Admit it. You’d like to be one of those couples that prays together daily, conducts family devotions regularly, and models to others what a spiritual home should look like.
But if you’re like us – and most couples we’ve talked to – you’re not quite there. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever be.
Although my husband was a pastor for more than 20 years and I continue to be heavily involved in ministry too, it took us a good 20 years before we started setting aside the time to pray together regularly. And when we did, we realized it was the single most important factor in creating a closer connection between the two of us.
And yet, why did it take us so long to prioritize praying together? The reasons – or maybe I should say, excuses – abounded.
As my husband and I began researching and writing our book,
When Couples Walk Together
, we interviewed many couples on the subject of praying together and learned we were not alone in our struggle. Nor were our reasons unique for finding it difficult to come together to pray.
The Schedule Dilemma
We found the number one reason most couples cited for not praying together was conflicting schedules and the inability to find the time to do so. For years, my husband and I cited this excuse, too. He was up earlier and out the door for work while I was helping our daughter get ready for school, which made morning prayer together nearly impossible. And praying at night before bed was out of the question as he would fall asleep much earlier than I would. But we realized that we make the time to do what is most important to us, so we had to start getting creative. Other couples we talked to also struggled with making the time, but once they did, they found another difficulty arose.
The Intimidation Factor
In talking with many couples about why they don’t pray together, the schedule is often the first excuse. But lying underneath that is the feeling that one’s spirituality will be measured by the length or depth of one’s prayers. Many wives expect their husbands, as the spiritual heads of the household, to initiate prayer, to comfort their hearts through prayer when they are feeling misunderstood, to be their spiritual strength. And those kinds of expectations can be intimidating to any man. Likewise, wives can feel intimidated, too, if they feel their prayers don’t match the spiritual depth of their husbands. Some spouses tend to be more verbose in their prayers, while others feel more comfortable internalizing their thoughts and pray silently to God. Prayer makes anyone feel vulnerable, especially if someone other than God is listening in.
The “Unseen” Battle
Finally, praying with one’s spouse is difficult at times because the enemy of our souls doesn’t want us praying together. Anything that strengthens your bond with your spouse and causes you to come together in like mindedness will be considered dangerous to Satan; he’ll do what it takes to prevent it – through distractions, misunderstandings, interruptions, feelings of intimidation, personal fatigue, and so on. That doesn’t mean every time your prayer time is interrupted or needs to be postponed that it was the work of the devil. Nor does it mean each time your spouse needs to cancel or doesn’t feel like praying it is his or her fault, either. It just means that our battle “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (
Pushing Through the Obstacles:
Just as there are many reasons why it’s difficult for couples to pray together, there are equally as many ways to push through the barriers and incorporate a habit that will draw the two of you closer to one another and closer to God.
1. Pray it through. Talk to God first about your desire to pray with your spouse.
1 John 5:14-15
assures us that “whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.” So, ask God for the time in your schedule, for wisdom in how to suggest it to your spouse, and that God will prepare the heart of your spouse to desire this time with you as well.
2. Set a time. By setting an agreed-upon appointment for prayer with your spouse, both of you are more likely to keep it. But, as with any appointment, there will be times you or your spouse will need to postpone or reschedule. That’s life. So be flexible and extend grace.
3. Ease into it. There’s a reason prayer is considered a spiritual discipline. And as with any habit or discipline, it will take work. So ease into it. You might even start with praying together once a week for a brief time, then gradually increase your prayer time to two or three times a week until it becomes a part of your daily schedule.
4. Keep it short. There is nothing wrong with limiting the time that the two of you can spend in prayer, especially when you’re first starting out. There are jobs to attend, tasks to complete, and children to care for. Be respectful of each other’s time and put parameters around how long your prayer time will be. My husband often instructs couples in prayer as he would a team of backpackers. When a group of backpackers hit the trail, there’s a general rule of thumb that says everyone should walk at a pace that is most doable for the slowest-moving member of the team. It’s the “leave no man (or woman) behind” motto. So let the spouse who tends to pray the shortest set the tempo.
5. Keep it simple. You can keep it short and simple by limiting your prayer time together to the basic or most pressing needs on your heart. A couple’s prayer time should never replace an individual’s prayer time. And in my opinion, our prayer time alone with God, one-on-one, should far outweigh the amount of time we pray with our spouse. God is always there. He’s always available. And you don’t need to schedule a time to talk with Him. But that’s often not the case with your spouse. Respect his or her time and pray only about pressing needs that concern your family, such as job, health or financial issues, the salvation or spiritual life of loved ones, the behavioral issues of your children, and so on. You might even consider praying together for certain things on certain days: Monday – God’s provision; Tuesday – family and extended family; Wednesday – ministry opportunities; and so on.
6. Keep it safe. Remove any possibility of intimidation by letting your spouse know that your prayer time together is not an arena for judgment or assumption. In other words, anything that is prayed for is “safe” – and won’t be analyzed, critiqued, shared with others, or brought up again in a non-supportive way.
7. Keep it light. I don‘t mean to sound irreverent here or to imply our prayers should be shallow. I mean “light” in terms of encouraging. Praying with your spouse about sensitive issues in your
or situations in your past that may cause him or her to feel regret or remorse might not be best. Save the heavier, deeply personal issues for God. He can handle them and many times your spouse won’t know what to do upon hearing prayers that might be directed at him or her and any trouble or anxiety they may be causing the marriage. Aim for a goal of togetherness and encouragement as you pray. If your goal, after praying together, is that both you and your spouse emerge from that prayer time feeling more powerful and strengthened together, then you will know what to address with your spouse and what to keep for an extended prayer time with just you and God. As you begin praying together regularly, the
may impress upon your hearts to pray about deeper issues and, when that is the case, you both will simply be following His lead.
Finally, you can apply the principles of
as a guideline in praying together by “thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal.” That one goal should be that each of you emerge from your prayer time together feeling stronger, more supported, and more unified in order to take on the enemy of your souls.
Cindi McMenamin is a national women’s conference and retreat speaker and the author of several books, including When a Woman Inspires Her Husband, When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter, and When Couples Walk Together, (which she co-authored with her husband of 27 years, Hugh). Cindi’s newest book, 10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom releases this month from Harvest House Publishers. For more on Cindi’s books and ministry, or to download free articles of encouragement to strengthen your marriage, parenting, or individual walk with God, see her website: StrengthForTheSoul.com.
Publication date: February 29, 2016
I’m not like that, and I meet Christians who no longer pray, because it was a disappointment. Their experience is not what they expected. The bottom line though, is this: you’ve got to pursue prayer, first and foremost, as a discipline – not as an experience.
I hope that point isn’t a disappointment to you, because the fact is most of the excellent things in life are disciplines. Isn’t that true? Are you in college? It’s a discipline. Knowledge comes from discipline. Physical fitness comes from discipline. Skill in art or music comes from discipline. Prayer first will be a discipline.
Third, I think prayer is so hard because it’s so difficult to pay attention. Is it hard for you to pay attention when praying? I hope I’m not the only one. I admit that for me, invisible, formless, shapeless beings are hard to focus on. There are times I have gotten the feeling that maybe I’m talking to the ceiling.
Fourth, I think prayer is hard because, frankly, there are more enjoyable things to do, and other occupations cry louder for my attention. For most of us, we’re in too big a hurry to get something done because it’s more fun to take out the list of things to do and cross them off than it is to spend time in prayer.
Fifth, prayer is hard because you can get more done by yourself. At least we think so. A famous British general once said, “I’ve noticed that in battle God always seems to be on the side of the army with the heaviest artillery.” I think for each of us there has come some big event in life, and we forgot to pray. The event came and went, and went okay. Then we begin to suspect prayer wasn’t as crucial as we thought, and maybe we’d get more done if we quit wasting time on our knees; just got out there and did stuff.
Sixth, prayer is hard because it’s a universal failure. Remember the story from John 8 of the woman caught in adultery. She’s brought before Christ who simply says to the people around eager to chastise her, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” That sort of cut down the audience.
But He could have said it differently, by simply saying, “Let he who has a superb prayer life cast the first stone.” That would leave no one, too.
Everybody struggles with prayer. Because everybody struggles with prayer, very few people are models for you, challenging and encouraging in this area. You’ll get together with another Christian and say, “I just have trouble praying,” and most of the time they’ll say, “Me too.” We need more people who can say, “What’s the problem? Try this. Do this.”
Last of all, prayer is misunderstood. We wonder, “What is prayer? What do I do first? Then what do I do?” As a result, when you see the word “prayer,” it calls to mind simply a feeling of frustration, discouragement or guilt. For many prayer is not hard. It’s impossible.
Author Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote, “The act of praying is the highest energy of which the human mind is capable. Praying…with the total concentration of the faculties. The great mass of worldly men and of the learned men are absolutely incapable of prayer.”
Do you believe that’s true? After several years of praying, I agree. As college students, you’re an elite group; the best of the best. You’re intelligent, talented, and ambitious.
I wonder what would happen if we were able to lift off the world’s machinery, seeing not your worldly accomplish- ments, but your spiritual ones. What would you look like as people of prayer? For a lot of us, we’d find our prayer lives were simply endless, boring supplications – a life of complacency, sleepiness, and suspicions that we’re wasting time. But it can be better. It can be different.
Prayer is universal to all faiths and we know that it’s central to the Christian faith but why is it that prayer can seem so hard to wrap our minds, mouths and motivations around? Here are 4 basic thoughts on why we may struggle with prayer:
1. We’re not sure how to pray
2. We get bored or distracted while trying to pray
3. We think our requests are too small for God
4. We’re not sure that our prayers will make a difference
Defining prayer is simply stated as COMMUNICATION WITH GOD!
It’s important that we give each other room to connect with God in different ways because all of us have unique ways of engaging with his Spirit.
If you want to grow your prayer life then I believe the following tips will help you because they have helped me and countless others.
You will find these tips stated in various books and sermons in different wording:
Talk to God with gut level honesty: God isn’t interested in long or perfect prayers but he is interested in prayers that authentically come from your heart.
Talk to God about everything that matters to you: Phil 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”
Talk to God continually: 1 Thess 5:16-18 exhorts us to pray without ceasing.
You may struggle to pray for extended periods of time in one hit but you can pray 10-20 mins at a time all throughout the day.
Listen to God for his response: Monologue prayer is limited but dialogue communication is critical to walk in God’s purpose for your life.
Pray Until Something Happens: Don’t give up and never give in. Just keep on praying until you breakthrough.
Prayer should not be a religious ritual but a way of life which involves practicing the presence of God.
Some memorize “prayers.” Some read a prepared “prayer.”
Matthew 6 sets out some boundaries for our prayer life. It’s not to be done for the recognition of other men.
Matthew 6:1 (NIV) “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven”
Our prayer time is a sweet time with God when we pour out our hearts to Him alone.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6 (NIV)
God listens to our innermost hearts. We can share anything with Him because He cares and wants us to come to Him. Rewards come to those who pray with sincerity, and from the heart. God is always there waiting for us to fellowship with Him.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:18 (NIV)
In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12 (NIV)
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Matthew 6:7 (NIV)
It doesn’t say “don’t ask”, just “don’t use vain repetitions.” It’s not how long you pray but how much you believe when you pray.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24 (NIV)
We are specifically reminded of the two types of prayer in 1 Corinthians 14:15 (NIV) So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind;
Both types of prayer are necessary as we walk with God. We will to pray either way. When we pray with our understanding it profits our mind. Praying with the spirit is praying in tongues. When we pray with the spirit, it builds us up in our inner man. It is also a means to pray for one another, even when we don’t ‘know all the facts.’
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)
Prayer is one means of continually helping people. We need to make up our minds to pray and to persevere in prayer.
Colossians 4:2 (NIV) Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
In Philippians 4:6 we read: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. We stay thankful and continue the habit of prayer. We apply ourselves to it. It takes commitment to develop our prayer life but God’s Word tells us to “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Talk things over with your Heavenly Father. Make time for prayer. Jesus did. What better example could we have!
I’m going to be completely honest with you. I struggle with prayer.
I don’t doubt the need for prayer. I need it desperately; I want it desperately. In fact, I strongly believe that without real prayer, a believer’s relationship with God will only be superficial.
Unfortunately, many of us practice a watered down version of prayer. We sit with our Bible and our “prayer list” and spend 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour telling God how we’d like Him to work in and around our lives.
Has that ever been you? My hand is in the air.
What “real prayer” is not
That kind of “praying” is fairly easy if you can stay focused and take the time. But real prayer is a lot harder – at least for me.
Real prayer is not running down our list and explaining to God how He can take care of things. Real prayer is simply giving our needs to God and allowing Him to meet them in His way.
Real prayer doesn’t seek to change God’s mind to do our will, but instead seeks God’s mind and will. Our goal in prayer is to allow God to change our heart and mind to reflect His.
What is “real prayer?”
Real prayer is not an activity limited to a time slot in our day, but an ongoing relationship with the living God. In her book “Live a Praying Life,” Jennifer Kennedy Dean describes prayer like this:
Prayer is opening our lives to God, acknowledging our total dependence on Him. It is an attitude of receptivity in which we live every moment. It is being open to Him at all times. It is living in the presence of God, always in the process of being reshaped and recreated by Him.
Yes, we need times of focused prayer when our attention is focused solely on God. But real prayer never ends. It permeates and invades every moment of our lives. And as we practice real prayer, we will develop an intimacy with God that’s not possible in any other way.
Why is Real Prayer so Hard?
So if real prayer is so wonderful, why is it so hard for me? I’ve been thinking about this question. Here are a few things that have hit me between the eyes:
- Real prayer requires time and discipline – Although prayer is a way of life, I also must regularly shut out everything else and spend intense, focused time with just God. But I often yield to the calls of the to-do list or sleep or a thousand other less important things.
- Real prayer requires humility – I like to think I’m pretty smart. I can see how my problems could be solved. I know what my future should look like. I even dare to tell God how I think I could serve Him best. I must set aside my foolish pride and humbly go to the only One who really knows best.
- Real prayer requires stillness and quietness – The world bombards us with entertainment, emails, news, social media, and more. But all that is just noise and distraction that keeps me from hearing God’s voice. I have to be purposeful in keeping the laptop closed, the TV off, and my heart and mind tuned in to the Creator.
- Real prayer requires waiting – I have a hard time waiting on God’s answer. Sometimes He answers right away and other times He wants us to wait. To lean in to listen. He has much to say to us if we will but wait long enough for Him to speak. And sometimes, the answer is in the waiting.
- Real prayer requires obedience – If I seek God’s will or ask Him to meet a need and fail to do what He says I essentially cut off that communication. My lack of obedience tells God I don’t believe His way is best. That I think I can do it better myself. Obedience proves my trust and reliance and builds the relationship.
Time, humility, stillness, waiting, and obedience. Real prayer. My sinful human nature fights it. My spirit longs for it. So I’ll keep practicing. And praying.
Are these things hard for you? What do you find the most difficult?
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