What causes more guilt than joy for many Christians? If you ask Timothy Jones, his quick reply is "prayer." Blend his awareness of this struggle with his passion for the topic and you've got a candid guide to prayer that is both freeing and refreshing. According to Jones, God knows us personally, so it follows that how he communicates with each of us, and vice-versa, will be somewhat unique. So say "goodbye" to formulas and preconceived notions and start saying "hello" to God.
We often hear that praying together is one of the best things you can do for your marriage. But a surprising number of Christians are hesitant to pray, either together or alone. Why?
Several things hold us back. First, we fear that we won't measure up; that prayer is complicated and something only certain people do right. In reality, it's the simplest language in the world. God hears our humblest words. Prayer is more a matter of the heart than an eloquent vocabulary, whether you're praying by yourself or with your spouse.
Also, we're just plain busy. The thought of adding prayer to our already over-filled lives seems daunting. When we think like that, we forget that prayer is a wonderful resource. We so much see the duty of prayer that we forget the delight of it.
Maybe that's why couples argue over money rather than pray about it.
Someone once said, "We live lives of little things," and that phrase stuck with me. When it comes to prayer we can be confident that if God cares about us, he cares about all aspects of our lives. If something is important enough to worry about, it's important enough to pray about. Instead of worrying or arguing over the mortgage payment or a host of other issues, talk to God about them.
But a lot of people are uncomfortable praying out loud—even if it is with their spouse. How do you get past this anxiety?
Remember that prayer isn't about performance. To the couple contemplating praying together on a regular basis, I encourage them to begin with small steps. Pray the Lord's Prayer together out loud, or use a simple acrostic like A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) using simple sentence prayers. Then let your times of prayer develop and deepen at their own rate.
In practical terms, how does prayer help a marriage?
When you come together into God's presence, somehow your guard comes down. You gain a new perspective that allows you to hold your spouse and the things in your life a bit more lightly. God reassures us that he's in charge, that he's working his purposes out in our lives and in our marriages. And that frees us to let go of our need to control people or circumstances.
Also, if you spend more time with God, you become more like him. If you're more Christlike, you're going to be a better marriage partner. You're going to manifest the character qualities—the tenderness, the love, the honesty—that Christ did.
I loved your story of a couple who, one night before bed, spent their prayer time singing a hymn together. Can prayer really be that simple and spontaneous?
Pray whenever and wherever you can. I know a couple who set aside a specific time each week to pray. My wife and I aren't that organized, so we find ourselves praying in those odd moments. For instance, we car pool to work some mornings and rather than just talk we pray about the stresses and opportunities we're each going to face that day. Our time together isn't elaborate, but prayer makes a huge difference in our day and our marriage.
So your basic advice is "forget the formulas and just get started."
Exactly. Prayer can become a simple, life-giving part of any couple's married life. Remember, God is always eager for us to come to him. Certainly, he's majestic. But he's also accessible, and that's what we tend to forget. He likes to hear us talk. And as we do, our marriages and families will become stronger.
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