Every month or so I’ll read another blog post that gives wives a list of ways she can pray for her husband. Many of these are very good resources, and I eagerly begin to add them to my prayer journal. But I recently realized that, though I had good intentions, my heart was not always in the right place when I would pray through these lists. I was tempted to use my prayers as a way to “fix” the things I didn’t like in my husband. And, left unchecked, it fueled my sinful desire to exert spiritual control over him instead of humbly and lovingly supporting him. Though I wasn’t consciously doing it, I was complaining to God about how my husband was failing as a leader instead of focusing on my own personal holiness.
Now I know that sounds pretty harsh, but prideful sins have a way of sneaking in even when we have the best of intentions. Prayer is good; and God desires for us to bring our requests, frustrations, and anxieties before Him. But early in my marriage (and even now sometimes), my prayers for my husband focused on all the ways he was not meeting my standards and ways I wanted God to change him. At first, this may seem like a noble prayer. I saw a weakness in my husband, and I’m bringing my request to God. That’s what He wants, right?
Here’s what’s wrong with the heart behind those prayers. I am not focused on the sanctification of my husband so that he may glorify God but on my own pet peeves and fleshly needs. There is nothing wrong with asking God to work in your husband’s life, but when you are more concerned with your husband obeying your will then God’s will, you have given in to woman’s curse—a desire to control their husbands instead of submitting to their God-ordained leadership (Genesis 3:16).
I am not my husband’s Holy Spirit.
When I pray with this kind of heart, I’m asking God to change my husband so he meets my standards instead of growing him to be more holy. I’m not asking for a godlier husband, but a wimpier one—a husband who submits to me instead of leads me. This prayer fuels my feeling of entitlement to disrespect my husband instead of encouraging faith-filled submission.
Recently, I have been studying the life of Abraham, and I was struck by how much faith Sarah had in God to trust His guidance over Abraham. Abraham was not always perfect in his leadership (neither was Sarah perfect in her submission), but in the New Testament, Peter says that Sarah is an exemplar of godly submission:
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” (1 Peter 3:1-2, 5-6)
I always assumed this passage was directed only at wives with unbelieving husbands. But Sarah’s husband was a believer, so this command may be applied by every wife whose husband is in some way “not obeying the word.” When this happens, we are to act in faith by pursuing our own personal holiness and entrusting our husband’s holiness to God. And the best part?
We don’t have to fear our husbands making mistakes in leadership because we know that God has the ultimate authority. That is how God beautifully designed marriage.
Consider one of Abraham’s biggest mistakes—lying to the king of Egypt that Sarah was his sister and handing her over to be one of Pharaoh’s concubines. But Sarah believed that Abraham was not her ultimate savior; God was. And God rescued her by speaking to Pharaoh, a pagan ruler, and freeing her. This tells me that when I submit to my husband, my God is going to protect me whatever decision my husband makes, whether good or bad.*
So as wives, we pray for our husbands in confidence that God is our ultimate provider and protector. We pray with the desire that our husbands will become more like Christ, not more like our expectation of a perfect husband. We should pray that God would strengthen our husband’s leadership, not pass it off to us. We need to humbly pray for him, not rant about him as a “prayer request” to our friends. Because even if you think you are hiding it well, I promise you he can feel that disrespect.
You cannot come to prayer expecting God to change your husband overnight. Sanctification is a life-long process. And as you pray for your husband with the right heart, God will begin to work in your own heart as he is working in your husband’s. Because your prayer life is more about your own sanctification than your husband’s. And it will take a lifetime for you to learn to submit and for him to learn to lead. Therefore, the ultimate goal of your prayers should not be to change your husband, but to cast all your prideful contempt and controlling desires before the Lord, and trust that He will lead you even when you or your husband fails.
Submission is not about trusting in your husband but trusting in Christ, our true and faithful Husband.
So next time you see one of those lists of prayers for husbands, stop and pray first that you may be a godly wife. Only then, as a humble and respectful wife, will you be able to grow as a woman of God and enable your husband become a man of God.
*This is not talking about situations of abuse.