Praying Boldly for Your Marriage
About the Guest
Are there areas of your marriage you've given up on? Authors Joel and Nina Schmidgall talk about the importance of praying without ceasing, especially for your marriage. God honors bold prayer, and bold prayer honors God. Let's step up boldly to God's throne of grace and ask Him for our heart's desire.
Joel and Nina SchmidgallJoel Schmidgall is Executive Pastor of National Community Church (NCC) in Washington DC. He oversees the pastoral staff for NCC’s seven locations and pastors the Capitol Hill location. Joel founded and now serves as President of the board of the DC Dream Center, a community center committed to inspiring and equipping youth and adults to reach their God-given potential. Joel was born and raised in Naperville, Illinois. He is an unpaid marketer for all things Chicago, especially the Cubs, Mal...more
Joel and Nina Schmidgall talk about the importance of praying without ceasing, especially for your marriage. God honors bold prayer, and bold prayer honors God.
Praying Boldly for Your Marriage
Bob: In God’s economy, there is a connection between our marriage relationship and prayer that we ought not minimize or neglect. Here’s Nina Schmidgall.
Nina: What is His intention even for marriage overall? It’s about Him doing His completing work inside of us. An intentional and a bold prayer life is not just about overcoming the things that you want to overcome in your marriage. It’s not just about it looking different—though we hope that those things will come to be—it’s about inviting the Lord to do His completing work in our own lives. That is a persistent battle.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 20th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. God is at work in a lot of different ways in our lives and in our marriages when we take time to pray. We’re going to talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I just realized I did this—I asked you, Ann, if you wanted to pray before we started today’s program; and here you are, in front of these people who wrote this book on praying for your marriage. Were you intimidated?
Ann: Very insecure. I kind of jumbled my words, too, because we have the experts with us.
Joel: No, no!
Bob: We do have a couple joining us today who are all about praying for your marriage—Joel and Nina Schmidgall joining us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome guys.
Joel: Good to be here.
Nina: Thanks for having us.
Bob: These guys are form Washington, DC. They are involved with National Community Church. Joel is the Executive Pastor of the church and Nina is the Director of Family Ministry. They’ve written a book on praying circles around your marriage. Really, this was built on a theme that your pastor, Mark Batterson, who wrote a book called Praying Circles years ago. You kind of picked that up and said, “Lets apply this to the marriage space”; right?
Joel: It’s the legend of—it’s out of the Talmud—a guy named, Honi the Circle Maker. The story quickly is: He’s in the middle of a drought. Israel—their crops are dying, things are going wrong; and he has this resolve in prayer. He takes a staff and draws a circle around himself and he says, “I will not stop praying, God, until You move on behalf of our nation.” He was saying, “I will persist in Your presence.” It was the prayer that saved a generation; God moved and the rains came.
We just feel like our marriages are under attack. We need to learn what it means to seek God in persistence—to draw some circles around our marriage and say, “We’re not going to move until we see Your presence in our relationship/in our marriages, Lord.”
Bob: We’re talking metaphorical circles. You don’t actually have circles in your home; right? [Laughter]
Joel: No; we don’t!
Dave: I was going to get up and start walking around this table when Ann was praying.
Let me ask you this, because I read The Circle Maker. It was a powerful, powerful book in my life/in our marriage, really. I’m so glad you wrote a book, taking that concept to your marriage.
But here’s the thing—and we were joking about this pre-broadcast—for 33 years, I prayed for the Detroit Lions as their Chaplain, and rain didn’t come; you know? [Laughter] Like Honi, I’m still in that circle, still asking for a victory. My prayer was that we would actually get to and win the Super Bowl.
What do you say to people—because there are some people out there, who think, “Okay; if I just draw a circle and pray, I’m going to get what I want like Honi did,”—what do you say to that?
Joel: It’s interesting you say that. This weekend at our church we were talking about healing. When you’re talking about being bold in your prayers about healing, what happens when you don’t get the healing? It’s the same kind of a question; right? I think what we understand is, when you draw a circle around something—and there’s nothing magical about a circle; it’s like you said, “metaphorical”—it’s saying, “God, I will not move until You have Your way.”
The Scriptures say that we can pray to God for anything. It doesn’t say everything—that God will give us everything—but it does say He can do anything, so we don’t need to filter our requests to God. What we are doing is—we’re saying: “Okay; we’re going to ask for anything, but then we’re going to trust God. If He does heal, we’re going to trust Him; if He doesn’t heal, we’re going to trust Him as well.” We’re, ultimately, submitting to His Lordship.
When you live the long game with the Spirit, you understand that, when your prayer does not get answered, oftentimes, God will answer the prayer that you should have been asking; or He’ll work something in you, and He’ll do something in other ways/He’ll come at you in different ways: He’ll develop character; He’ll develop roots in your life; He’ll develop persistence; He’ll develop these different things that you can learn to appreciate over time.
It is a game of trust: ”…but if you seek Me you will find Me,”—Deuteronomy 4
[verse 29]; right? Hebrews 11:6: “…to seek Him earnestly.” We really believe, when you seek God, He will bring about His ways, even if it’s not our way.
Bob: I’m thinking about all of the husbands or wives, who are in difficult marriages—maybe married to an unbeliever—been praying, for years, for resolution of conflict or for a spouse to be saved. You can grow weary in that persistence. You can get to a point, where you go: “Is this really—is anybody listening? Does this even matter?” Do you know what I am saying?
Nina: Honi, with the story of drawing the circle about himself, really is about resolve. It’s about recognizing the Lord is the hero in the story.
The weariness and the persistent prayers—I mean, that’s probably one of the things we’ve been the most challenged in—in the writing process even. Probably one of our biggest prayer hopes for couples that would read is: “What are those things that feel overcome-able/feel persistent?” and “What would it look like to invite the Lord to be the hero in the story of those?” A lot of it has to do a with laying down even our preconceived idea of what the answer to the prayer looks like.
Those that are persisting on behalf of another person, we would say, “Please be encouraged to be inviting the Lord into those places.” We have an amazing gift that we can offer to one another in terms of being persistence in prayers and to inviting others, in intentionality in prayer, alongside of us. We talk in the book about the support circle and the importance of surrounding your marriage/surrounding yourself with other voices/with other encouragements. In that situation, in particular, is a great opportunity where others can hold your hands up for you—that you can invite others to lean on and to borrow their hope/to borrow their persistence in prayer.
Joel: Can I just say, too?—we were talking, offline, about running on the National Mall. You hit that wall. You know, if you are a runner, if you press through the wall, there’s that runner’s high—
Joel: —that second wind that will come. When you hit it, it feels majestic; but you know by experience that that will come, even in the worst of pain. Now, you have a lot of people who run; and they never actually hit the second wind; right?—because they never pushed through that first painful experience. We have all kinds of stories. I think what we’re saying is: “There is a persistence that our culture might be losing.”
When Pastor Mark has prayed for 40 years for his asthma, and God has not healed, what do you say? Do you say, “Okay, just deal with it,”? Or do you say, “Keep persisting; keep trusting”? God healed his asthma; we’re walking in this miracle right now.
We have friends who—they’ve been working with a foster care in DC for years, trying to adopt this child that has been in the system for years. We just had a consecration service on last Sunday night; Monday comes, and they get the call; they’re adopting!
What we’re saying is: “Resolve; don’t give up!” Yes, sometimes things will not go according to your plan, and God can move in different ways; but we’re also saying, “Let’s resolve; let’s persist.” In the Scripture, they grabbed the horns of the altar; right?—and didn’t let go until God showed up. It’s Jacob wrestling with the man of God at night and not letting go until he got that blessing. Yes, it’s not going to go our direction all the time; but things will happen in the realm of the Spirit if you continue pursuing God, no matter what.
Dave: Talk about this—because when I read this, I thought, “There’s a lot of things going on when you pray.” I’d probably be the guy that isn’t as persistent as I should be. I’m looking at my wife; she’s nodding her head. When I read The Circle Maker, that’s sort of how I saw it. We used to call it a prayer journal; I just started calling it a circle: “I’m putting this in the circle,”—just like putting it in my prayer journal—“but I’m going to continue to be persistent.”
You said, in the beginning of the book, because often what happens is—we change.
Dave: Right? I’m going to read what you said, because I want you to comment on this because I loved how you said it. At the beginning, you said: “It’s time for a prayer revival in marriage. Through prayer, God can give you new eyes for your spouse.” Here it is—it’s like, maybe your spouse isn’t changing; but what?—you have “new eyes for your spouse: rekindle romance; He can realign your vision; overcome pain and resentment; and re-energize your friendship.”
That’s interesting—that is all about: “I’m praying; I’m praying. I may not be getting exactly what I want in that specific prayer; but something’s happening in me and in my marriage that has nothing has to do with my spouse; it has to do with me.” Talk about that. How does prayer change us?
Nina: One thing we say, often, is: “God honors bold prayers, because bold prayers honor God.” That’s about believing for big things; but that is also about understanding that God wants to do a bold work inside of us.
What is His intention even for marriage overall? It’s about His refining work/His transforming work—Him doing His completing work inside of us. An intentional and a bold prayer life is not just about overcoming the things you want to overcome in your marriage; it’s not just about it looking different—though we hope those things will come to be—it’s about inviting the Lord to do his completing work in our own lives. That is a persistent battle; right? Our sin takes awareness of real motive and real things that work in ourselves.
One of the biggest dreams for us, in this book, is about a unified vision—that couples would have a rebirth of shared vision and purpose together. That takes a laying down of some things that we believe in are/we’re called to in our own lives. I think that so much of the transforming work of prayer is the work the Lord does, first and foremost, in us.
Joel: Your [Dave and Ann] story— you were in that moment in the car/ten-year anniversary—and all the stuff was coming out. It was when you hit your knees—
Joel: —that changed your marriage. I think we have a similar story, not that single moment as much; but when I hit my knees, humility hits my heart. There’s just something that happened: “I want to live a life of leadership on my knees,”—that’s a prayer, often, that I pray.
I tell you what—I grew up in a charismatic environment; and when you pray everything: you pray loud; you pray a lot; and you all pray at the same time. I think, over time, I’ve learned prayer is listening. It should be changing; it’s hearing the voice of God speak into us.
We’ve just learned, in marriage—I think part of our story is—we went through a rough patch/a rough season, where things were pretty shaky for us. I felt very insecure, Nina, when you’re kind of expressing a lot of your concerns and identity challenges. That was a season, where I went into 40 days of prayer for Nina. God didn’t change Nina’s heart; He changed my heart after 40 days of prayer. [Laughter] That’s what happens; oftentimes, it’s not about the end of what you’re praying for; it’s about God redistributing your own thoughts and heart.
Bob: I have a friend, who on a notebook, he just wrote the sticker that said: “You will become the total of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Dave: Aren’t you glad you’re spending more time with us, Bob? [Laughter]
Bob: Actually, the application I had in mind here—
Bob: —was about spending time with the Lord. The more time we spend in God’s presence with Him—saturating our hearts and minds with His Word and being in fellowship with Him—He reshapes who we are. That’s how we are conformed into the image of Christ.
If we think prayer is me going into God’s office and saying, “Here’s everything I need; when can I have it?”—that’s the wrong perspective. Now, we can bring all of that to God; but we’re coming to the God of the universe and saying: “I need You to remake me.” Prayer is how we do it: “Here’s what’s on my heart today, Lord. Now, remake me so that I know what to do in the midst of this”; right?
Ann: When we were in our Vertical Marriage series, this woman came up to me at church; and she had this glow about her. She said: “I’m married to a man that has no faith. I couldn’t stand him/wanted to divorce him. I’ve been married 25 years; I couldn’t stand him. But I started praying; and my prayer was: ‘God change him,’ ‘God, make him a Christian,’ ‘God, do this,’ ‘Make him a good father,’—that wasn’t happening. But I kept praying; I kept persisting,”—as we talked about—and she said: “You know what’s happened? God has given me new eyes for him. He still isn’t a believer, but I love him. God has changed me: my walk with God has flourished; I’m leading these Bible studies.”
She was content in who God was. You could tell that, now, she trusted God. She said, “I know that my husband will come to faith; but what’s happened is—I’ve changed—and that’s a miracle.” She said, “Because I thought the miracle would be he would come to faith; but actually, my eyes had been opened to what I needed to do.” That’s that persistence; that’s God, as we meet with Him, we become like Him. Those are some good things.
Dave: You just mentioned—talk about a 40-day prayer thing you did. I’m thinking some people are like: “What does that look like? How would I do something like that? What would it look like to persist for 40 days?”
Joel: You know, the goal in Leviticus—it talks about fasting is similar to afflicting one’s soul. “How do you take something out of your life and afflict?”—that’s kind of the prayer fuel. People always come up to us and say: “I think I’m doing fasting wrong, because it’s really hard! [Laughter] I feel groggy; I feel…”—“No! You’re doing it right; that’s a reminder then to pray and to seek God.”
You know, it’s Ephesians 5, where we’re taught to submit one to another out of reverence to Christ; but prior to that, it talks about getting in the realm of the Spirit and singing songs and spiritual psalms one to another. I think that’s actually the fuel to be able to submit one to another, out of reverence to Christ—I’ve got to be in the Spirit.
That 40 days—this is kind of interesting—I was trying to pray in the Spirit over my wife at night; and then in the day, I would ask, “God, give me the interpretation to what praying in the Spirit looks like for her.” In other words: “Give me words of encouragement; give me songs to sing; give me a vision.” I was praying for a vision of my wife—to be able to see in her what she didn’t see for herself.
Over time, that’s what happens. There’s something about 40 days—it’s long enough that—I think it’s 21 days that you develop a habit, so you get into habit mode; then you get into the place of innovation and creativity, I feel like, in the Spirit. God will pull things out and then begin to insert vision into your life.
Dave: A lot of people, when they pray for their spouse—sort of what Ann’s friend was saying—“We pray, ‘God, change him,’”—it’s the same thing when you get up to speak at a marriage conference—I’m sure Bob says the same thing—it’s like: “You’re going to have the tendency to listen to everything we say for your spouse. You’re going to want to even elbow him and go, ‘God’s talking to you right now.’” We’re always like: “Don’t do that, because God wants to change you. You’ve got to leave your spouse to God.”
Talk about that: “How do you pray when you’re praying for your spouse?” Throughout your book, you have all these prayer prompts—one of the best things, in my opinion, in the book. Man, if I did that—took this prayer prompt right now—it’s so easy to read a book and never do what they ask you to do; but if you stop right there and say, “I’m going to do this prayer prompt,”—one of them is: “God, help me have Your eyes for my spouse.” So what does it look like to pray for your spouse?
Nina: I think, at the end/at one point, when we kind of finished writing; at some point went through and thought: “If couples actually would stop and intentionally lean into these prayer prompts.” I think there’s maybe 26 prayer prompts throughout that we hope are really markers. We really hope that couples would return to them, again and again, with fresh eyes/new eyes.
One of the things that we always say: “It’s always a little humbling, when we’re talking about prayer over our marriage, because I think people think we have this really advanced prescription for what that looks like. The reality is—our prayer over one another is probably stronger there. Some couples just really have a gift of entering into the Lord’s presence together, petitioning Him together. That’s an area where we’ve really had to maybe grow and develop a little bit more.”
But the prayer over each other—I mean, the prompts really are a reflection of some of those things that have come out of our own experience about: “What does it look like to petition the Lord for new eyes?” Those prayer prompts are things for our own prayer life; they are things we’ve counseled with couples that we have walked with.
Then you mentioned the intentionality of the 40 days of prayer. I think one of the things that we have always been really intentional about, as well, is time of intentionality, where we are leaning in and pushing into one another’s hearts. It’s about trying to understand: “What’s at work? What is burdening your partner’s heart?”
It is sometimes hard to ask for that time. In fact, I’m thinking of yesterday; if I can be so bold, on the plane; right?—here, last night. I had been wrestling with some frustrations about Joel’s preaching this last weekend. That means carrying an extra burden at home with the kids. It’s sometimes hard to put it out there and say, “Hey, I’m feeling frustrated in this area,” or “I felt…” The regular touchpoints are a way that you are inviting those pieces.
One of the questions we always encourage to ask is: “How can I be a better spouse to you?”—is a simple way to say it; or—“Is there anything I did this last week that might have caused some divisions between us?” You can speak to this better; you’re always great at—I think, particularly, as a guy. Some of the pride issues—it’s like, when you ask or invite someone to speak those things to you—
Joel: If I’m walking out the door and Nina says, “Hey, why are the dishes dirty? You left a big mess.” I say, “Whoa; I noticed the laundry is sitting out as well.” [Laughter] You know? It’s like—
Nina: “You can go for that!”—yes.
Joel: —reactive. It’s automatic! I will react as opposed to—we go on our Sunday night walk; I know it’s a time of intentionality. I say, “Hey, how can I be a better husband?” She says, “Well, you know, when you leave the dishes in…” I’m in a better place, one, to receive that; and two, I’m asking the question. This deals with my own sin issues; because if I ask the question, then I’m being a proactive leader; and I can receive information better. That’s an issue, right there—so I need to get on the [counselor’s] couch for that one. [Laughter]
But I understand my own pride. It’s good for us all to understand how we need to receive information; and that, for us, is playing offense instead of playing defense. Every Sunday night, we are going to play offense; we’re going to be intentional.
Nina: We’re talking some about how we navigate the conflict. But going back to the intentionality of prayer—these things also set you up that, when you’re leaning into the Lord for one another/together [for] one another, that you’re doing it with the greatest picture and the greatest awareness.
Dave: You know what to pray for—
Dave: —because you’re in communication, and that takes humility.
I’m just picturing you guys walking; thinking you’re probably walking really fast because you’re competitive, and you don’t want to be beat. [Laughter]
Nina: Actually, we have friends in town—a missions’ team from Southern California. I kept teasing them; because I said, “You’re walking with the Southern California Shuffle; and in DC, we walk with the DC Hustle.” [Laughter] We’ve got a clip in our step in our city!
Ann: The intimacy that you are talking about is beautiful. Because you are intentional, you’re asking each other questions. Just to take a walk and ask each other intentional questions builds your marriage; it builds intimacy. To pray for one another—to say: “How can I serve you? Have I done anything…”—that’s really humble; it’s beautiful. That, alone, will do amazing things for your marriage and draw you closer.
Dave: Yes; I’m hoping thousands pick up this book.
We know this in our marriage—when we pray together, daily, it transforms us; it really does. I’ve got to be honest—a lot of times our prayer is Ann praying; it’s not always both of us. It could be me; it could be her; but it’s together, and it’s a daily thing. We learned that, year one in our marriage, from a guy named Dennis Rainey. [Laughter] He talked about it on this show, saying that that’s something they did. What a great rhythm to change a marriage—just say: “What would it look like if you did this tonight?”
Bob: If you were with a group of couples and you said, “Now, how many of you, as you’re thinking about your marriage, you would say, ‘You know, we need help in this area,’ ‘…this area,’ ‘…this area. But really, praying together/praying for one another; we got that! We’re covered’?” I don’t think many couples are saying that; right?
Bob: I think most couples would say: “This is an area where we can grow, where we can do better.” To have a book like this to help walk you through it—I just think it would be a great tool for couples. The book we’re talking about is called Praying Circles Around Your Marriage by Joel and Nina Schmidgall. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; our toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” The book we’re talking about this week is called Praying Circles Around Your Marriage. You can order it from us, online, or by calling.
With Thanksgiving coming up next week, and then the Christmas season right behind that, I know a lot of us are starting to think about how we can utilize this time of year to be purposeful and intentional in discipling our kids and in keeping our focus on Christ during the Christmas season.
Here, at FamilyLife®, we developed a tool, years ago, that’s designed for kids. It’s 12 ornaments that can be hung on a Christmas tree, each ornament reflecting a different name for who Jesus is. He’s the Lion of Judah; He’s the Lamb of God; He’s the Bright Morning Star, the Light of the world. We have a dozen different ornaments, each one depicting one of these names of Jesus; so that as you and your children hang these on the tree, you can talk about who Jesus is and what He means to us.
We’d like to make The Twelve Names of Christmas available to you and your family as a way of saying, “Thank you,” this week if you are able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife with a donation. You probably know that FamilyLife Today is listener- supported. This program is on the air today because listeners, like you, in the past have made it possible for you to listen to today’s conversation. We’re asking you to help pay it forward so listeners in the future can tune in for practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and their family.
If you can give a donation today, be sure to ask for The Twelve Names of Christmas when you get in touch with us. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. We appreciate your partnership; thanks for helping make FamilyLife Today possible.
We hope you’ll be back, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk more about praying for your marriage and about how you can ask God to give you His vision for the two of you as a couple. Joel and Nina Schmidgall will be with us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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