Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spiritual disciplines for couples (pt. 3): Voice of prayer

     Imagine having the access to walk into the Oval Office and talk to the president whenever you want, or to drop by Buckingham Palace at any time that you want tea with the queen, or to bypass all the security for any international leader, or celebrity, or person of power and influence you can think of, and go for a walk with him or her just because you want to have a casual chat.  It’s unlikely that most of us will ever be afforded that kind of privilege or opportunity, yet we have the ability to come into the presence of the single most powerful One on earth, the Creator or the universe.  No appointments.  No later call backs (because He’s never too busy for you).  No topic you want to discuss is off limits.  Nothing you have to say or that you feel is ever labeled as silly or ridiculous.  And most of all, you don’t have to put on a façade.  You can actually just be you—no matter how good, bad, or ugly you think that might look.  He loves you for you, and He wants to hold you close.
     To truly embrace that idea is so comforting, so life-giving, so peaceful, that at times it truly is beyond comprehension.  Now imagine coming into God’s presence with the one you love on this earth more than any other.  Imagine approaching God as one flesh with your covenant lover, each of you still distinctively, individually made in God’s image, but through your marriage now also uniquely one.
     When you and your mate engage in prayer together, you can hear things in each other’s prayers that you might not hear (at least on the same level) in your normal conversation.  For example, imagine a husband whose father is terminally ill.  His wife is aware and she can acknowledge what she’s hearing about her father-in-law’s physical condition and the doctor visits and all that is involved.  But when she hears her beloved’s voice of prayer, she hear something very, very different.  She hears a little boy who is scared to lose his daddy, and in his powerlessness he is taking it to his Abba Father.  Or imagine a wife who, after years of devastating miscarriages, praises God when her first child is born, and in her voice of prayer her husband hears joy beyond description.  It doesn’t matter what the circumstance.  Whether you’re on a bright mountain top or in a cold, dark valley, when you and your spouse engage in prayer together as a regular, daily practice, you will hear things.  In those moments of hearing each other’s voices of prayer, you give each other access in an open and vulnerable way that won’t happen in normal horizontal conversation.
     So, why is this practice so hard for many couples?  In 25+ years of pastoral and clinical counseling, it has been my experience that most Christian couples do a good job of praying for each other, but most struggle to pray with each other, and there is a profound difference between the two.  Here are some considerations for sharing in your mate’s voice of prayer.

  • Find a time and a space.  Just like with sharing in the Word, if this is going to be a priority for you and your spouse, then you have to be intentional.
  • Don’t get caught up in how the prayer sounds.  Yes, you are praying with someone else present, but your mate is not grading you (or at least shouldn’t be) on whether or not the prayer is poetic or flowery enough, or flows smoothly, or you use the right words.  Just speak honestly and openly to God.  Remember, the prayer that carried more weight was simply “God have mercy on me a sinner” (Luke 18:9-14).
  • Don’t bring judgment into the prayer time.  “Don’t you have more to say than that?”  “That prayer was too short.”  “I thought that prayer would never end.”  “You might as well say it, because God knows anyway.”  Few things will destroy this shared discipline faster than criticism and/or self-righteousness.  It is difficult enough to admit our fear, failure, uncertainty, or other feelings and situations that plague us, much less when we feel we’re being critiqued for it.  Ask yourself, “What am I doing to create and maintain an environment of safety, love, and empathy when my mate is willing to take the risk of being vulnerable?”
  • Couple’s prayer doesn’t replace other aspects of your prayer life.  While the goal is ever-increasing transparency with our mates, we all need our own time with God in prayer too.  Also, every husband and wife needs to be part of a like-gender accountability group.  Men have struggles that only other men can fully understand, and women have struggles that only other women can fully understand.  While we must seek spiritual intimacy primarily with our spouses, we also need others of like-gender to pray with and for us.  We need others in our lives that have permission to crack down on us and hold us accountable if they see we are doing things that will harm our marriage or our spiritual walk.

     Remember, if this is something new, it might seem awkward and forced at first, but the more you and your mate pray together, the more power God has to make your marriage something “beyond all you could ask or imagine” for the sake of His Kingdom.  Pray for your spouse.  But more significantly, honestly and openly pray with your spouse.  It will open up a whole new level of intimacy and connectedness between you.

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