I'm feeling battle weary," my friend Cindi told me the other day. "My husband and I are dealing with so many issues right now—family conflicts, health problems. I wake up every morning and just try to put one foot in front of the other."
I know that battle-weary feeling. Seventeen years of marriage have taken me—and my husband!—to our knees more times than we can count. A box of used prayer journals hides on the top shelf of my bedroom closet. Ragged-edged Scripture cards lie next to the phone. Sometimes I deal with so many struggles, I wonder if I'll exhaust my "grace quota" with God.
Sometimes life's troubles squeeze the joy from even the strongest marriages. Financial setbacks add up; the doctor reports grave news; even the incessant demands of children can overwhelm a couple.
I'd often wondered if the Bible offers any practical suggestions to pray through the challenges my husband and I faced. In all honesty, I looked often to the New Testament, but I've never been a strong student of the Old Testament. The stories of all those kings fighting one another always seemed irrelevant to my life.
So I was surprised when I discovered help for my marriage from an unlikely character in the book of : Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. While his battles were against enemy nations and the kings who led them, I found his approach helps my husband and me contend with the trials we meet in the 21st century.
Communal prayer is powerful
In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat learns that an enemy army was ready to make war on Judah. This greatly alarmed the king, obviously. Fear is a normal reaction—whether you're a soldier or a secretary.
Jehoshaphat called everyone in Judah together to pray and fast for God's help. Jesus instructed us to do the same: "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:19-20).
I know five couples who'll drop everything to pray for my husband and me when we ask them. These faithful friends include missionaries serving in places such as Ethiopia and Nepal. Even though we're separated by great distances, we can contact them instantly by e-mail. I'm certain they count it a privilege to pray for us, just as we do for them.
Likewise, exchanging prayer requests has been an important part of the small Bible study groups we've belonged to. Our faith has been strengthened as we've witnessed many answered prayers. Not only has this habit fostered deeper friendships, it's allowed us to minister to each other and to others in the group when a real need has arisen.
Couples who try to go it alone without the support of other Christians give up a source of encouragement and community God created for us.
God's faithfulness is certain
Next, Jehoshaphat led those assembled in a united prayer. "Are you not the God who is in heaven?" he asked (v. 6). The king needed to remind his people that the One to whom they prayed was all powerful and sovereign.
"Did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land?" prayed Jehoshaphat (v. 7). The king recalled what God had done for them in the past. Whole chapters of the Bible are filled with the stories of God's intervention when situations looked hopeless. As my husband and I reflect on God's previous answers to our prayers, we become more able to trust him with our future.
Our friend Paul is a dentist facing early retirement because of rheumatoid arthritis. With three school-aged children, the implications of his disease are staggering. I asked his wife how they were coping with their uncertain future. She said they'd grown closer to each other.
"One night we stayed up looking at photo albums," she told me. "We realized how many times God has worked things out for us. If God's been in our marriage till now, I know he'll be with us tomorrow."
We lack resources
"O our God," pleaded Jehoshaphat in verse 12, "we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us." Jehoshaphat admitted he was powerless to meet the challenge before him. Sometimes God allows situations to arise in marriage for this same purpose.
When my husband and I married, my dream was to move to a small town after he completed his education. Al had other aspirations. Only when I stopped my incessant campaign and prayed for God to work in our future did I see my husband's desires gradually shift. But first I had to admit I could do nothing to change him!
"We do not know what to do," the king continued, "but our eyes are upon you." Here's where Jehoshaphat shifted the people's attention. He took his eyes off the crisis and worshiped God. Frankly, this course of action contradicts my natural bent. I tend to wrestle my pillow while I fret and keep my husband awake. Few problems, however, are solved at one o'clock in the morning. Only recently have I learned that it's better to let Al sleep while I spend those early hours worshiping God.
Prayers of praise and adoration don't flow naturally when I'm anxious or distracted. I've found it helpful to use the words of others when my own don't come easily. The Psalms are a great place to start, and an old church hymnal is a good resource to have on hand. Even when I admit my inability to pray as I should, God shows me the way by those who've gone before me.
God's answers will come
Speaking through a priest, God told Jehoshaphat, "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army." Why? "For the battle is not yours, but God's" (v. 15). The end of the story proves this. When Judah's army arrived at the battleground, they found only dead bodies lying everywhere. Their enemies had destroyed themselves, and Jehoshaphat and his people didn't have to fight at all!
I don't mean to imply that all problems can be solved with as little effort if we only pray. Sometimes we must wait patiently for God to orchestrate the situations that lead to answers. Like a master chess player whose moves aren't quickly discerned by his opponent, God often arranges events and circumstances that can be understood only in hindsight.
When my neighbor Claire accepted Christ at a prayer luncheon, she prayed her husband would become a Christian too. Claire never imagined that an unplanned change in her husband's employment would put him in direct contact with an elder from her church. Though her husband has yet to make a commitment for Christ, she's seen his heart soften toward spiritual things as his friendship with this man has grown. She knows God heard her prayer and has taken up her cause.
When we ask in faith without doubt (James 1:6), God gives us a new awareness of the way he's working. We find he's more than ready to help us meet the marital challenges we face. The battle isn't only against the situations we encounter; it's also the capacity they have to wear us down. Satan would gladly use these circumstances to destroy the witness and unity of our marriages. Only through the power of prayer do we have the resources to fight this enemy.
As I intercede daily for my relationship with Al, I find the strength I need to march on in this battle for my marriage.
Donna Doornik, a speaker and writer, lives with her family in California.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.