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 two to come together in like mindedness will be considered dangerous to Satan and 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” (Ephesians 6:12).
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.
- Pray it through – Talk to God first about your desire to pray with your spouse. First 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 marriage 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 Holy Spirit 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 Philippians 2:1-2 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.
(This article is adapted from When Couples Walk Together, co-authored by Cindi and Hugh McMenamin.)