Tag Archives: marriage and prayer

My Biggest Problem with “Pray for Your Marriage”

It’s October, and I’m still talking about prayer! That’s because my goal this year has been to pray more, especially for marriage.

I’ve encouraged you to be praying for your marriage and your marriage bed as well, including unity with your spouse, sexual temptation, and perspective. And I’ve been encouraged by you sharing your prayer habits and thoughts. But today I want to tackle one of the problems I see with the ongoing appeal to “pray for your marriage.”

blog post title + black-and-white image of woman praying (close-up)

Sometimes prayer is touted as the cure-all to every ill in marriage and life. You’re arguing with your husband? Pray for unity. You’re struggling with your sex drive? Pray for its awakening. You’re battling a porn habit? Pray for release. You’re two steps away from divorce? Pray for restoration of your marriage.

And all of that is great. You definitely should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). The problem is when we stop there and make it sound like prayer will resolve all of your issues.

But prayer is communication with God, and we have to also listen to what He says in those moments and in His Word and then apply it to our lives.

I know this from experience, because in the pit-dwelling years of my marriage, I prayed. A LOT. Everything from quiet reflection with God, to Scripture-focused prayer, to yelling and crying at Him for help. It felt like He wasn’t answering my prayer, because hadn’t He promised to deliver me? Psalm 91:14 says it this way:

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16).

I was acknowledging His name regularly, loudly, desperately, yet my marriage slipped further and further into a black hole of despair.

Ah, the power of hindsight! It frankly makes me want to kick that younger me who expected God to fix everything while I continued to hold on to my mistaken viewpoints, my poor habits, and my selfish plans.

Let’s flip a couple of pages further in Psalms and learn more the character of God:

Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord,
  the one you teach from your law;
you grant them relief from days of trouble,
  till a pit is dug for the wicked (Psalm 94:12-13).

Wow, that doesn’t sound nearly as awesome as Superhero God swooping in to rescue me with little effort on my part — just holding on to His caped person while He flies me away from trouble. But that ignores that God wants us to be a part of the plan.

Or rather, that IS the plan. Our Lord longs to rescue us, but He won’t swoop in when He knows that we need to grow more through the experience.

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Imagine God like a father with a toddler learning to walk. If the dad grabs his daughter every time it looks like she might fall, she won’t ever take those first steps. Instead, He’s there the whole time, listening to us, teaching us, scooping us up and comforting us when we stumble, and helping us learn to walk and then to run.

Prayer is inviting God into that experience. It’s reaching out your arms, looking directly at your Father, and walking toward Him. And then, applying what you’ve learned to the life you lead.

You have to act. What actions you need to take depend on your situation. But let’s take the issues I mentioned above:

  • You’re arguing with your husband? Pray for unity. And take an in-depth look at what changes you need to make, speak candidly and calmly with your husband, and consider attending a marriage course or getting marriage counseling.
  • You’re struggling with your sex drive? Pray for its awakening. And see your doctor to determine if there are health issues involved, check out a low libido resource like the online course from Sheila Gregoire or the devotional study from Bonny Burns, and listen to our podcast for regular tips on improving sexual intimacy.
  • You’re battling a porn habit? Pray for release. And confess your struggle to your spouse and a trusted mentor in your church, install filters on your computer or get rid of devices that tempt you, and seek out ministries that can help you break free like XXX Church.
  • You’re two steps away from divorce? Pray for restoration of your marriage. And see a counselor, either with your husband or without, to figure out what you can do to actively work toward reconciliation, and tell a church leader what’s going on and invite their intervention.

Also, let me add that the times when this advice to “just pray for your marriage” make me crazy are when:

  1. A spouse is serially unfaithful. If your spouse doesn’t give a hoot about the damage they’re doing to your marriage with their infidelity, you don’t cower in your closet and simply pray. Yes, you pray mightily, but you also set boundaries and leave if they don’t change their behavior.
  2. A spouse is abusive. You can’t just pray that a spouse will stop smacking you or calling you every name in the book. Jesus Himself said that He was sent here in part “to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). Get out, and if he wants to stop being abusive, he can change, win your heart back, and renew the marriage covenant.

Should you pray for your marriage? Absolutely! Just don’t stop there. Also actively work toward resolving the problems you face.

Should you pray for your marriage? Absolutely! Just don't stop there. Click To Tweet

This shift started me on the path to healing and happiness in my own marriage: I stopped expecting God to swoop down and fix it all and started applying Scripture and the insights He showed me to my daily life. I continued to pray, but I also got off my butt and put real effort toward making our marriage better. Or rather, making me better, since I was the only one I could change.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13).

blog post title + black-and-white image of woman praying (close-up) - sized for Pinterest

Is It Okay to Yell at God about Your Marriage?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.”

That’s how Psalm 22 begins. And look at the start of Psalm 13:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

The original Hebrew didn’t have punctuation, so sometimes I wonder if passages like these are missing some exclamation points. The psalmist David might as well be knocking on Heaven’s door and yelling, “Helloooo! Helloooo! Is anyone there?!!!”

Some of you could go back and re-read those passages in your own voice with the subject being the sexual intimacy in your marriage. You wonder if God has forsaken you, if He’s forgotten you, if He’s hiding.

But maybe you also wonder if it’s okay to yell at God about how you feel. Perhaps you logically agree that it’s all right — after all, King David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 4:13), did it — but in practice you feel guilty pouring out your anger to God.

Blog post title with woman, arms raised, yelling at the sky

Here’s why it might be a good idea to just go ahead and yell when praying about your struggles:

1. Owning your feelings. A lot of women were raised with Nice Girl Syndrome, where we don’t feel like it’s proper to express anger. Disappointment or sadness, sure. But anger? Isn’t that a bad thing?

We point to scriptures that warn against anger, like James 1:19-20: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” But a look at Scripture as a whole shows two different kinds of anger: selfish rage and intolerance of injustice. What James is talking about here is the former, anger that comes from pride (also true in Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8).

When David expresses his anger toward God, it’s about genuine hardship he’s experiencing and a desire for God to uphold his just cause. By embracing his anger, David aligns His own feelings with God’s feelings about injustice in the world.

I believe that God is also upset when marriages are failing or flailing and when sexual intimacy isn’t everything it could be in the marriage bed. It’s okay to own and express that anger to your Father who cares.

2. Connecting to the Source.

If your car breaks, you don’t ask a physician to look at it; you turn to the mechanic. Likewise, if you’ve been praying or working toward better sexual intimacy and nothing is going right, who will you turn to? Who will express your frustration to?

By going ahead and yelling at God a bit, you’re essentially recognizing that He Is the Source of answers. You can let off some steam in His presence, because He can take it and ultimately He’s the one who can truly rescue you — even if it doesn’t look like what you expect.

The remainder of Psalm 13 is this:

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.”

The psalmist knows that even if he doesn’t understand why it’s taking so long, God is the only one who can truly provide what he needs. He’s not looking in the wrong place, but going to the Source for answers.

If you’re not telling God how you feel and what you long for, maybe you’re ignoring Him. And I feel pretty sure He’d rather you yell and work through your emotional pain with His arms there to comfort you: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

3. Opening up to His answer.

You know that God wants to bless your marriage bed, but it hasn’t happened yet. Like David, that creates conflict in your mind and your soul: Do you believe that God will improve your sexual intimacy? Or do you give up? It’s not easy to tell someone who’s struggled for a long time to remain hopeful. As Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Who doesn’t to trade a sick heart for a tree of life?

But this verse and many stories from the Bible show us the importance of letting God have His way. We don’t always understand what He’s doing, but if we come before with honest hurt and open hearts, He can show us a better path to take.

Later in Psalm 22, David says: “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.” Although He isn’t sure what God will do for him, David reassures himself that “[God] has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

God indeed rescued David, though not by the schedule or method David wanted or even expected. Maybe he had to actually go through this anger with God and humble himself before God’s throne to become fully open to how God wanted to work in his life. Maybe we need to do the same.

I think it’s okay to yell at God sometimes. It’s not okay to dismiss God or to hold grudges against Him. Rather, by expressing your deep frustration, you can work through your emotions and grow in trusting your Father to help and heal you.

Have you struggled with feeling angry at God? Have you ever yelled at Him in prayer?

See also: GotAnswers.org – What does the Bible say about anger?

Do You Know What You Need to Pray For?

Blog post title, with woman praying (just showing torso & folded hands)I sometimes ask people who know me well to tell me what faults they see in me. They’re always reluctant to speak bluntly about what my flaws are, but I reassure them that I’m pretty sure I know anything and everything they could come up with — that I won’t be surprised. Because I’ve done a lot of self-examination, and I can name most of my sins and struggles in a heartbeat.

Most still pass on telling me what faults they see in me. But the few who do name something hit on a weak area I already knew about. In fact, it’s usually an area I’ve been praying about. For a long, long time.

But now and then, someone mentions an area I hadn’t really thought much about. In recent years, my family has been talking to me about my “tone.” A tone which would mean nearly zero in my family of origin, because we are almost all emotionally expressive, but in Spock World (husband and two half-Vulcan sons), my tone apparently comes across as abrasive at times. While I still don’t entirely get it, at least now I know something else I should be working on and praying about.

What about in your marriage? Or specifically regarding sexual intimacy? Do you know what you should be praying about? What traits you need help from God to improve? Where your sins and struggles are?

After reading hundreds of comments and emails from people about the specifics of their marriage bed, I can honestly say that some of us know exactly what you should be praying about … but a fair number of you don’t. You don’t see where and how you have contributed to issues in your marriage bed, or maybe just where you need God to pour into you with patience, perspective, and perseverance.

How can you know what to pray for?

Ask yourself.

Think about where you feel the struggle. In which moments do you feel frustrated or challenged regarding sexual intimacy? Or what areas are places of potential growth? What changes do you see coming your way in terms of marriage dynamics, external pressures, scheduling challenges, etc.?

Some find that just mulling over such questions uncovers issues they need to pray about. Others find that journaling over the course of a few weeks and then looking back at what they’ve written reveals patterns that should be prayed about.

Ask others.

Start by asking friends. No, really. You don’t have to ask where you need to pray about sexual intimacy, but you can ask what flaws they see in you. If they are willing to answer, you might discover a problem you were unaware of. And if it’s an issue in general life, I suspect you’re carrying it over into your marriage and even your marriage bed.

Then ask your spouse. Now this is tough, because if you ask you have to shut up and listen. This isn’t the time for defensiveness, nor pointing the finger back at your mate. You may not understand what they point out as a problem (like my “tone”), but you’re honoring your marriage partner by accepting this area is a concern for them. So even if they’ve misdiagnosed the reason, they’ve hit on an issue that you need to address. Then you can take that issue before God.

Ask God.

Pray for the Lord to reveal to you where your weaknesses are. If anyone knows where you need spiritual work, it’s God. He knows your sins and struggles, but ask Him to reveal those more clearly to you.

Once again, you then have to listen. Pay attention to the nudges you might feel during the day, the scriptures that pop out to you in Bible study, the counselors God might send your way to advise you of your weaknesses. Once you ask God for help, let Him answer in the way He chooses.

But remember that even if you don’t know exactly what to pray for, God is still listening.

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 through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

How God Answers My Prayers

Blog post title + photo/illustration of Heaven's GateI really wish God had a mailing address. Then we could correspond back and forth, me sending Him questions and requests for guidance, and Him answering me personally with letters that began Dear Daughter.

Yes, I know some of you are going to say: But He already wrote you a letter! It’s called the Bible.

I agree. God made sure His plan was revealed in a form that I can now read from a bound book or even my phone screen (thank you, Bible app!). I’m incredibly grateful for his Holy Word.

BUT wouldn’t we all like to have specific answers to the specific questions in our specific lives? What should I do about the conflict in this relationship, God? Where are my personal blind spots? What can I do to have a healthier marriage? When will things get better?

I’m just saying that if God feels so moved, I’d welcome a postcard.

Backside of postcard, addressed to J. Parker, with message: Dear Daughter. The answer to your question is Choice B. Wish you were here! Someday... Love, God

In the meantime, how does God actually answer prayers. What does that look like?

I could point to stories in the Bible or testimonies others have told me, but today I’m going to stick with my own experience. And then invite you in the comments to share your experience. In no particular order, here’s what I’ve seen in my life.

1. He reminds me of what He has said and done.

Some people say things like, “God told me…” or “God put it on my heart that…” but I think the primary way God speaks to me is just pushing something the forefront of my mind. Suddenly I remember a scripture I read the day before, or a Bible story with a similar storyline as my own, or merely a godly principle (love, patience, perseverance) that I need to pursue.

It’s not a voice. It’s not a gut feeling. It’s more like a nudge in my brain. But I attribute it to God, because oftentimes it’s something seemingly out of the blue. It feels like it could have come from me, but it’s more likely the Holy Spirit prompting me.

2. He places the right people in my life.

When I say that I have friends who have been a blessing to me, I mean that quite literally. God has divinely blessed me with some insightful friends and family. Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Sometimes, I obtain guidance from others God has placed in my life.

When I have a specific question, I can go to a godly friend or mentor, discuss the issue, and know that I will receive a thoughtful and godly response. They may not know the answer either, but they will have some nugget of wisdom to help me through the situation. In essence, their presence and wisdom is an answer to prayer.

3. He fixes stuff.

I’d actually say this is the least common answer I get from God. Because, as much as we’d all like it to happen this way, when I pray something like, “God, will you take away this problem?” the problem doesn’t go away. Maybe He’s allowing that issue in my life to refine me, as Isaiah 48:10 says: “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (See also Zechariah 13:9; 1 Peter 1:6-7). For instance, I sincerely believe that God did not answer my prayer to resolve my marriage’s problems when our relationship was a mess years back, because I hadn’t learned the lessons I needed to learn yet. Things got better when I allowed myself to be refined by Him.

However, sometimes God has fixed stuff in my life. I prayed for healing, and the person I prayed for got better. I prayed for financial help, and money unexpectedly arrived. I prayed for conflict to de-escalate, and it did. Sometimes God will indeed fix stuff for us if we’ll just ask (with the right motives, of course).

4. He changes me.

This is more than the reminders I talked about above. I pray to become a better person in a certain area, and it becomes easier to do just that. Let’s say I’m a young mother dealing with the frustration of two physically demanding preschoolers and my patience is worn thinner than rice paper. So I pray, “Dear God, give me patience.” And then I feel a subtle shift inside me, such that I actually have more patience in the moment.

As I pray to become more like Christ, God’s answering that prayer — day by day, bit by bit, virtue by virtue.

As I pray to become more like Christ, God's answering that prayer. Click To Tweet

Perhaps our prayers to become more like Christ are the ones God most likes to answer.

Now how does all this relate to how God answers prayers for our marriage and/or our sexual intimacy?

  1. We need to know what God has said and done about marriage and sexual intimacy. We need a solid theology of marriage and sex based on His Word, so that the Holy Spirit can remind us as we pray what God desires and how we can be a part of His plan.
  2. We need to seek out marriage-positive people with godly answers. Yes, I want to be one of those resources, but you’ll likely need other marriage resources as well — blogs and books, counselors or mentors, friends and mentors, and church ministries that can support you and give you wise, godly advice.
  3. We need to ask God to fix what’s wrong in our marriages. He might well just fix it. But if He doesn’t, you’re not being ignored or punished. This is a broken world and bad stuff happens, and sometimes God just uses the bad stuff to test and refine us.
  4. We need to pray to become more like Christ. You can start by reading the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and the definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Decide which virtue you’re lacking — you know what it is, or if you don’t, ask a good friend or your spouse and they’ll tell you — and then pray for God to grow you in that virtue.

Now tell me how God answers prayer in your life. (And if one of you says God sent you a postcard, I’m going to be supremely jealous!)

Praying for Marriage Blog Readers

This week, I’m not asking you so much to pray for your marriage — although you should keep doing that! — but I want to focus instead on praying for other readers.

Blog post title + two sets of hands praying on tops of Bibles

In the comments and emails I receive, I see the wide variety of questions, struggles, and victories couples have in the area of sexual intimacy. If you read through comment threads on marriage blogs, you see some of that as well.

From time to time, I will answer someone with “I’m saying a prayer for your situation.” And then I do it, right then and there.

I used to say, “I’ll pray” or “I’ll be praying,” but I have to admit that I did a very poor job of tracking who I wanted to be praying for. Some people are great at this, but what organizational skills I have don’t really extend to my prayer life. Instead I found that it was better to pray for the couple when I felt emotionally moved in the moment and when their story was fresh on my mind.

Sometimes, couples are dealing with great conflict over sexual intimacy in the marriage, sometimes it’s a blind spot one spouse has regarding sex, sometimes it’s a lack of communication or bad theology, and sometimes — God be praised! — it’s redemption and healing in the marriage bed. All of these circumstances are worth bringing before God and laying them at His feet.

But while much of our prayer is done privately, there is power in a group praying together for the same thing.

“‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them‘” (Matthew 18:19-20).

In Jesus’s direct teachings about prayer, 33 of the 37 times he uses the plural “you.” (You know, if the Bible would adopt the Southern “y’all,” we could clear all that up.) It’s also interesting that the Lord’s model prayer, part of the Sermon on the Mount, uses the plural: “Our Father…Give us today our daily bread…Lead us not into temptation…”

I just love those comments when one reader offers to pray for another reader. Because I think we’re tapping into something really amazing when several people pray for someone. Some possible benefits are:

  • The peace and hope a reader feels when they know others are praying for them.
  • The community we all feel when we pray for one another.
  • The power that God unleashes when we come together in His name. (See Acts 4:23-31.)

Marriage bloggers do pray for their readers. But I invite you to pray for them too.

Pray that those seeking marriage help find the blog, book, or other resource they need. Pray that those who read this blog, and others, come with open hearts and minds, truly desiring God’s design for sex in marriage. Pray that those struggling in their marriage will find practical answers, emotional support, spiritual guidance, and personal healing. Pray that sexual temptations will be overcome. Pray that those who have begun the process of improving their sexual intimacy will have the strength and perseverance to continue along that path. Pray that those who find victory will give glory to God and share their testimony with others.

And if while reading through the comments, you are touched by someone’s situation, say a prayer for the couple right then and there. You’re also welcome to reply to that comment (with your name or something anonymous like “A Friend”) and tell that person you’re praying.

Let’s pray for each other — for individuals, for marriages, and for marriage beds.

Source: Lifeway – Sermon: The Priority of Praying Together – Acts 6 by Lloyd Stilley; GotQuestions.org – What is the importance and value of group prayer?