Here on the podcast we often speak to wives with spiritually apathetic husbands. Episode 1315 comes to mind: “My Husband Is Passive — What Can I Do?” But here’s a question from a wife in an over half-century-long marriage. And in this case the husband is not spiritually passive. “Dear Pastor John, I’m married to a wonderfully godly man. We have a strong marriage of over fifty years. My husband daily spends time in Scripture and is a big fan of your writings. We pray together over meals and occasionally in particular times of need, but not regularly, not in the mornings or evenings. We’ve had many discussions about it. It would be my desire to do so.
“He feels like prayer should be personal, and when people pray together, they’re focused on what the other one is thinking and fail to relate to God. I’ve heard various speakers and authors say a couple should pray together to strengthen their marriages. And I can think of many good things that are the result of praying together, such as a feeling of intimacy, knowing my husband’s heart better, and being able to encourage others by letting them know we are praying for them as a couple. But my husband says those aren’t reasons to pray. He read this question and is interested too. Can you help us?”
Given the uniqueness of this situation — namely, a long marriage, a godly man and woman — I’m not going to argue that you have to pray together out loud with each other; I’m going to argue that this husband should want to. That’s my argument. I’m going to argue biblically that you should want to — not have to, but want to — in view of the way the New Testament speaks about prayer and in view of your wife’s longings.
And I’ve got ten reasons. I know this is a short podcast, so let’s do these quick. I’ve got ten reasons why I think you should want to, and I’ll move from the general to the more specific.
1. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father.”
Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven,” not just my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:9). His assumption seems to be that prayer will be both private, sweet encounter with God — he himself went away at night and prayed by himself — and a group encounter with God. If this is true for a precious church community, a community that we care about, how much more should it be true, it seems to me, of a precious relationship of husband and wife?
2. Prayer is not just a vertical transaction with God.
Over and over in Paul’s letters, he prays out loud, so to speak — he writes out loud — so that they can hear and read in the presence of his friends, so that they hear and know what he’s praying for them. Paul doesn’t merely say, “I pray for you guys” — period. He says, “I pray for you,” and then he does it. He does it out loud so they can read what he’s praying.
Now, that would be unnecessary, even misleading, if this were not a good idea for people we care about. Prayer is not designed merely for a vertical transaction with God. Let me say that again, because it seems like this man has prayer kind of in a pigeonhole of personal intimacy with God. Prayer is not designed merely for a vertical transaction with God. It is also designed to have a horizontal impact, else Paul and Jesus wouldn’t have spoken this way.
3. The New Testament calls for corporate prayer.
Paul illustrates this in gatherings at Corinth by encouraging them to pray out loud and intelligibly in such a way that people can say, “Amen, amen to what you just said” (see 1 Corinthians 14:16). In other words, Paul cultivates a spirit of group or corporate praying precisely with a view to other people hearing, listening to what you’re praying, and then joining with you with the word, “Amen, yes, I agree with that.”
And Jesus takes this right down to the level of two or three, doesn’t he, in Matthew 18:19–20? “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” And I can’t imagine that it would be more fitting or more desirable for any two people to agree in prayer for something than the two people who live together in the closest bond.
4. Women pray and prophesy in church.
First Corinthians 11:5 pictures women praying and prophesying in church with culturally appropriate signs of submission to the church leadership. Now, why would it be fitting and helpful for an entire gathering to hear this woman’s heart in prayer while her husband doesn’t hear her heart in prayer at home?
5. The Psalms invite us to exalt God together.
Most of the Psalms are prayers, and they’re not private. They are intended to be heard by others. The church has always loved it that David and Asaph and the others welcome us into their prayers.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together! (Psalm 34:3)
God delights in his people having the grace and humility to exalt him together. It makes me want to ask, Is there a pride problem here? It takes humility to expose yourself, your soul, your longings, your intimate ways of talking, to a spouse. It takes humility. You’ve got to be vulnerable.
6. Corporate gratitude glorifies God.
I am glad that you pray at meals. I assume that you, in praying at meals, give thanks to God out loud together, and I think that’s fitting and beautiful. You could keep it private. Both of you could bow in silence at the table over your food. Why don’t you?
Because you know intuitively and from the Psalms that thanking God out loud together is part of how he intends to be glorified.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations. (Psalm 57:9)
If that’s true among the nations, then how much more naturally among the family? And why only at meals?
7. God wants you to bear one another’s weight.
God teaches us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Husbands and wives have many burdens. Why would it be fitting to say to a spouse, “I am bearing your burden to the Lord,” but not let her hear you bear her burden to the Lord?
James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Why would that be a precious experience of out-loud confession and intercession with fellow Christians, but not with our spouse?
8. Our relationship with Christ and our spouse should blend in intimacy.
Since a husband and a wife become one flesh, they are the most intimate human relationship that there is on earth. There is one other relationship more intimate — namely, with the Lord. These two relationships are compared to each other in Ephesians 5. Neither is to be characterized by distrust of the other. When both are as they should be, they blend in intimacy.
It would be a mark of defect if one of these relationships, the one with the Lord or the one with a spouse, had secrets from the other. Therefore, a mark of health is when intimate communion with the Lord and intimate communion with a spouse blend in moments of prayer.
9. A husband honors his wife by sharing his heart.
First Peter 3:7 says that we husbands should honor our wives as fellow heirs of the grace of life. Would not part of that honoring her as a fellow heir be in honoring her with the deepest communications of our heart to the Lord from whom we will both inherit eternal life?
10. A husband should be like Christ to his wife.
I’m talking to you husband now. Thank you for listening and being gracious enough to let your wife inquire like this. Is it not enough, dear brother, that she asks for this? There are thousands of men who would give their right arm if their wives really wanted to pray with them. There are thousands of men who would give their right arm if their wives would say what your wife is saying: “Please pray with me.”
“Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Honor her with this gift. It’s a gift that she’s asking for. You are, as it were, Christ to her, and she is, as it were, the church to you. What would Christ say if the church said, “Would you speak to the Father with me?”
So, dear friends, you are not commanded in so many words to do this, but I think you should want to.