When seeking after something, an important first step is to figure out what that something really is. We all know we should pray for our spouses and with our spouses, but just what does that really mean? What does it look like? What should we be praying? What should we expect from such prayers?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches a concise yet deep definition of prayer:
Q. 98. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Prayer is offering up our desires to God.
Notice that that is different from simply asking for what we want. We make known our desires to God, but we must also submit our desires to God, being willing to give them up and accept God’s desires rather than our own if He asks it of us. Such requests are not done in a demanding fashion, but with submission to God’s plan.
Prayer asks for things agreeable to God’s will.
We must be constant readers of God’s Word so that we can know and understand what God’s will is. God’s Word tells us God’s will: God’s will is our sanctification. God’s will is that we be conformed to Christ. God’s will is not that our lives be easy and carefree. God’s will is that we be refined by suffering and difficulty. We can ask for suffering and difficulty to be removed, but we must also be praying that God will work in us through the hard times to make us more Christlike.
Know that if you pray for patience, God will send occasions for you to practice. I have realized that often when I ask for patience, what I actually want is for God to remove all instances where I might need patience. But God wants me to have patience (and all the other fruits of the Spirit), so He sends opportunities for me to exercise those fruits and get in shape through experience, not by being magically and completely transformed all at once.
Prayer is to be done in the name of Christ.
We must remember that we are Christ’s, and we are in Christ. And, the Bible tells us, in Christ all the promises of God are “yes” and “amen.” That doesn’t mean God becomes a vending machine to fulfill our desires, but that in Christ, in the heavenly places, we have every good and perfect gift. One thing we must ask for is a heart that wants Christ more than we want an easy life or material blessings.
Prayer includes confession of sin.
The most important part of prayer within a marriage is honest and sincere confession of sin. Sin is deceptive and blinds us. And it is our own sin we need to be admitting and confessing and forsaking, not our spouse’s sins.
Prayer includes gratitude.
Prayer is not a litany of requests. Prayer is aligning ourselves with God and submitting to His will. Part of that submission is to be thankful for all the blessings and all the providences He sends our way. When we pray for our spouses, we must always, always express gratitude for them. Do so specifically and frequently, and see if your perception of your spouse does not shift from complaints to praise.