“A magnificent marriage begins not with knowing one another but with knowing God.” Gary and Betsy Ricucci, quoted in Sacred Marriage.
In Chapter 5 Gary Thomas explores the importance of marriage to prayer and the importance of prayer in marriage. This follows chapter 4’s focus on respect in marriage well. Noting that Peter reminds husbands that their consideration of their wives impacts their prayer lives, he begins dissecting the interaction of marriage and prayer.
Something that was entirely new to me was Thomas’s discussion of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 7:5. Thomas writes that Paul is telling us to “use marriage the way God intended it [to promote healthy prayer]. Meet your sexual needs [and] then your minds and soul will be more open to prayer.” Sacred Marriage 80 (interpreting 1 Corinthians 7:5). Although many have read 1 Corinthians 7 to argue that sex is a distraction to prayer (which is how I had always read it); Thomas reads this passage differently, finding that it is abstinence in marriage that can become the distraction and that proper marital relations is a key to a healthy prayer life. This, I think, fits neatly with Peter’s warning to husbands about not honoring one’s wife in 1 Peter 3:7 and with God’s consistently demonstrated value for relationship and unity.
Thomas suggests a simple application for husbands, but one that is very hard and scary to practice: Ask your wife “Am I considerate of you?” Even more difficult would be the follow-up question he suggests: “How considerate am I when we are making love?” I’d suggest that these questions could easily be asked by either spouse to one another. Understanding that our intimacy with our wives directly impacts our intimacy with the Father should radically change our marriages. Quoting Ron Sider, “think of the impact if the first thing radical feminists thought of when the conversation turned to evangelical men was that they had the best reputation for keeping their marriage vows and serving their wives in the costly fashion of Jesus at the cross.” Unfortunately, given the fact that self-proclaimed evangelicals have a slightly higher divorce rate than those who do not claim to be such, this aspiration is far from reality.
Thomas demonstrates that marriage brings us to God. Quoting James 4:1-2, he shows that selfish desires cause our fights and quarrels and that having our needs met comes only from going directly to God, not from looking for our needs in ourselves or in anyone else. As a result, our marriages drive us to seek first God’s provisions, Who enables us to become reconcilers and will consistently heal our brokenness (including the brokenness in our marriage) when we seek Him. Where things break down is when one or both partners chase after things other than God to fill or cover up the hurt and shame inside.
I love how Thomas makes me aware throughout the book of how physical pictures from our marriages display spiritual truths. He closes this chapter with the following encouragement:
“The next time you are virtually overcome with passion for your spouse, consider how you can offer yourself with equal abandon to your God. Don’t be afraid to use all aspects of marriage – even [especially?] sexual expression – to expand your prayer life.”
It is hard, initially, for me, acculturated as I am, to ponder such, but I think I must do so to continue to grow in intimacy with my God, my Daddy, the Lover of my soul, my friend, my Husband, my all in all. I encourage all who are married to do the same.