How You Can Build Intimacy in Your Marriage

Recently, I said to a group of friends that I believed prayer was the most intimate activity a person could share with his or her spouse. My comment got some raised eyebrows, some chuckles, and more than one blush! I understand why, for sure. The prevailing worldview around us sends the message that physical intimacy is the pinnacle of a relationship. Earlier in my life I would have agreed. Physical intimacy is critical in a marriage; it should be enjoyed, not neglected. Nevertheless, without spiritual intimacy with God and each other, the rest of your marriage will never reach its full potential.

Marriage
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Jo Christian Oterhals via Compfight

Consider this: the God of the universe has invited us to call out to Him in prayer promising that He will answer us (Jeremiah 33:3). His promise to us is that if we seek Him with all of our hearts we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). What a privilege and a promise! God calls us to relationship with Him in Jesus Christ. That relationship is deepened through prayer. We are told in James 4:8 that when we draw near to God then He will draw near to us. It makes sense, then that if my wife and I are both drawing nearer to God in prayer, then we will also draw nearer to each other.

When Brandie and I were going through our premarital counseling, our pastor describe our relationship with God and each other by drawing a triangle with God at the top and each of us at the opposite lower corners. He noted on the drawing that if we each moved “up” the triangle (closer to God) then we were also drawn closer to one another. Note: the goal is to draw closer to God, the side effect is growing closer to each other.

How can you develop an intimate prayer life with your spouse?

1. Spend time alone with God on your own first. Your time of praying as a couple cannot replace your own time with the Lord.

2. Set a time. We have found it best to pray together when we go to bed. Yes, this means we go to bed together on most nights. This requires some sacrifice if one of you is a night owl and the other is an early bird. It may mean giving up that TV show or magazine. You must decide what’s most important.

3. Keep it short and simple. Many people are intimidated by prayer and are embarrassed that they fumble through the words. Don’t sweat it. Your prayer doesn’t need to be long and it doesn’t need to be eloquent.

4. Both of you pray. Sharing prayer requests with each other is good, but hearing one another’s hearts as you pray out loud will give you insight into each other’s needs, hopes, and fears. It can seem awkward, as I said above, but if you are committed to trying it will get easier over time.

5. Get started. Using a guide may be helpful. Two Hearts Praying as One, by Dennis and Barbara Rainey is a good book to start with. The little book contains 30 days worth of brief devotions and guided prayers for husband and wife. 30 days can make a habit.

So, make prayer the most intimate part of your marriage. Then don’t be surprised when all other parts of your relationship get better, too!

 

A Grandfather, Siberia, and a Bible

He removed the 110-year old family Bible with care from a simple white plastic bag. With his most prized possession in his hands, Alexander told the story of his grandfather with tears in his eyes. His grandfather was a pastor in the Ukraine in the former Soviet Union where it was illegal to teach the Bible and preach the Gospel. The grandfather was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in Siberia for preaching the Gospel. Before he was arrested, he was able to hide the Bible with a friend. Not knowing whether her husband was dead or alive, Alexander’s grandmother continued to teach her children using that Bible. The grandfather barely survived Siberia but was released after he completed his time. When he returned home his family didn’t even recognize him after all the years of neglect in the prison camp.

Now Alexander is a pastor in Moldova and uses the family Bible to teach his grandchildren about Jesus Christ. I was able to meet Alexander last week and had the privilege of preaching in the church he planted and pastors. Our entire mission team was treated to dinner in his kitchen where he told of his grandfather. When he told the story I was moved to tears. I was witnessing first-hand the impact of generational discipleship. The family Bible was a physical reminder of the commitment of a man to pass his faith down from generation to generation.

I thought about Psalm 78:5-7:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.

Christians in the Soviet Union didn’t have the luxury of a church down the street to handle the discipleship of their kids. The church was underground and it was up to parents to pass faith along to their children. In fact, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to those parents to rely on someone else to teach their children about faith.

What about you? Are you teaching your kids to love God through His Word? Do they know about your faith? What if you were separated from your family like Alexander’s grandfather? Would your family know to set their hope in God?

Today, we’ve been conditioned to look for helps like devotional books or curriculum lines to help us know what to say to our kids. Those tools can be helpful to be sure. But it seems that believers in places that don’t have access to other literature are doing just fine with God’s Word alone.

So, try this:

  • Read a chapter of the Bible yourself.
  • Make a note of a principle or promise you need to apply to your own life.
  • Share that chapter and principle or promise with your kids.
  • Pray together as a family, asking God to help you walk in His ways.

Train your kids to know the Word even if your not around!

Read more about Alexander.

Find out more about the NC Baptist Moldova Partnership.

 

Do Your Church and Family Connect?

I have an intense burden to see parents grasp a vision to make disciples at home. That burden extends to helping churches do a better job of equipping families. I believe we in church world have unintentionally communicated to parents that their role in discipleship begins and ends with getting their kids to church. In their sincere efforts to minister to families, churches have created stellar programs and sophisticated curriculum offerings that seem to do a much better job at discipleship than parents could ever do. Notice that I said seem to do a better job. To depend on these church solutions alone to disciple kids is unbiblical! Scripture is clear that faith formation must begin at home (see Deuteronomy 6). The larger faith community–the church–has a role to play as a partner with parents, but parents must see themselves as the primary disciple-makers of their children.

The good news about family discipleship is that many voices are emerging that are championing this idea of connecting church and home. They share my conviction that the institutional church must resource, train, and involve parents as disciple-makers. Churches simply cannot continue just offering a litany of good programming for children and youth and call it discipleship. They must discover ways to equip and empower parents to take the lead in discipleship.

Re-envisioning family ministry in this way can be a daunting task. That’s why I am excited about the Church and Family Connect Podcast. This podcast highlights thought-leaders in the area of family discipleship, giving practical ideas to churches and parents on how we can better make disciples of the next generation. In the latest episode, pastor and author Brian Haynes offers practical advice on how churches and families can use natural family milestones as opportunities to build faith into children and teens.

It’s my prayer that you will subscribe to this podcast and use it as a resource to help you re-think the way your church and family connect. Don’t forget to tell your pastor and children’s/youth pastor about it too. New episodes from pastors, authors, and practitioners are on the way!

 

The Family that Prays…

Recently, my wife, Brandie, and I had a conversation with a friend who was wrestling with how to encourage her teenager to be involved in their family prayer time. She and her husband have made a practice of leading their family to pray using the A.C.T.S. model (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication/intercession), but as their kids are getting older they are facing the challenge of keeping them all engaged in the prayer time. Although it was a challenge for them, the important thing is that this dad and mom were gathering their children for prayer and were intentional in how they were praying.

Teaching kids to pray through an intentional prayer time is vitally important, but what guidelines can we use to help us?

1. Be Real – Jesus warned against prayers that were merely vain repetitions to impress others (Matthew 6:8). By extension, those we try to impress with our prayers could be our own kids. We shouldn’t worry about saying the right things when we pray as parents, we should focus on sincerity of heart. Remember, we’re not praying so our kids will hear us, but so that God will. We pray within our kids’ hearing so they will have a model of sincerity in prayer.

2. Be Relevant – Jesus encourages His disciples to ask him for the things they need (Matthew 7:7). Pray about the needs you have and encourage your children to do the same. Your kids’ requests may seem silly or “unspiritual” to you, but don’t discourage them from asking what is really on their hearts. As you hear them pray and reveal what’s on their minds, then you have information to help you attend to their needs and guide them into more mature, less self-centered prayers.

3. Be Relational – Praying out loud as a family can bring you closer in your relationships with one another as well as with the Father. Prayer is a tangible way to keep Jesus Christ in the center of your family. Your faith as a family will be emboldened as you experience the Lord answering prayers you’ve heard one another pray just as the early church experienced together God’s power through their corporate prayers (Acts 4:31).

4. Be Realistic (not legalistic) – As your children grow they will go through stages of involvement and disconnect. It is good to have a model (like A.C.T.S.) to help guide them, but above all teach that prayer is an honest dialogue not a formal recitation. Keep their ages in mind and encourage small steps like sentence prayers of thanksgiving. And if a child does not want to pray out loud, don’t force them. Be careful not to set prayer out as a religious requirement but as a precious privilege. Encourage them to know that hearing their prayers is a way to grow in intimacy with one another, but emphasize that they don’t have to speak out loud to talk to God. Praying out loud may be a source of embarrassment for people because they’ve never been taught how. The home is a safe place for kids to prepare for public prayer at their own pace.

So, start tonight. Pray as a family. Remember, it’s not how you pray with your kids, but that you pray with your kids which is important! What about you? How do you pray with your kids?

 

7 Prayer Requests for Your Children

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-13, ESV) 

How can we really see change in the lives of our children? The starting place is prayer. We start with prayer because it is God who works in our children not us. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you have to choose–though I doubt you do–between discipling your children and praying for them then you should prioritize prayer.

So how should we pray for our kids? Should we pray for them to be bright, athletic, good-looking, healthy, happy, and above average? Maybe. Or, we could set a higher bar and pray for them to grow in godliness. That’s how Paul prayed for his spiritual “children.”

We can have confidence when we pray Scripture because it’s God’s Word and reflects His heart for His children. Take the passage above and turn it into a prayer for your kids. I have built my prayer for my children over past 13 years on the verses above. You can try it right now, just place your child’s name in these sentences:

  1. Lord, fill my child with spiritual wisdom and understanding (for salvation or for spiritual growth if they are already believers).
  2. Lord, help my child to have this wisdom so he/she will walk (live) in a way that is worthy of you and pleasing to you.
  3. Lord, help my child to bear spiritual fruit by doing good works.
  4. Lord, help my child increase in his/her knowledge of you.
  5. Lord, strengthen my child with all power, according to your glorious might.
  6. Lord, give my child endurance, patience, and joy.
  7. Father, thank you for my child, and thank you for qualifying us through Jesus Christ to share in your inheritance of eternal life. (Or, for the hope of that inheritance for the child not yet saved).
So, don’t make prayer harder than it needs to be. Model your prayer after God’s Word and trust, not in the prayer, but in the One to Whom you are praying to answer for His glory.

Practical Ways to Worship as a Disciple

In the last post I asserted that if your worship is off then all of your life as a disciple will be off. If that is true, then it behooves the disciple to ask, what will it take truly to worship our sovereign God? In other words, after we establish WHO it is we are to worship, we must establish HOW we are to worship. By how, I am not speaking of style or method, per se. If you are looking for a good series on Worship Wars you should check out my friend and colleague Kenny Lamm’s series on the subject. I am speaking more of the practicalities of living out a life of worship to the Father.

Image: thephotoholic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Discipleship is holistic; however, it is helpful to think of specific environments in which the disciple lives out his faith. Four environments for discipleship are (1) personal; (2) family; (3) church; (4) world. Each dimension of discipleship–worship, community, and mission–can be explored in each of these environments. Help in establishing best practices for worship can be found in examining worship through the lens of these four environments: personal worship, family worship, corporate worship, and worship in the world. [Read more…]

Four Ways Churches Can Help Parents

It is clear in Scripture that parents have the primary role in the spiritual formation of children. We have affirmed this and noted that parents ought not outsource this responsibility to the church. But what is the place of the church in partnering with parents?

 It is true that Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78 and other biblical texts place the onus on parents for discipleship, but in those same passages we should note that these parents aren’t discipling kids in a vacuum. In fact, this command to parent discipleship is given within the context of a broader faith community. In the Old Testament, this faith community is the nation of Israel. The passage known as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 begins, “Hear, O Israel.” The command was given to the whole nation, not just the family. Implicit in this is the idea that families need support from the broader faith community. Today that faith community is not a nation, it is the church.

The church should not replace the parents, but parents should not undervalue the church’s role in discipleship. A few years ago the motto for The Home Depot was “you can do it, we can help.” As I have studied the role that churches should play in discipleship for the family, I think that is an excellent motto that could be applied. Churches should affirm that parents are the primary discipling agent, but that the church can encourage, equip, and resource them.

Are you creating little legalists?

In the last post we discussed the difference between a be good/feel good theology of parenting and a Gospel-centered theology of parenting. Moving beyond a be good/feel good theology for family discipleship doesn’t mean that behavior is not important. In Romans 6:1-4, the Apostle Paul calls out the absurdity of using grace as a license for sin. In Titus 3:8, we are reminded that those who have believed in God should “be careful to devote themselves to good works” (ESV). So we should teach children to behave, but we must teach them why they should behave. And we have to be careful not to tie God’s approval of them to their behavior. If we aren’t careful, the danger is that we can create little legalists.

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It has been said that children can get their concept of who God is from their parents, especially fathers. [Read more…]

Why “Be Good/Feel Good” is No Good

We have said that the chief goal of parenting should be to make disciples of children. Unfortunately, most churches and parents have set a low bar (the wrong bar) for what it means to be a disciple. In more cases than we realize, discipleship has been reduced to adherence to a moral code. Well-intentioned people come away from church with a sense that maturity as a Christian is about keeping the rules and that the goal of the Christian life is merely to be happy.

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A major study was conducted of youth a few years ago called the National Study of Youth and Religion.  [Read more…]

The One Thing Your Kids Need to Know About You

We have already discussed some practical ways to jump-start discipleship at home, but if you really want them to understand the greatness of God, there’s one thing that your kids need to know about you. They need to know what God has done for you. The command in Deuteronomy 6 (our foundational passage) was first for the people of Israel to confess that there is only one God and to love Him with everything they were. Only after they were first commanded to love and obey the LORD were they then commanded to teach their children to love the LORD. Consequently, the blueprint for faith formation was to orient children toward a God whom the Israelites had experienced personally.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Generational discipleship is the pattern of Scripture. The Israelites were not instructed to pass along mere facts about God and moral behavior. They
were to pass along a living faith in a living God who had been faithful to His covenant. They were to pass along their experience. The rituals, memorials, and festivals that God instituted were for the very purpose of teaching children about the glory of God. Consider these examples: [Read more…]