Marriage and Motherhood - 4 - How Prayer Strengthens Marriage

How Prayer Strengthens Marriage

Part Four: Becoming United for the Battle

by Leslie Ludy

I’ll never forget the day when Eric and I really began to pray together, as a strong, unified, passionate team, wrestling together for God’s purposes to be realized. We’d been married for several years. We’d been in full-time ministry since our first year of marriage, and we had often prayed together—before meals, before a ministry trip, when we needed to make an important decision, etc. But our prayers had been mediocre, even dutiful. They hadn’t been filled with spiritual fire or unwavering faith. As a couple, we’d never really gained a clear vision of the importance of prayer or the purpose of it. We just knew it was something God wanted us to do, sort of like spiritual “exercises” to keep our soul in good shape.

But then our perspective on prayer radically changed. It had been a season of tremendous attack. One disaster after the next had hit us, until we hardly knew which end was up. Financial crisis, betrayal from people we trusted, and constant sickness had begun to plague us. Our response had always been to “thank God” for the trials and move on with the best attitude we could muster. We thought that was the best way to honor Him through it all.

And yet, we began to hear the still, small voice of His Spirit, urging us to look more closely at what Scripture said about prayer and spiritual warfare. So we began to study God’s Word, asking God to guide us and open our understanding. A passage in James stood out to us both with startling clarity: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Up to that point in time, we hadn’t even considered “resisting” the enemy’s attacks upon us. We didn’t even really know they were attacks. We had seen all of our difficulties as trials that were coming from God, which is why we didn’t really pray about them—other than to thank God for the challenges and attempt to move on as best we could. But as we continued to dig deeper into God’s Word, we began to realize the difference between godly discipline for the sake of spiritual refinement, and spiritual attack by the enemy for the purpose of discouragement and hindrance from God’s purposes. We suddenly recognized that God didn’t want us to simply roll over and play dead when the enemy attacked us. Instead, He wanted us “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10) and to “resist the devil” so that he would flee from us.

Eric and I also recognized that instead of just praying broad, general, “wimpy” prayers, God was asking us to pray bold, specific, importunate prayers—prayers that would move mountains and wage war on the kingdom of darkness; prayers that would give the enemy a real run for his money. This was somewhat of a foreign concept to us. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “There is a general kind of praying which fails for lack of precision. It’s as if a regiment of soldiers were to all fire off their weapons anywhere. Possibly somebody would be killed, but the majority of the enemy would be missed.” That is the way we had been used to praying—general, unfocused, and ineffective.

Then one night, I became very sick, for what seemed like the umpteenth time that season. For months, I had been unable to speak on stage or fulfill my ministry roles. And now this: another flare up, so that I could hardly function. For this first time, Eric and I clearly saw it as an attack from the enemy—a specific hindrance designed to keep me from what God had called me to do. So instead of offering up a general, vague, or wimpy prayer, we changed our approach. We began to fight back.

It was late at night, and Eric began to pace around the bedroom and pray aloud. He began to rebuke the powers of darkness that were attacking and hindering me. Then, he began to passionately and importunately pray for God’s purposes to be accomplished in our lives—in our health, our marriage, our finances, our ministry, and our family.

It was a turning point in our Christian lives. No longer were we going to passively sit by and let the enemy have his way. We were going to rise up in God’s strength and enter the battle, wearing the shield of faith and wielding the sword of the Spirit.

Rise up in God’s strength and enter the battle.

It wasn’t easy at first. The old habits of mediocrity were hard to break. At times it felt awkward to pray for longer periods of time and to pray with passion and boldness out loud in front of each other. Yet the more we studied God’s Word, the more we know that this is how He intended us to pray. We began to sense the power of having two or more gathered in Christ’s name (see Matthew 18:20) and felt His presence in our midst.

As we disciplined ourselves to keep pushing forward—even when it felt awkward or tedious—and pray with faith and spiritual fire, we begin to see tremendous things happen. Strength began to flow into our home, our marriage, our family, and our ministry. The relentless attacks began to let up. We were able to fulfill God’s call upon our life without constantly hitting a brick wall. We became spiritually offensive, rather than spiritually defensive.

One of the biggest results of praying this way was the impact it had upon our marriage. Though we were not attending marriage conferences, reading marriage books, or going to marriage counseling, our communication had never been better—our unity never stronger. We were touching the heart of God as a couple; we were wrestling for His purposes as a team. The natural byproduct was a clearer sense of purpose, better communication between us, and an amazing like-mindedness that carried through the entire day.

That was many years ago, but our marriage has never been the same since. Whenever things are becoming confused or blurry between us, whenever our unity seems to be wobbly, we know the solution: coming before God’s throne together in wrestling, importunate prayer. Nothing bonds our hearts together like the activity of pouring out our hearts to our King.

If your marriage and family could use an infusion of strength, don’t underestimate the power of prayer!

Here are some practical ways to get started.

1. Make a Sacred List

I shared about making a “sacred list” in my article called “A Purposeful Prayer Strategy”:

Eric and I started the habit of creating a “sacred list”—otherwise known as a purposeful prayer strategy. We would write down a list of every area that was a struggle in our family—whether a child-training challenge, a physical issue for one of our kids, or wisdom needed for important family decisions. We called it our “sacred list,” and it included all of the areas we were committing to pray consistently about until a clear answer came.

For the past ten years, we have continued this pattern of having a “sacred list” or prayer strategy for our family. Each night, Eric and I set aside time to lift up these requests to God, and we continue praying about them until we sense a breakthrough has come. It’s truly been amazing to see the way God has worked in our home and family life as a result of this purposeful prayer. Rather than simply praying general prayers, such as “help our kids to behave well,” we are purposeful about taking every specific request—no matter how big or small—to our God in prayer. We have prayed about potty training, pacifier-weaning, and nursing issues. We have prayed about sibling rivalries, health struggles, and for our children to find special, godly friends.

Answers may not come right away. But God asks us to continue bringing our prayers before Him with faith and importunity. When I’m wrestling in prayer over certain issues and the answers aren’t coming immediately, I often think of the woman from Canaan who asked Jesus to heal her daughter who was severely demon-possessed. At first, Jesus seems not to hear her, but she continues to cry out after Him. Then, He seems to be unwilling to grant her request, but she continues to plead with Him. Finally, He says to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire” (Matthew 15:22-28). What incredible perseverance in the face of seeming discouragement and disappointment! As Martin Luther once said, “God may delay, but He always comes.”

It is not easy to continue praying diligently and consistently when you don’t see immediate answers. But I have found that some of the greatest victories in prayer have come when I refuse to give up and—even in the face of seeming defeat—continue to cry out to God for victory. Often, what at first appears to be a defeat or a “closed door” can turn into an incredible testimony of God’s faithfulness if we simply continue to knock until the answer comes!

2. Don’t Consult your Emotions

Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Rather, have an appointment with the Lord, and keep it!” Eric and I have found this principle to be extremely helpful in making prayer a priority. Often, prayer is not what we “feel” like doing. But when we set a regular appointment with God and honor it, no matter what our our bodies or emotions might say, our souls are greatly benefited.

If we make a habit of doing whatever we “feel like,” rather than what God’s Spirit is asking of us, we can be sure that our relationship with Jesus Christ will suffer. Instead of pursuing Christ with true devotion, we dutifully say a short prayer, then click on our computer because it feels more exciting to check our email than to labor through the Scriptures. Instead of making personal sacrifices to set aside time for prayer, we give into laziness and then come up with elaborate justifications as to why we are too busy to fit it in.

When we choose to consult the Spirit of Truth instead of our own feelings, we make different decisions in our daily lives, decisions that place God’s priorities above our own wants. If you have been letting your feelings trump your commitment to spending time with Christ, choose a different attitude when you first wake up in the morning. Instead of consulting your emotions with questions such as, “What do I want to get out of today?” or “How can I avoid the discomfort of getting out of bed right now?” adopt a new mindset: “Lord, this is Your day. Show me how to use each moment for Your glory.”

Place God’s priorities above your own wants.

Remember, you may not have a “mountaintop experience” each time you pray and seek God. But as you learn to love Him as an act of your will (following His pattern whether you feel like it or not), your emotions and feelings will eventually follow suit. Soon, it will become your greatest delight to give your life to Him, and you will be able to echo the words of the psalmist who said, “I delight to do Your will, O my God!” (Psalm 40:8).

3. Be Aware of the Battle

Remember, the enemy does not like it when we pray with our spouse. He will do whatever he can to distract us and convince us that we don’t need to pray, we are too tired to pray, we are too busy to pray, or that we can always “pray later.” Be on guard against these lies, and be careful not to take his bait. Keep in mind that when you least feel like praying is usually when you need prayer the most! Like Nehemiah ignored the verbal threats and attacks of his enemies while he was building the wall around Jerusalem, we must also choose to ignore the threats and distractions of the enemy as we build a spiritual wall around our marriage and family through prayer.

Also be on guard against irritations, frustrations, and arguments that arise with your spouse the moment you decide to pray together. The enemy knows that if he can get you sidetracked with an argument or frustration, he can thwart your prayer session. Don’t let him succeed. Call upon the grace of God to put aside you frustrations, ignore the temptation to bicker with your spouse, and quickly forgive any offenses that have arisen—then get back to the business at hand…praying!

++

If your spouse isn’t on board with praying together as a couple, don’t despair. Start by making prayer one of the highest priorities in your own life. Make your own personal “sacred list” and at the very top of it, ask God to change your husband’s heart toward prayer! Don’t nag, complain, or criticize to see him change in this area. Instead, pray! You’ll be amazed at what God can do in your marriage and in your ability to pray together as a couple if you simply lay the situation at His feet in childlike faith, and wrestle until the answer comes.