This article first appeared as a blogpost on the RFPA website and was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace PRC in Lansing, IL.
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.
Rev. Ryan Barnhill (Wife: Miranda)
Ordained: October, 2015
Pastorates: Peace PRC, Lansing, IL - Oct., 2015; Heritage PRC (Sioux Falls, SD) - March, 2022
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