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How And Why Should I Pray For My Marriage?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.


Chris Grace: Well it's good to have you back for another podcast for the Art of Relationships, where we talk about Tim, all things relationships. For the last couple of times we've been discussing what does it mean to defend your marriage, specifically how do you play the role of spiritually defending your marriage when we believe and others have clearly shown that this type of relationship is going to be under attack? We just find a lot of people out there who either overemphasize maybe the spiritual aspect, but more likely it's they underemphasize.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.

Chris Grace: They just don't take the time to be praying over something as important and powerful as this marriage relationship. We've been talking about that, and even ended by talking in the last one a little bit about what does it mean to specifically pray and what are some tools we could use and some battle plans that we can put forth now, that in the heat of the moment when we think about it, we can begin to pray for our marriages.

Tim Muehlhoff: We said praying out of our status authority.

Chris Grace: That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff: Man, parents, pray for your kids. Pray for your house. Spouses, pray for each other. Grandparents, pray for your grandsons and granddaughters. Pastors, pray, and Sunday school teachers. If you have a place of position in the neighborhood, you have a head of the neighborhood counsel, pray. That's all status. A really cool thing I mentioned, as a lifelong Detroit fan, that I've been praying for the Detroit Lions. Chris, they saw my status. Since the last podcast happened the Detroit Lions have beaten the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos and are now picked to win the Superbowl. God is good. Let's continue. You don't need to rebut. If anybody checks the sports page you're going to know this is a little bit of an uphill climb.

Chris Grace: Now that we're continuing to lose audience listeners why don't we go on into maybe something related. Here we go. Tim, last time ... In this notion of taking this status authority, our personal intimacy authority, there is really one thing that we felt is a great tool. That is this idea of being able to pray specifically, and using a prayer that comes to mind for a lot of people, and that's the Lord's Prayer.

Tim Muehlhoff: Of course.

Chris Grace: Oftentimes called ... When the disciples and all the rest, "Jesus, teach us how to pray," he said, "This is how you should pray then."

Tim Muehlhoff: Neil T. Anderson, in an amazingly popular book called The Bondage Breaker, says, "Perhaps the most frequent and insistent attack from Satan to which we are vulnerable is accusation." That's why I think Jesus starts by saying, "Our Father, who art in heaven." Satan's going to accuse us all the time saying, "You're not worthy of God's love. You're a horrible daughter of the king. You're a horrible son of the king." Jesus comes out right away and does a preemptive strike. He says, "No, no, no. When you pray, you pray to your father who art in heaven. Nothing can separate the fact that your heavenly father loves you."

Chris Grace: Wow, that's good, because it shows immediately right away that there is a personal relationship that we have. I love that Tim, that it begins with that and it just shows our status. We mentioned last time the way the disciples picked up on this, that he is ... They used the word when they think about that, "Such love he has lavished upon us, that he has called us his children."

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, I love that.

Chris Grace: Imagine, you're called his child, which means we can call him father because of a love he lavished. That's pretty cool.

Tim Muehlhoff: For some of my students this word father evokes different responses. I suppose if you grew up in a great home where you have a really loving, kind, generous, Christian father, then okay, that's awesome, I'm going to pray, "Our father who art in heaven," but I have some students who make the mistake, I think, a little bit of saying, "Well I hate that idea of father because my dad just wasn't there. He was absent. He abandoned us."

Tim Muehlhoff: Sometimes Chris, I have my students, I ask them to describe the characteristics of the ideal father. I remember one time I wrote them down. Here they are. They said kind, loving, present, generous, compassionate, mature, responsible, provider, were some of the top descriptors. Then when I asked my students to respond with those words, I tell them, "Listen, your mirroring Jesus' opening line of the prayer." Our father would include kind, loving, compassionate, mature, responsible. In heaven would mean generous and provider, thus Jesus combines fatherly love with heavenly power.

Chris Grace: Gosh, that is way cool because it then just ... You know what, Tim, it does is it provides us ... It feels not just as if we're connecting to a father as a child, but it's also as if we're connecting to someone who cares deeply for us but it's almost a safety and a peace that it in engenders in us like, "I can come to him." Some kids are afraid to go to a father, especially if they've messed up.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: We don't ever have that image of Jesus or when we come to the father through him that way.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right. Then he says an interesting thing. The next line of the prayer is, "Hallowed be your name." To hallow something means to treat it as sacred and to honor it. One theologian, a man named RT Kendall, suggests that in essence it's to make a pledge that makes you accountable, that you want to hallow God's name. He says, "If I pray for God's name to be treated as holy yet have no regard for manifesting holiness in my own life, then maybe I'm a bit of a hypocrite." This reminds me of what we said in last podcast Chris, about when James says, "Hey, you better believe prayer works but it's the prayers of a righteous man." Again, remember, God is your father no matter what, but then Jesus says, "But your goal in life ought to be to honor and hallow God's name in all realms."

Tim Muehlhoff: I had a son who's a fierce competitor. With that came ... He'd get hit up with a technical foul. One time I was just fed up and I grabbed him and I said, "Hey, what's the name on the back of your jersey?" He goes, "Well it's my name." I said, "No, no, no. It's our name. What you do with the name of that jersey reflects on your high school and it reflects on us." I think that's a good thing for us to remember is if we're known as Christians, Christ followers, then to pray the Lord's Prayer is also to say, "Am I making attempts to hallow God's name at work, school, home, all different realms?"

Chris Grace: I think Tim, that it's really ... It's this idea of showing deep respect, reverence, a sacredness. I think what's the opposite for some people is they struggle with maybe just the opposite of hallowing his name and that is using his name in a way ... At different times and in different places some people use God's name in moments of anger and like you mentioned, in just moments of hatred or even just simply as a throwaway word. It loses something pretty powerful. It is a deep and hallowed name. As we pray about that over our marriages it does put back into perspective, "Lord, I want this relationship, or this marriage, to be honoring and glorifying to you. Your name is on my back. Let my marriage, my relationship, model this love that you have for me but let other people who see this be willing to be drawn in and see that God, you are a powerful, deep God."

Tim Muehlhoff: The pleasure that brings God.

Chris Grace: [inaudible 00:08:00]

Tim Muehlhoff: I'll share this instance. I have two kids who have graduated from Biola. I have one who's here now. I was in The Talon, it's this coffee shop we have on campus. I placed an order for a vanilla latte Chris. It just brings to my heart.

Chris Grace: You're a vanilla latte [crosstalk 00:08:18].

Tim Muehlhoff: They said, "Muehlhoff." There was a man Chris, who literally was walking out of the coffee shop, stopped, turned around, walked back, said, "Muehlhoff," and then mentioned my son's name, "Muehlhoff?" I said, "Yeah, I'm his dad." He said, "Hey, love that kid in class. Loved him. He was awesome. Great job." Walked out. I was like, "Aw, that feels great." I think we need to recognize that we bring delight to God when we hallow his name. He's like, "Oh, I love that you're reflecting on our name as Christians and it reflects on God." I think that's a great thing to keep in mind.

Chris Grace: That's why I love having the last name Grace, because frankly, it's pretty much revered in a lot of places. Grace is one of the most amazing ... I don't think Muehlhoff is a biblical concept of high importance, but I do [crosstalk 00:09:10] that Grace is ...

Tim Muehlhoff: No, Muehlhoff means the goat is dead in German. It doesn't do much. Hey, next in his prayer he says, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven." Now interesting about that, you and I, and anybody that's listened to our podcast for any amount of time, we talk a lot about a theology of marriage. We say what's the purpose of marriage? Remember Stephen Covey said, "Begin with the end in mind," The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Begin with the end in mind. Well what's the end of a Christian marriage? Do we just live to accomplish the American dream? Do we just do it for our own personal happiness, have 2.5 kids, live the American dream? No. Our job is again, to hallow God's name, is to represent God's love to the world.

Tim Muehlhoff: Jesus is saying, "Listen, I want you to pray, 'Your kingdom,' God's kingdom come, and that your will would be done on Earth as it is done in heaven." That's part of our job is to spread God's shalom, his love, his goodness.

Chris Grace: It is. I think at the end of the day, there's a lot of different definitions Tim, of what does it mean, what is God's purpose of marriage, but to say and to believe that at the end of the day it's to bring God glory. Our marriage should do that, but he also says it's also to bring us joy. He says, "I desire this for you." It's to make us more like him. We use these relationships. I remember even the Gary Thomas that we've talked about in here, just that idea that if God designed marriages, what if he did it not to make us happy, but to make us holy?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, I love that book.

Chris Grace: Then what if that idea is to bring him glory? Then we all of a sudden realized, "Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, on Earth as it is in heaven." It's this idea, what are we doing in our marriages that bring him glory? That's by being a model and a testimony to a world that's hurting. I think Tim, this is what happens. I think our marriages can be this way if we pray for them, that the world looks to marriages that seem to have a higher purpose and they stand out.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, that's good.

Chris Grace: The world needs models like that that can testify to the redeeming, powerful love of Jesus in our lives because I'm a sinful person and to love my wife this way is primarily because I know Jesus and it's because he's been kind and graceful to me and forgiven me and because of that extended forgiveness to me, I can love my wife like Jesus did even as a messed up sinner. That's a pretty powerful model. What a great purpose that we can aim for.

Tim Muehlhoff: Some of the listeners might be thinking, "Man, you guys are sucking the joy out of prayer, because I want to pray for the rent. I want to pray that my son makes the all-star baseball team. I want to pray for my job. I want to pray ... " Where in this prayer do those things come in? Well interesting, they didn't come first. They come right in the middle of the prayer. Jesus does say, "Listen, it's okay. Give us our daily bread." God's not immune to the fact that rent needs to be paid, that you want your kids to do well in school, make good friends. It's doesn't start the prayer that way.

Tim Muehlhoff: One of Satan's greatest attacks is to say that, "Hey, God doesn't care about your rent. He doesn't care about your car just broke down. He's all about your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven." No, no. Jesus says, "No, no. Don't let Satan do that to you." Pray for those daily needs because God is attentive. He knows you need food, sustenance. He knows you need clothes. He knows all these things. Go ahead and pray for them. God does care about the small things.

Chris Grace: That's good Tim. I think the ability for any successful relationship or marriage is in a direct response to recognizing that we are not just his children but that as his children he knows us. We are graven on the palm of his hands. There's nothing that happens to us that he is not aware of. We use all of these things, these small things and small ways, to show not just our love for him but our need to be in a relationship with him. That's what's cool about this is we could take even these little things, these daily bread things, and bring it back to him and just be ... I think that posture and that idea of gratitude and thanksgiving is so cool, which is -

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, it's huge. We've talked about that a ton. Remember I mentioned that RT Kendall? He had a great comment when it comes to, "Give us our daily bread." I thought this was really good. "Choosing to not bother God with such trivialities is as great an error as to allow trivialities to dominate our prayers." I think that's a great balance. We don't just pray for the big things, God's will done on Earth, we can pray for the small things but we just don't want the small things to be our entire prayer. I think that's a great balance within the Lord's Prayer.

Tim Muehlhoff: Now we get to, when it comes to spiritual battle, we get to probably the most significant part, and that is, "Forgive our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors."

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: A lot of people write on spiritual battle, and Kraft was one of them, said, "The number one way Satan gets a foothold in our marriages is that this lack of forgiveness of each other." It opens up a huge door for Satan to influence and get a foothold in the marriage. Jesus comes out and says, "Listen, right now I want you to forgive. I want you to forgive your debtors as much as I have forgiven you. I want you to forgive other people." That's an interesting litmus test if we're really walking with the Lord.

Chris Grace: It is Tim. I think this idea is to help us understand the role that forgiveness plays in our relationship with other people. It underlines, it's the foundation of ... What does it already assume? It already assumes that people are going to sin against or to hurt, that our natural tendency is going to be, at times, to be selfish or to harm or in some way do something that another person dislikes. I think Tim, with this one, we've actually done a podcast, a couple, on forgiveness that I think was really good to go back and listen to, because this idea of not only just having forgiveness from the Lord but then being able to extend that, that's a challenge for people because to hold onto something ... When it's our own sin it can sometimes turn into this idea of shame and we want to run from God because we feel like we're unforgiven or we've asked for too much over time because we've really sinned and there's no way God can forgive me. That interferes and is not what God has said. He says, "Come to me."

Chris Grace: I think Tim, then, one of the ways that this relates to marriage is for people who are struggling with holding on to things. They're struggling with the inability to forgive and be good forgivers. That's a tough area.

Tim Muehlhoff: We mentioned Charles Kraft. He was being interviewed and was asked the question ... I actually mentioned this in the book Defending Your Marriage. He was asked the question, "What most opens the door to demonic influence and footholds?" Now when the guy who has written 20 books on the topic is asked that kind of question, you are going to perk up and listen to what he has to say. What most opens the door? He said, "When you choose not to forgive a person." Chris, if you're in a marriage and you're holding on to something, or you've got a child that you've just become angry at or you've got a coworker, a boss, a neighbor, and you're harboring that anger and bitterness, guess what? You just opened the door for spiritual battle to walk right past your defenses and take a foothold in your life. That's going to bleed out and affect your family and everybody. That's hard Chris.

Tim Muehlhoff: Remember [Lewis 00:17:07]? Forgiveness is a wonderful idea until you actually have something to forgive, but we've got to deal with it because we are literally making ourselves susceptible and opening the door to spiritual battle.

Chris Grace: We are. Even when in Matthew 6, "If you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their sins, your father will not forgive your sins." This is one area that probably under our own power, our own emotions, we may not do well in, but boy, that idea is pretty deep and powerful of the way in which Jesus talked about forgiving others. He even talked about being merciful, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall too receive mercy." That's an important component.

Tim Muehlhoff: This opens up a weird door though, doesn't it? If I don't forgive, my debts haven't been forgiven? That seems really weird. That goes against what I thought, my salvation was secure and my sins have been forgiven.

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: A friend of ours, a great theologian Mike Wilkins, right?

Chris Grace: Right, right.

Tim Muehlhoff: He's an institution here at Biola. He really nicely summarizes Jesus' intention in the prayer. This is what Mike says, "This does not teach that humans must forgive others before they can receive forgiveness themselves. Rather, forgiveness of others is proof that the disciples' sins are forgiven and he or she possesses salvation." Like that.

Chris Grace: I do too.

Tim Muehlhoff: Biggest litmus test to see if you're a follower of Jesus, truly, isn't whether you attend church, isn't whether that you've memorized the Bible. You can forgive a person that has deeply hurt you because Jesus did that. Yikes.

Chris Grace: I know, I know. You love CS Lewis. Here's what he said about this part of the prayer. He said, "Nothing is clearer in this part of Jesus' prayer and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn't say ... " This is CS Lewis. "He doesn't say that we are to forgive other people's sins provided they are not too frightful, or providing there are extenuating circumstances. We are to forgive them all however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don't, we shall be forgiven none of our own." He just ... Well ...

Tim Muehlhoff: This is adding the spiritual battle element to that. This is saying, "Hey, of course not forgiving your spouse will hurt your relationship. Of course it will." This is saying it's opening the door for spiritual power to come into your marriage and your house. We've got to nip that in the bud, right? Oh, that's good stuff Chris.

Chris Grace: That's correct.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wow. By the way, why forgiveness? Just very quickly, and this comes from your field Chris, the area of psychology. Researchers note that choosing not to forgive has dire physical, emotional, mental and spiritual consequences. Physically, resentment creates a chemical imbalance in the hormones that makes us susceptible to disease while weakening the entire immune system. Mental includes depression and an increase of stress hormones in the body. Emotional, hating someone causes us to become fixated on the individual in question, depleting the ability to focus on the emotional needs of others. Wow.

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's all because, dang it, I will not forgive that person that hurt me. Guess what? Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, your immune system's just been compromised.

Chris Grace: For listeners out there who are taking this idea of praying for their marriage seriously and defending it, this is one area Tim that a lot of them will not necessarily stumble over, but will need to get control over. It's a powerful line. It's thematically drawn out in the rest of the New Testament, the idea of what does it mean to forgive and how do we accept forgiveness and show mercy and those things? It is a very important moment first step. What else do we have?

Tim Muehlhoff: Well then it's the culmination of the prayer. There's a little bit of a debate on what exactly is the last line of the prayer. We'll let that to theologians, but everybody would argue that the culminating verse is, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one." This last request takes on an ominous tone when we consider that the verb deliver carries with it the idea of snatching something in immediate danger. One theologian said, "The idea here is that the devil is constantly luring us into pits, snares of moral destruction, and being saved from them is beyond mere human power. It's God protecting us." We want to pray regularly, "Lord, do not let me be led into temptation and please protect me, deliver me, from the evil one."

Chris Grace: Right. We know what James, he talked about, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God' for God cannot be tempted with evil." I think this idea, to deliver us and to lead us, or away from, and lead us not into temptation, Tim it seems as if when we plea with God or when we talk to God about these kinds of things, it puts back into perspective something that's really important. That is this idea that, I guess it's against his nature, but it's one of our primary concerns. It should be one of our primary concerns in our own Christian walk, is this idea of bringing honor to God and glory to God in our behavior and in our life, knowing full well that this isn't easy to do.

Chris Grace: In fact, this enemy is there and so, "God, I'm going to need your help on this. You are the source of deliverance." That's the whole Old Testament idea of deliverance and God's faithfulness. They would build monuments to say, "God delivered us here. God was faithful. He stopped this from happening." I think that's just this idea of a reminder of who we have together with us in this fight. It's a God who is great deliverer.

Tim Muehlhoff: I think as I was thinking about this, writing about this, the Lord's Prayer Chris, I was really convicted, because I've got to tell you, nine out of ten prayers from Tim Muehlhoff skip all of it and go right to, "Give us our daily bread." I sit down with God, I say something perfunctory like, "God, thank you that you're my heavenly father. Now, I've got this thing I've got to deal with. Please fix the car. Make sure the kids are safe." It all is that. Not that God isn't concerned about that, but this was convicting to say, "Boy, my prayers are Tim Muehlhoff's kingdom come." That's pretty convicting to me. This is a tutorial he gives us. I don't think he meant that we needed to pray the exact same words but it's a tutorial. It's an outline of how our prayers ought to progress. I think there's some wisdom in following an ancient prayer that the church has taken great comfort in.

Chris Grace: It reminds me of different times with our kids. One of the things we would do is we knew that if ... We would go to a certain store, let's say it's Walmart. I knew when they were little they could not handle the temptation of going down the toy aisle.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: We just didn't take them, because the moment we did they would grab a toy and they would want it. It's almost similar to that, where we could say, "Lord, take me down this different aisle." As a parent, I felt like it was in their best interest not to then have them go down this aisle. They would want this thing that they're not going to get. They're going to be disappointed and they're going to cry on the floor.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.

Chris Grace: This idea of, "Lord, keep us from, deliver us from this idea of temptation," is a similar thing.

Tim Muehlhoff: Exactly. Chris, there's a great quote from Eugene Peterson, he's the guy who did The Message, this wonderful paraphrase of the Bible. Peterson said this, "The biggest problem with prayer is we're self-taught." Imagine going to a dentist. He's about to shoot you up because he's going to do an extraction. You just happen to say to him, "Hey, it was kind of funny. I was looking at the walls of your office. I didn't see any diplomas." He goes, "Oh yeah, I'm self-taught in dentistry." "Hang on. You are what? As you are about to stick that needle of Novocaine and extract a tooth?" What would you do? Would you walk out of that office?

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: I'd be like, "I'm done." Yet come to prayer, it's like, "Yeah, I kind of make up my own prayers, kind of led by the moment. I don't really have an outline in mind." That's what Jesus is getting at is, "I think we need a tutorial when it comes to prayer."

Chris Grace: That's right. That's great. I love how it ends too Tim. Even the psalmist in 141 says, "Do not ... " This is similar to this, don't lead us into temptation. In the psalm it says, "Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds, in company with men who work in equity, and let me not eat of their delicacies." This idea is to use something that the readers and listeners to Jesus were very familiar with, but he encapsulated, I guess, in this nice, amazing prayer. Tim, I love the way we draw this in and apply it to our relationships and marriages on a regular basis, and how we need to be challenged to do that.

Tim Muehlhoff: We care about this topic enough that we actually do a conference on it called Spiritually Defending Your Marriage. It's a pretty unique conference. Biola has such great resources. I've quoted some theologians. Well, guess what? They're going to be there. Clint Arnold, one of the top Ephesians experts in the world spoke at the conference. If you find this interesting, there's a lot of good books on spiritual battle. The book I wrote is called Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle, InterVarsity Press. Check it out. By 100 copies for Christmas. That'd be awesome. I would not be opposed to that.

Chris Grace: Well it's good to have you with us, listeners. We're just grateful for your support and for just pushing out whatever you can at our center. We're grateful to have you here. It's fun to talk with you.

Tim Muehlhoff: We don't take it for granted. It's been great how many of you send in emails, how many of you contact us. It's really been fun and we don't take that for granted. We sure love doing this.

Chris Grace: Awesome.