It’s estimated between 40 and 60 percent of marriages end in divorce. Among people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church the rate is 60 percent. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.
It seems, Christians aren’t remarkably better at marriage than anybody else.
Maybe. Except for this: According to research, couples who pray together (out loud) have a divorce rate of 1 percent.
Perhaps the praying is simply evidence of a deep commitment to one another and to God, a visible symbol of an internal reality.
Maybe. But I suspect it’s not just an effect of a deeply committed relationship. I think it’s a cause…
Last year, in Wednesday morning Bible class, a woman I respect spoke up and confessed that over the course of her long life she’d never led a prayer out loud. Regret coated her words.
Several of us tried to explain that not everyone needed to pray out loud. It was a gifting. But she didn’t seem convinced.
Lately, I’m not convinced either.
Most people feel weird about praying out loud. They don’t want to do it at the restaurant. They don’t want to do it before Bible class. They probably don’t want to do it up on stage during worship services. And they for sure don’t want to do it over coffee or in a parking lot or beside a friend on a couch.
We don’t like it because it’s awkward.
We don’t like it because we don’t know what to say.
And we don’t like it because it makes us vulnerable, because it opens us up to criticism and judgment.
Most of us have never been required to pray out loud. Some of us have never been offered the chance. And so, we’ve never bothered to learn how.
Which is okay if it’s not a big deal.
But I think maybe it is a big deal.
Perhaps, praying for one another out loud and in one another’s presence is one of the most powerful things we can do to deeply and powerfully connect.
When you read the New Testament, you simply cannot overstate the importance of prayer in church life. In Acts 2:42 we find the church immediately jumping into communal prayer, ”They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
In Acts 4, after the first occurrence of persecution, we find the church praying (out loud and together): “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”
In Acts 6 we find the Apostles praying publicly and out loud over the men chosen to distribute food to the widows.
In Acts 12, many in the church are assembled to pray for the imprisoned Apostle Peter.
In Acts 13, the whole church prays and fasts, putting their hands on Paul and Barnabas.
The praying doesn’t stop…
It continues to be a priority for the church, assembled and apart, throughout the epistles.
In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul encourages the members of the church in Corinth to give generously to Christians in need. He says their gift will help others praise God and that they’ll pray to God with thanksgiving. He writes,
"And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you…"
Paul says prayer connects hearts.
When I found this passage it wasn’t as if I was learning something new. I’d already felt its truth so many times…
- When I had the chance to pray for my friend Staci’s baby at a baby shower, so small and womb-wrapped, and somehow my heart attached itself to her in there and I couldn’t stop thinking about her and praying for her future. And when I held her it was like I already knew her.
- Or when I started leading prayer during women’s Bible study and I prayed for all the women around the table and found myself loving those women more, somehow more powerfully invested in their well-being.
- When my sister-in-law moved into my house and we started praying for her work and her heart together out loud and suddenly I found myself loving her like I never had before.
- Something about praying for another person almost inexplicably glues you to him.
Not only do our hearts become attached to the people we pray for, their hearts become attached to ours, too.
I’ve seen this in my girls, beaming as I pray for them before school, their hearts reaching out for mine, already extended and waiting.
A few months ago, when my daughter London began kindergarten my small group put their hands on her and prayed for her, speaking words of affirmation and hope and joy and love on her behalf to our loving, listening Father.
It was beautiful and London, usually fidgety and distracted, stood still the entire time, probably seven minutes, a goofy grin plastered on her pleased-as-punch face.
That moment cemented my little girl’s relationship with those loving adults. She sees them as family. And it did the same for Justin and I, connecting us to our friends in a way almost nothing else could.
Lately my husband and I have begun praying more faithfully out loud with one another and I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me, hearing the man I love plead for me. I hear what he wants for me and I love him for wanting it.
The beauty of praying out loud with another person is that in doing it our hearts become entangled.
And so, the awkwardness we feel makes sense. And the vulnerability is real. Praying (especially out loud) for someone is not innocuous. It’s sloppy—love spilling all over everybody. It will commit you to people, lash you to them in a most powerful and permanent way.
And so it will be risky and hard. It will require courage and a desire to love others more than we love ourselves. It will expose you to another person’s pain.
And it will be so good.
What I am suggesting is more prayer. More in private for other people—great. But especially more in the presence of others on their behalf.
Stop saying, ‘I hope it works out” and pray, right there, that it will.
Don’t say, “God will handle it.” Pray for God to handle it and let them hear you ask.
Pray with your friend when she’s sad. Pray with your kids when they’re bad. Pray with your spouse when he’s mad.
Pray with your co-worker when he’s hurt.
Pray with your brownie troupe or Bunco group or, if you have one, your gardener.
In our churches, in the Sunday assembly, let’s pray for people—for broken marriages and hungry kids and the ministries we care about and the people who lead them and the people who need them and the elders and every member. Because in praying for every person in that room, we’re connecting every person to every other person—all of us carrying one another’s burdens and needs and thanksgiving to the throne of God, all of us getting tangled up in love.
***Later this week I’ll post some practical suggestions for praying out loud—whens, wheres, and hows.***