouse, and allow him to do the same. Then hold hands and pray silently for each other's burdens. Just those few moments of silent prayer for your partner will help you experience a deeper connection with God and each other.
Pray with gratitude instead of judgment. Avoid using prayer as a way to express the things you want God to "fix" about your spouse. If you make him feel guilty when you pray together, he'll avoid it next time. Instead, thank God not only for your blessings, but also for specific things about your spouse. "There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him," said devotional writer William Law.
Appreciate differences. When our friends Jeff and Maria prayed, their attempts ended in frustration and even resentment. Jeff criticized Maria's prayers ("That's not in the Bible! You can't pray that!"), and she, in turn, corrected his grammar. She prayed out of a heart of mercy; he analyzed each prayer, making sure it lined up with Scripture, and asked God for justice and correction for others. She wanted to pray with the lights off; he preferred the lights on. They were more like prayer adversaries than prayer partners. But when they took a marriage course at their church and realized they each brought different gifts to prayer, their prayer life took off.
Jeff began to see Maria's role in prayer as the "radar" and his as the "air force." He realized his wife's concern over a problem was like a blip on the radar screen alerting them that special prayer effort was needed. As they looked to God and harmonized together in prayer, they saw him move in dynamic ways not only in the lives of their teens, but also in their relationship.
"God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God's many kinds of blessings" (1 Peter 4:10, TLB). Sit down with your spouse and talk about your different prayer styles and gifts. Maybe one of you likes to use a prayer list, while the other wants to feel led by the Spirit. One feels closer to God outdoors and the other in the quiet of the bedroom. Discussing your differences and thanking God for them is a first step toward blending them in prayer.
Focus your prayers. Another couple we know, Mary and Ron, always have found it a struggle to pray together. But they're convinced God wants them to so they'll notice his grace in their lives more often. So they've devised a way to help them pray on the other person's behalf. At the beginning of the year, Mary and Ron write down three subjects they want the other to pray fora personal struggle or weakness, a desired attitude change, and a decision to be made or a health issue. These needs shape their petitions for each other. From time to time they talk about how God is working, and update their three-point list. (They also have a three-point list for each of their three kids.)
Pray until something happens. What if, despite your best efforts, your husband's disinterested in praying with you? Let me encourage you to keep praying for him. Know that when you feel alone in the prayer closet, the God of the universe is listening. You're not alone!
In fact, the spiritual reality is that when you pray, you join Jesus in his full-time endeavor. He's seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for you (Hebrews 7:25), and he makes a terrific prayer partner. He doesn't want you to give up praying for the reluctant spouse. Christ assures us that the One who sees what we do in secret will reward us openly (Matthew 6:6) if we PUSH (pray until something happens). If you're a solo pray-er, get a friend to join you in praying for your husbands together.
Find time. Whether you pray each morning like some couples, have a prayer date once a week like Karen and Doug, or pray with a yearly focus like Ron and Mary, the important thing is to start somewhere. Together pray a blessing over your children before they leave for school or prayer-walk together in your neighborhood some evening. Each couple is different, so talk about the time and place you both can agree on so prayer becomes part of your life together.
Every time you pray as a couple, you let God into your lives and into the particular situations you talk to him about. In those moments together, God wraps his arms around you, bridges the gap between you and your spouse, and releases the grace you need to pray together. Who knows what might come from experiencing God's presence in prayer?
Cheri Fuller, a TCW regular contributor, is the author of several books on prayer, including When Couples Pray (Multnomah). Visit Cheri's website at www.cherifuller.com.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.