Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Devotions in Marriage

In the last two articles, we have considered individual or private devotions. Now we turn to marriage devotions, or worship in marriage: the spiritual discipline of the husband and wife reading the scriptures together and praying together.

A suffering marriage can be explained by many issues: lack of communication, squabbling over finances, a severe trial that has driven a wedge between the spouses, sharp personality differences, disagreement over childrearing, etc. But I wonder if most marriage problems, if not all, grow from one basic root: prayerlessness. Satan is working feverishly hard to break up marriages—is that not evident today? The devil knows well how quickly a marriage without prayer and scripture spirals downward.

Do you value your marriage? Search the scriptures with your spouse. Do you desire a strong relationship? Pray with your spouse. This is one of the disciplines of the Christian life.

The biblical principles for marriage worship are plain. The husband is the head of his wife (Eph. 5:23). As such, the husband must love his wife, and give himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Headship in the marriage surely includes leading one’s wife in worship—not just family worship, but marriage worship. This is how the husband shows the love of Christ to his wife. In addition, the wife is to be in subjection to her husband (Eph. 5:22). Submission, among other things, means that the wife cheerfully puts herself under her husband’s spiritual guidance, and contributes willingly in worship—not just in family worship, but in marriage worship. Furthermore, there is God’s command that believers marry only in the Lord (I Cor. 7:39). Marrying in the Lord is so important, because only those who are spiritually one can worship together.

Then, there is the explicit teaching on worship within marriage in a passage like I Peter 3:7: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” The husband and wife are heirs: they have been adopted by God for Christ’s sake, and are granted the rights and privileges of the children of God. The husband and wife are heirs together of the grace of life: they stand together as heirs of God’s grace, the grace which is the source of true life (the life of Christ) in the marriage. Marriage partners who are co-heirs of the grace of life pray together, and see to it that these prayers are not hindered.

Below are some practical guidelines for approaching this worship within marriage.

First: marriage devotions include study of the Bible and prayer. Pick a book of the Bible to study in a systematic way. Each day, read a passage together, meditate on it, and discuss it. Then, filled with the Word of God, pray aloud.

Second: marriage devotions may borrow from personal devotions. In previous articles, we treated the topic of personal or individual devotions. Assuming both husband and wife have their own devotions, it is certainly legitimate for them to discuss these personal devotions. Husband: “Today, I read this passage, and I was thinking about….” Wife: “Those are lovely thoughts. Let me talk to you about the verses I read this morning….”

Third: marriage devotions are focused on...marriage. Discussion of the scripture passage, and especially prayer, ought to be specific to the marriage; this is what makes the worship of husband and wife different from both personal and family worship. What should we pray about? Pray that there might be a seeking of Christ in the marriage. Pray that the scriptures might be the foundation of the relationship. Pray about communication, intimacy, and a deepening love for one another. Pray for faithfulness in a world that abounds with temptations. Pray for the grace to reconcile after a fight. Pray for the children—for their needs, and for wisdom to raise them, teach them, and discipline them. Let the wife hear that her husband prays for her—as a wife and mother. Let the husband hear that his wife prays for him—as a husband and father.

Fourth: marriage devotions are not the same as family devotions. This follows from the point above. Worship between husband and wife is exactly as it sounds—worship between husband and wife. There are matters that spouses discuss and pray about, that are unique to the marriage. For this reason, children should not be a part of these devotions. Understanding that the health and maintenance of the marriage comes first, the husband and wife will find a quiet time each day to grow together, encourage each other, and pray for each other.

Fifth: marriage devotions require the participation of husband and wife. Although the husband leads in these devotions, he ought to encourage the participation of his wife. The husband, but also the wife, should discuss the scripture passage. The husband, but also the wife, should pray. Headship does not preclude the participation of the wife!

Sixth: marriage devotions must begin early. Make these devotions a practice early in the relationship. It is generally true that the longer a couple (dating or married) waits to worship together, the harder it will become to start. Begin this life in the Word and in prayer early—during dating, or, at the latest, on the first day of marriage. By God’s grace, this devotional life will become a daily and expected highlight of the marriage.

Press on, husband! Persevere, wife! Be diligent, by the mighty grace of God in Christ Jesus, in this calling to worship one with another. This is God’s will for Christian marriage.

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This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Praying in Personal Devotions

Face-to-face communication is breaking down. The next time you go to a restaurant, observe the married (or dating) couples sitting in the booths around you. It is a common sight to see a man and a woman, close enough for feet to touch, so involved with their phones that they utter not a word to each other the whole hour they eat. Such is a strange sight—if they are in a relationship, then why do they not talk?

However strange that may be, what about a Christian who does not pray, or prays only infrequently? God has established his covenant with us. He has taken us to be his friends. He, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, has quickened us together with Christ. By grace are we saved (Ephesians 2). The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted us, all of his grace, and we enjoy rich fellowship with him (II Corinthians 6:18).

So, do we pray?

To ask the question is to answer it: of course we pray (and must)! As adopted sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, will we not, every day, praise him, thank him, make our requests known to him, and confess our sins to him?

Prayer is communication with God who is on his throne in heaven—covenant communion with our Father. It is to this spiritual discipline that we now turn. Prayer is a rather general topic, so we again limit ourselves: we will consider private or personal prayer. Private or personal prayer is prayer that an individual makes all by himself, alone, without others.

Examples of private prayer fill scripture. David (Psalm 51), Hezekiah (II Kings 19:14ff), Daniel (Daniel 6:10), Paul (II Timothy 1:3), and Jesus himself (Mark 1:35) prayed privately. The list goes on. Even though it is true that we are Christ’s body, and often our prayers are with others, it is also true that personal prayer is still necessary, for each saint stands in a personal relationship with his Father in heaven.

Like last time with Bible reading, I provide below some guidelines, this time for individual prayer. The list is not exhaustive. I encourage the reader to add more guidelines.

First: find a good place. As with reading the Bible in personal devotions, so private prayer requires that we retire to an isolated place where we can give undivided attention to our communication with Almighty God. Jesus went to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).

Second: choose the right time.  We should locate the part of our day in which we are most alert and our mind most uncluttered—it is no use praying when we are groggy, or when we are distracted with other business. Whether that time is early in the morning, late at night, or sometime in the middle, find a couple of times in the day that work for you. Here, especially, is where discipline comes in: make a plan for prayer. Even if it must be in writing, plan when you will pray each day, and rigorously adhere to that plan. Consider prayer to be more important than any other part of the day. Do not allow anything to alter that schedule. And, just as Jesus rose up a great while before day to pray (Mark 1:35), make sure to set aside sufficient time for prayer.

Third: color your prayers with God’s Word. It is best, in personal devotions, to read and meditate upon the Bible first (see the last blog post), and then, after that, to pray; when we proceed in this order, God’s Word will color our prayers. For example, you are up to Psalm 23:1 in your devotions. You read, reread, and meditate upon the truth that Jehovah is your shepherd, making the confession that he is your shepherd. You drink deeply. Then, you pray it. You pray that Jehovah the Shepherd would lead you, feed you, protect you, and give you rest. What a rich prayer this is! How will your prayers be fresh, living, and specific? Bible reading and meditation! Besides, when you pray the holy scriptures, you know your prayers are pleasing to God.

Fourth: address personal needs. This is what sets private prayer apart from all other prayers that we make with other people: in private prayer, we come before God’s throne with our personal praise, needs, struggles, and sins (read Psalm 51), while that is usually not possible when we pray with others. You know your sins better than anyone else. You understand your trials better than anyone else. Private prayer is an opportunity to open your heart to God, in a way that you cannot in public prayer. Certainly, pray for others—spouse, children, friends…but do not forget to pray for yourself. It may even be helpful to keep a journal, writing down throughout the day matters for personal prayer, and having those written thoughts available at the time of personal devotions.

Fifth: pray from the heart. Prayer is covenant communion with our Father in heaven. If we truly know who God is and what our needs are, then our prayers will be diligent, sincere, urgent, and heartfelt. Every morning we wake up to another battle with the flesh, Satan and the world, and we face another day filled with work and burdens—so we pray from the heart for grace to face the new day! Every evening we fall into bed exhausted from sin, but knowing the faithfulness of our Father—so from the heart we confess our sins and thank him for his faithfulness! It is no wonder that the Bible uses the word “cry” to describe the prayers of God’s people!

Such a prayer life requires discipline! Such worship of God requires commitment and resolve. Consistent, heartfelt prayer is hard work, and not without its challenges, as any child of God will testify. But God will give grace. Pray for that grace—the grace to pray! Pray, for prayer is “the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them” (Lord’s Day 45, A. 116).  

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This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Challenges

Last time we saw that spiritual disciplines are activities that arise out of a commitment or purpose to serve God in his kingdom. These activities are a part of our life of sanctification, and belong to the category of good works: activities that have their source in true faith, the law of God as their standard, and the glory of God as their goal. These activities, which we will explore in future posts, include, but are not limited to, public worship, family devotions, and private devotions.

This time we want to notice the internal and external challenges to this pursuit of godliness, and thus the need to persevere in these spiritual disciplines. I present here three such challenges; I am sure you can add to the list.

Challenge #1: Laziness. The greatest foe of spiritual devotion is the enemy found within: the sloth or laziness of our sinful flesh. To be in the scriptures and in prayer usually requires waking up from bed early or retiring to bed late. Such spiritual exercise demands our concentration, our energy, and the engagement of body and soul. But the old man rebels against that rigorous study, because it requires too much time and energy. Why study God’s Word, when the eyes are heavy late at night? Why rise to pray, when the bed is so warm and inviting early in the morning?

Challenge #2: Busyness. Another threat to the Christian life of discipline is a schedule that does not allow for such discipline. Maybe laziness is not the primary problem—it is not climbing out of bed on time that presents the issue, but finding the time for devotions is the problem. Consider a mother’s schedule: between showering, eating breakfast, dressing and feeding the children, seeing them off to the bus, cleaning the kitchen, searching through cookbooks for supper ideas, making lunch for the little ones still at home, organizing the house for company that weekend, making supper, and helping with homework, where does this time for spiritual exercise fit in? The packed schedules of fathers, young people, and children are not any less hectic. Exercising ourselves unto godliness demands not only total concentration upon the things of God and his glory, but also a block of time set aside every day. But, the rush of life so quickly crowds out these activities.

Challenge #3: The entertainment and technology craze. If each of us drew a line down the center of a piece of paper, identifying one side of the paper as “devotions” and the other side of the paper as “entertainment/technology,” and then wrote down during the course of the day how much time was spent on each, I wonder what we would find? The phone, blaring its notifications, is always within reach. A whole world of information and gaming is only a swipe away. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube beg for our attention. Notifications, screens, and endless information pose a real threat to what is so vital for personal and family devotions: undistracted, concentrated, deep meditation upon the Word of God.

When we cave to the laziness of the flesh, surrender to the busyness of the schedule, and distract ourselves with entertainment and technology, the result is spiritual weakness. The Bible describes the disciplined life of the Christian, among other figures, as a soldier (II Timothy 2:3, 4), and as a runner (Hebrews 12:1, 2). If a recruit training for service in the United States Army refuses to complete his running, pushups, and crunches, he will be in no position to face the rigors of the battlefield. If a runner does not push himself in practice day after day, he will grow weak and flabby, unable to sprint even the first mile of the upcoming race. Likewise, one who is not disciplined in the private and public worship of God will grow weak and vulnerable, leading to a host of other temptations and sins.

Therefore, the calling of the Word of God is clear: as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, as one running the race of this life, persevere. Be disciplined, committed, and consistent in the study of the scriptures and in prayer. This is necessary in the life of the child of God—this concerns our spiritual health and strength! We must be strong to serve our God, strong to fight against sin, and strong to live faithfully in the calling that God has given to each of us.

For this disciplined life, Jesus is both our example and our strength. Jesus himself, taxed though he was, rose up early before dawn to pray: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus is not only our example in this regard, but it is in him that we have the desire and strength to live this disciplined, thankful life to the glory of God. In his power, we will fight against laziness, and be committed to the worship of God in the midst of the busyness and distractions of life. Pray for that strength.

Next time, we will begin considering these spiritual disciplines, one by one.

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This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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A New Year's Prayer

Come, Lord Jesus. 

We wait upon Thee as watchers wait for the morning. 

In the meantime, our God, establish Thou the work of our hands. Preserve and defend us over against all the onslaughts of the powers of darkness. Give us Thy grace to realize that with Thee we are always the victors. 

Use us, Thy willing servants, according to the talents entrusted to us, in the midst of our families, in the midst of Thy people, in a present evil world, wherever Thou dost place us, that we may in our small way be instrumental toward the coming of Thy kingdom and the glory of our Father's name. 

Keep us close to Thee, that in Thee we may experience close communion of life with our God, resting assured at all times, that, come what may, his is the kingdom, the power, the glory forever and ever. 

Come, Lord Jesus, according to Thy promise, that when all our works are burned as straw and stubble, Thy work in and through us may be our eternal reward. Yea, the work of our hands, establish Thou it. 

Yea, come quickly! Amen.

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This portion was taken from the latter part of the article that Cornelius Hanko wrote in the January 1, 1997 issue of the Standard Bearer.

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