Prayer and the Profound Mystery of Marriage
God has really been pressing me this week to improve my prayer life. It’s popped up everywhere, from the sermon at church on Sunday to separate Bible studies and random conversations with family and friends. This is nothing new. God has been convicting me of my pitiful prayer life for a long time, but it felt like a tipping point this week and I simply can’t ignore it any more.
This article will explore how to think about prayer through a scriptural lens. I will discuss how Paul’s discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5 connects with how God has convicted me in my need to talk with Him more.
Paul’s Profound Mystery
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul walks through how our Christian walk, including his call to “submit to one another in the fear of Christ,” plays out in our relationships with other people. First, he addresses what that looks like in marriage. Then, he talks about what it looks like for children and their parents. Finally, he looks at what it means for slaves and their masters.
The section on marriage is very popular. If you’ve been in church very much at all in your life (or been to very many weddings), you’ve heard it preached before. Usually, the focus of these sermons is on its implications for our marriages and how it instructs husbands to “love [their] wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” and wives to “submit to [their] husbands as to the Lord.” You have probably heard sermons addressing how to interpret the word “submit” and the comment that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” That’s not what this post is about.
Throughout, Paul compares the marriage relationship to the relationship between Christ and the church. Before closing, he quotes Genesis 2:24, saying “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Then, he adds: “This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.” It’s easy to miss it, but Paul is referring back to the original ordination of marriage in scripture and saying that marriage itself is about Christ and the church. That was its purpose from the beginning, to be a picture of God’s love for His people.
This analogy fills the pages of scripture. The Old Testament prophets repeatedly refer to the Israelites as God’s adulterous wife. The book of Hosea is actually the account of a prophet whom God instructed to “marry a woman of promiscuity” so that he would know what the relationship between God and His chosen people was like. In Revelation, we see the account of the “marriage feast of the Lamb” where “the notorious prostitute” is finally redeemed and the church and Christ are eternally united in marriage.
I think for most of my life, as I have heard this teaching about marriage as a picture of Christ and the church, I have looked at it collectively. I haven’t really applied it at the individual level. It’s nice and all to think about how much God loves “the church” like His own bride. However, what God has really impressed on me over the last week is that I should treat my own relationship with Him like a marriage. Yes, the Church is His bride. And, as a member of the Church, I am a member of that sacred union.
As Paul instructs wives to treat their husbands, so should I treat God. I should submit to Him and respect Him in all that I do so that He can “make [me] holy, cleansing [me] with the washing of water by the word” and so that He can “present [me] to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.”
Maintaining Your Relationship with God
“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.”
In thinking about my relationship with God as a marriage relationship, then, I have to ask myself, what is the key to a good relationship? I would be willing to bet if you asked a hundred people, the answer you would get most often is “communication.” Just ask Google. When you type that question in, here’s what pops up: “You communicate openly and honestly.” Then, Google will show you a ton of lists from various web sites. Communication is going to be on virtually all of the lists.
Even moreso, communication is key to a healthy marriage. The Health Encyclopedia, published by the University of Rochester Medical Center, contains an article on the keys to a successful marriage. First on the list? Communicate clearly and often:
Talking with your spouse is one of the best ways to keep your marriage healthy and successful. Be honest about what you're feeling, but be kind and respectful when you communicate. Part of good communication is being a good listener and taking the time to understand what it is your spouse wants and needs from you. Keep the lines of communication open by talking often, and not just about things like bills and the kids. Share your thoughts and feelings.
Not all communication is equal. One of the best marriage tips I have ever heard is this:
What this means is that we should aim to have at least one meaningful conversation with our spouse every day, make room for at least one uninterrupted night with our spouse each week, and get away from the day-to-day monotony of life with our spouse for at least one weekend every three months. It’s important not to get too technical with this, but to truly nurture a healthy marriage, we have to invest time into meaningful conversations and shared experiences.
Communication with your spouse can’t be limited to just the ordinary practical requirements of the day-to-day. It can’t just be about who is going to pick up the kids from school or what’s for supper and who’s doing the laundry and dishes. And, it can’t just be time spent silently in each other’s company watching a movie. You have to talk about real, meaningful topics, bare yourself emotionally, and grow together.
Otherwise, the relationship grows stale. You grow apart from your spouse and suddenly find yourself in a dead relationship. The longer you go without having good conversation, the harder it is to talk at all.
The same is true in our relationship with God. Think about your prayer life. Are you investing the time in prayer necessary to maintain a healthy relationship with God? If you are anything like me, that question hits like a ton of bricks.
By no means am I a perfect husband, but I think Brooke would tell you that I have made an effort to maintain communication with her at a deeper level throughout most of our marriage. Though we have certainly had our rougher patches and struggles, our relationship is strong. I realized this week, though, that I am a terrible spouse to God.
For most of my life, my prayer life would best be described as occasional check-ins with God. Sure, I know God is there and He wants to talk with me, but all that I ever really seem to make time for are meal-time blessings and an occasional “Hey God, I’m sorry it’s been so long, but let’s talk for a minute before I go to bed.” I would much rather sit and read my Bible and study God than talk with Him. I’m just more comfortable with approaching God as an academic interest than as a personal relationship.
Of course, it’s important that we not completely disassociate time in the Bible from communication with God. Here’s an analogy that I thought of that I hope is helpful. Imagine that your grandfather is a famous war hero. You’ve heard some stories about it from family members and even seen the way other people act around him, but you don’t really know a lot about what he did. Now, imagine one day he hands you a book and you realize it is a memoir of his life and in the front you find a dedication that says: “For my family, that they would know how much I love them.”
What would it mean to you? Would you read it like a history book, or a personal letter from your grandfather? That’s how we should read the Bible. Now, as you read it, wouldn’t you also want to talk with your grandfather about the stories? Wouldn’t you have questions for him? Wouldn’t you want to get his advice for how to handle your own life struggles? And, wouldn’t that make you closer with him than just reading the book?
God gives us the opportunity to go to Him with those questions and talk with Him through prayer. He wants us to come sit on His lap and glean from Him the lessons of His Word and how to apply them in our lives. Even more than that, God wants to help us in our daily struggles and, through prayer, we have access to His power. Yes, read the Bible; but don’t forget about prayer!
Model Prayer Lives
“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
History is filled with accounts of men and women who truly engaged in prayer and properly valued communication with God and, though the power of that prayer, changed the world. George Washington, throughout his life, reserved an hour every morning and another every night for prayer and Bible study. During his time leading the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., usually took 2-3 days per week as times set aside for prayer and meditation. It is said that John Wesley spent the first four hours of his day in prayer (and, in his later years, up to eight!).
You don’t have to look beyond the pages of the Bible, though, to see models of a healthy prayer life. Paul wrote prayers right into the words of his letters to churches. He repeatedly referenced his continuous prayers for the churches. He also repeatedly asked for their prayers in return. And, of course, his letters contain instructions to “be persistent in prayer,” to pray to God “in everything,” and to “devote [our]selves to prayer.”
The best model of a healthy prayer life, though, comes from Christ Himself. Mark records that even after a late night healing the sick and demon-possessed, Jesus got up “very early” the next morning “while it was still dark” and “made his way to a deserted place” where the disciples found him praying. Matthew records that, after dismissing the crowds from when he fed the 5,000, he “went up on the mountain by himself to pray” and he was there “well into the night.” Luke records that the night before he selected his twelve apostles, he “went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God.” After he was baptized by John the Baptist, Matthew records that Jesus went “into the wilderness” where he “fasted forty days and forty nights” before being tempted by the devil and launching His ministry in Galilee. My bet is that there was some serious praying going on in that wilderness.
And, knowing that Judas’s betrayal and the cross were quickly approaching, where did Jesus go after having his last supper with the disciples? He went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray.He continued praying late into the night even after the disciples twice fell asleep. We know from John that this time of prayer in the garden followed a lengthy time of prayer with his disciples in the upper room after the Lord’s Supper.
Prayer was an integral part of Jesus’s life. So should it be an integral part of ours.
This week, I decided to take my relationship with God more seriously, not just in terms of studying Him, but in knowing Him. I am getting up earlier each morning to spend time alone with God in prayer. I’m talking with Him about my day, and asking Him to show me what He has planned and how I can join in. I’m talking with Him about what is happening in my life and the lives of those around me. And, I’m sitting and listening for His still small voice.
This is dedicated daily dialogue with God. But, I still need to date weekly and depart quarterly! I am thinking through what this will look like in my life. Whether that is taking some extra time on Sundays, or an occasional extended weekend to devote to prayer and Bible study, I am looking at (and praying through) how to approach that in my life.
Whatever it looks like, I have made the decision to prioritize the health of my relationship with God. I hope you’ll join me!
 Ephesians 5:21
 Ephesians 5:22-33
 Ephesians 6:1-4
 Ephesians 6:5-9. It should be noted that though many point to the references to slavery in the Bible as a strike against its moral teachings on the subject, Paul’s message here is for slaveholders to “treat [their] slaves [with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people], without threatening them because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” Later, in Philemon, Paul writes a letter to a slave owner on behalf of a runaway slave, a new convert, asking that the slave owner not punish him for running away and accept him as he would Paul himself. Philemon 8-17. Paul even offers to compensate the slave owner for any financial loss he suffers as a result. Philemon 18-19.
 Ephesians 5:25
 Ephesians 5:22
 Ephesians 5:22-23. And, here’s a good example of one of those sermons from J.D. Greear if you want to explore this subject further.
 He instructs wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22. He says the husband is the head of the wife “as Christ is the head of the church.” Ephesians 5:23. He says the wife should submit to her husband “as the church submits to Christ.” Ephesians 5:24. He instructs husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church.” Ephesians 5:25. He asks husbands to provide and care for their wives “as Christ does for the church.” Ephesians 5:29.
 Ephesians 5:31; Genesis 2:24
 Ephesians 5:32
 Isaiah 54:4-8; Jeremiah 2:2-3; 3:1-4:2; 31:31-34; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 1:2; 2:1-23; 4:12
 Hosea 1:2
 Revelation 19:1-10
 Ephesians 5:22-27
 The Health Encyclopedia published by the University of Rochester Medical Center lists communication first in its list of keys to a successful marriage: “Talking with your spouse is one of the best ways to keep your marriage healthy and successful. Be honest about what you're feeling, but be kind and respectful when you communicate. Part of good communication is being a good listener and taking the time to understand what it is your spouse wants and needs from you. Keep the lines of communication open by talking often, and not just about things like bills and the kids. Share your thoughts and feelings.”
 Lewis V. Baldwin, Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King Jr. (2010).
 Ephesians 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11; 4:23;
 Romans 1:8-10; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 1:3-6; Colossians 1:3-14; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2:13-16; 3:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2 Timothy 1:3-7; Philemon 4-7
 Romans 15:30-33; Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5; 1 Timothy 2:1
 Romans 12:12
 Philippians 4:6
 Colossians 4:2
 Mark 1:34-37
 Matthew 14:23
 Luke 6:12-13
 Matthew 4:1-2
 Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32; John 18:1
 Matthew 26:36-44; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46
 John 17:1-26