“God commands men to pray, and so not to pray is plain disobedience to an imperative command of Almighty God.” -E.M.Bounds
It’s often said that our spouses are our primary ministry. I’d like to suggest that praying for them is one of the most crucial ways we carry out that ministry. Prayer is a powerful tool of the faith, and I’d like to invite you to make sure you are making the most of it. It’s easy to pray for others, but are you praying for them well? Here’s 5 steps that have helped me pray for my husband more effectively.
Step One: Look in the mirror
It’s easy to pray “help him be a godly leader” or “help her be a good mother.” These aren’t necessarily bad prayers, but not only are they surface level, there are some questions you should be asking yourself first. Husbands with kids, are you an involved parent? Do you speak highly of your wife to your children? Does she have to ask repeatedly for your help, or are you actively seeking ways to serve her? Wives, are you encouraging your husband as he leads, or are you combative, dismissive, and disrespectful? Has your harsh tongue made him reluctant to take action?
When we pray for our spouses we need to be careful that we aren’t praying that God will gloss over our own sin - and that we aren’t justifying our sin with our spouses shortcomings. I really need to apply Matthew 7: 1-5 to my own life before I even contemplate asking God to change James. If I have a critical, harsh, and disrespectful attitude it’s going to be hard for him to lead me effectively. James is likely to get frustrated and flustered, and so may not make wise decisions. Likewise, if James is reckless, condescending, and disregards my input I might be tempted to be rebellious because I don’t trust him. The way we respond to our spouses is important. Review the way you have treated your spouse in the last six months. Is there something you need to repent of and ask your spouse for forgiveness for? Since each of us is the worst of sinners (1 Tim 1:15) it’s imperative we are more concerned with our own sin than with the sin of our spouse.
How are you contributing to your spouse's sin? I’m not saying you are to blame for your spouse's sin, because you aren’t. We are each the author of our own sinful choices. But are you stirring them to love and good works? (Heb 10:24) Are you making it easy to repent, and modeling what that looks like? Is sin taken seriously in your home? Do you talk about it, and are you mindful of their stumbling blocks and what sins they are easily tempted by? Before you spend a lot of time asking God to "fix" your spouse first ask God to reveal how you need to change to be a better spouse yourself.
Step Two: Examine your motives
Philippians 2:3 says “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Are you keeping this in mind when you pray for your spouse? What I mean is, are you more concerned with your spouses walk with the Lord or with the ease of your life with them? Do you view your spouse as a ministry opportunity or a barrier? Does my prayer for James demonstrate that I love him and want the best for him - or does it show that I want things to go my way and work out for my good? Am I praying for what is best for him or for what is easiest for me?
Am I praying that he changes his leadership style because he could be more godly, or because I don’t like it? Am I praying that he be successful at work because I want him to be salt to his coworkers, or do I just want him to make more money so my life is more comfortable? Am I praying that James loves the Lord and pursues Him because I genuinely care for his spiritual well being, or because Scripture paints a nice picture for how I should be treated by a God fearing husband? Before I pray about God changing James I really need to evaluate why I want God to make that change. Who would that change glorify, and how do I benefit from it?
Step Three: Know your spouse
Our God is powerful and He knows what each of us needs. He answers prayers only our hearts have uttered, and the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t even have the words. (Rom 8:27) I wonder, do you know what your spouse is dealing with in the most intimate arenas of their life? Are you praying for the things they are too scared to share at life group? Are you praying for the things they are still discovering about themselves? Praying for the minutiae of the day to day is important, and so is praying in the big picture. But is that enough for our one-flesh relationships? I’d like to challenge you to dig deeper, and get specific about your other half.
Here are some questions to consider:
- How is their walk with the Lord right now?
- Are they diligent in their reading, meditating, and prayer life?
- Do you see fruit in their life?
- Do they find joy and hope easily?
- In what ways are they struggling the most right now?
- Are they prideful at work?
- Do they struggle with impurity?
- Do they have a hard time resolving conflict?
- Are they waiting joyfully in God’s timing?
- What are they learning about God right now? How are they, or aren’t they, changing in response?
- What are their fears?
- What are their goals?
- What encourages and discourages them?
- How are they spending their time and with who?
- Do you know the names of their office mates?
- How do they spend their time when you aren’t around?
This list is just the beginning. If you don’t know the answers to these questions it will be hard for you to pray specifically for what they have going on in their hearts.
Step Four: Be thankful for your spouse
Tell God how much you appreciate your spouse and marriage, and get specific. Sometimes it can be hard to come up with things to be thankful for in general, and often times harder still within our marriages. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us that we will always have something to be thankful for, though, so don’t miss this opportunity to honor God’s will for your life. Praise God for the traits and gifts and skills He gave your spouse. Thank Him for aligning your lives to cross paths and lead to marriage. Tell God how much you appreciate those little things they do for you. Praise God for the ways He is working within your spouse, and thank Him for the honor and privilege He has given you as a sanctification partner with your spouse. Remind yourself what an amazing gift it is that God has trusted you with one of His children - and Praise God that your spouse is who He trusted you to*. As I look back on the years I’ve been married to James I am greatly moved by how patient, gentle, consistent, and compassionate he has been with me through it all. God has put me through some significant trials and my husband has faithfully ministered to me through them. I hope the same is true for your marriage and that you are stirred to a thankful heart because of it.
Step Five: Pray with your spouse
Finally! Does this seem like too simplistic of a step? Do you pray together? If not, I encourage you to start. Praying for your spouse is a great way to show them you are listening, you care, and you are rooting for them. Prayer helps point you each back to the Lord, as well as encourages and comforts you both. It helps you stay focused on what’s most important; A heart focused on the Lord has little room for sinful responses.
Additionally, prayer is an incredibly intimate thing and will help you feel closer as a couple. Pray for yourselves together, for each other, for your life group and family, the church, our country - everything. Pray together. It’s an amazing window into the soul of your spouse and I encourage you to participate in it. It might be awkward at first, but embrace it. This is your primary relationship for the rest of your earthly life. Make the most of it. You won’t regret it.
Still not sure where to begin? Here’s a generic list to get you started:
- Remove my selfishness that I may be a better servant to my spouse
- May my words build up as fits the occasion, and never tear down
- Help me be focused on my spouse - that they come before all other earthly relationships
- Help me shed the cultural definition of manliness or femininity and instead stand firmly in God’s definition
- Our marriage would be a good example to our children. Am I treating my spouse the way I would want a future helpmate to treat my child?
- Help me be a blessing to my spouse in their role as parent. May my actions work in tandem with my spouse and not in opposition
- Help me to build trust with my spouse, that I may continue to learn them better
- Show me a way to serve my spouse today
- Our sex life would be God honoring
- Give my spouse victory over the sin they are currently struggling with, help me to be an encouragement to them in that effort
- Protection against impurity
- They are a light to their coworkers
- They would work hard to bring God glory, not for personal gain
- We would strive to please God more than we are concerned with making a good appearance
- Bring us opportunities to serve the Kingdom with our marriage
- Take hold of my spouse's heart, Lord - increase their knowledge and their faith
- Gratitude for the way your spouse blessed you recently
- Express appreciation for the ways your spouse has helped you grow
- Praise God for the good times you have had together
- Thank the Lord for the things still in store for your marriage
And of course, praying through scripture is never a bad way to pray for someone, either. It is my hope that your prayer life reflects the love and grace of our Lord, and that your marriage is all the richer for it.
*If you are currently in a difficult marriage this might be a really hard thing for you to believe or do. Without knowing your specific situation there are some things I do know. God works all things together for our good (Rom 8:28), He is sovereign (1 Chron 29:11-12), and He has not given up on you or your marriage (Phil 4:19, Matt 28:20.) If you need help please reach out to the appropriate authorities and or to the church. Please do not continue to suffer alone. Join a life group, contact the counseling department, reach out to a trusted friend (Prov 11:14). God did not design us to do life alone - embrace the community God has waiting for you (Rom 12: 4-5, Gal 3:28-29), and let us love you both by gently restoring you to the Lord and to each other. And through all of it, pray. Pray that God would intervene and move in both your hearts.
Again, E.M. Bounds:
“Be careful for nothing, but in everything, by supplication and prayer, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." That is the Divine cure for all fear, anxiety, and undue concern of soul, all of which are closely akin to doubt and unbelief.”
― E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer