Several years ago off the coast of South Carolina, sunbathers looked out past the shore and saw something strange about a quarter of a mile out—something that did not look exactly like normal marine life. After scrutinizing through binoculars, one man said he thought he saw a couple of dogs. Curiosity grew, so a concerned group launched a fishing boat and trolled through the waves to determine what this bizarre sighting actually was. The boat approached the splashing and, sure enough, there were two dogs swimming out in the middle of the ocean. Both dogs were Labradors—one black and the other yellow.
As the boat neared the canines, something amazing was revealed. The dogs were clearly exhausted, and as the yellow Labrador would tire and sink below the surface, the black Lab immediately went under the water and swam beneath its tired companion to lift it up to get air. This happened several times before the boat was able to reach the dogs for rescue. The weary pair was heaved up on deck and cared for. After tracing the information on the collars, the rescuers returned the Labs, safe and sound, to their owners who had lost them to a current five miles away.
I love this story because it is a beautiful picture of true submission. Marital submission, to which the culture assigns such negative connotations, is actually a glorious activity. Literally understood, the word submission breaks down into two parts. The prefix, sub, means “under” and speaks of support; the root, mission, implies purpose and goal. One who is truly submissive is one who goes under to support the mission—like the black Lab in this story.
Understood from this perspective, the command given to wives to be submissive to their husbands in Ephesians 5 is meant to be viewed with great glory. As I reflect on my own marriage, I can identify many times when my wife has “buoyed me up” and kept me focused on our personal mission and calling.
The Hard Work of Sacrifice
Even if we understand the concept of submission from a biblical perspective, it is still a monumental calling for wives to uphold. After all, it is one thing for us as believers to submit to a perfect Lord. It’s another thing for wives to submit to their husbands, who are sinful, selfish, and less than perfect.
Therefore, how can wives be encouraged in a role of submission that will bring glory to them, to their marriages, and ultimately to God? I have come to believe that just as wives are called to the hard task of submission, we as men are called to the hard task of sacrifice. The sacrifice husbands make should reflect Christ’s sacrifice to His Bride (Ephesians 5:23).
I would like to propose that one of the most basic ways a husband can sacrifice for his wife is through intercessory prayer. This is what Christ is doing for us even now at the right hand of the Father. We are taught that Christ’s intercession on our behalf is sacrificial, perpetual, and effective (Romans 8:34), which is what a husband’s prayers should look like for his wife.
In his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, author Kent Hughes writes with sobering clarity:
“When He [Jesus] finished praying for His future bride, He went to the cross. Then came His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His enthronement at the right hand of the Father, where He constantly makes intercession for us. Thus we understand that giving of ourselves for our brides involves prayerful intercession. Men, do you pray for your wives with something more than, ‘Bless good old Margaret in all she does’? If not, you are sinning against her and against God. Most Christian men who claim to love their wives never offer more than a perfunctory nod to their wives’ needs before God …. Praying is the marital work of a Christian husband.”
Sacrificing is not easy—it is work. And prayer is work. Oswald Chambers once said, “We don’t pray for the work; prayer is the work.” Because Jesus loves us, His sacrifices for us are evidenced by His continual intercession on our behalf. And because a husband loves his wife, it should naturally follow that he sacrifice for her with Christ-like intercession.
Many Christian men, however, have no idea how to pray for their wives. Unfortunately, when men don’t know how to do something, chances are they will not do it at all. It was because of this (not to mention my own ignorance) that I set out to understand how I could effectively pray for my wife. By using Proverbs 31 as a guide, I studied this passage and divided it into a 31-day prayer calendar. The resulting effects have been both tangible and intangible. What began as a personal study for my own prayer life resulted in a published devotional book, How to Pray for Your Wife: A 31-Day Guide (Crossway Publishers). But this was only the beginning. I have come to appreciate C.S. Lewis’ statement that prayer does not change God; it changes us.
Having prayed for my wife over the course of our nearly 10-year marriage, I have been amazed at how the Lord has answered my prayers and how he has transformed not just me, but my wife, and our marriage in the process.
To summarize, I have seen three things happen:
1. Sanctification: A few weeks ago during breakfast, I was talking to my wife, Tara. After I finished expressing some personal perplexity, Tara opened her mouth and wisdom poured forth. It was simple, profound, and right on target. I remember sitting there staring at my coffee cup, letting her wisdom sink into me. At the same time I was thanking the Lord for the insight He had given her. Proverbs 31:26 reads, “She speaks with wisdom, and the law of grace is on her tongue.” This is one of the characteristics of an excellent woman, and it was what I had been praying for her. This is just one example of times that I have seen the Spirit at work transforming my wife more and more into His image, which is what sanctification is all about. Praying for my wife that God would do the work of sanctification admits that it is God, not I, who can and will transform her. Transformation is His work. True, God uses husbands in their wives’ sanctification, but the work is ultimately His.
2. Intimacy: A week after I had given a copy of my book to a man in my church, he called to say, “Mark, I can’t thank you enough for your book. I haven’t started reading it yet, but just by putting it with my Bible where my wife has seen it has improved my marriage!” All joking aside, the more a husband comes to understand his wife’s needs and responds to those needs, the more she will feel cared for and loved. The more love a wife feels, the more respect and honor she will show to her husband. The byproduct is greater unity and intimacy. And this should come as no surprise. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prays for unity and intimacy between Himself and us, His Bride (John 17: 20-26).
3. Glory: When the apostle Paul talks about the mystery of marriage in Ephesians 5, there is some apparent confusion as to what he is talking about. He begins with husbands and wives but then writes, “this is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (5:32). To Paul, the two unions were synonymous. Just as the Church submits to Christ, so also a wife should submit to her husband. And just as Christ sacrifices for His Bride, so also a husband should sacrifice for his wife. In essence, the design of marriage should be a miniature example of ecclesiology, the study of the church. Put more poetically, when the world sees a husband tenderly care for, love, and sacrifice for his wife, and a wife submit to, honor, and respect her husband, the gospel is glorified. So, too, when a group of believers that represents a local church loves one another and submits to Christ’s leadership, the world beholds a heavenly institution. One of the surprise results of praying for my wife was not only a greater love for her, but a greater and purer love for the church.
Returning to the story of the two Labs, the submissive dog received the glory, for it continued to uphold the other for the sake of life. In a similar way, wives do this for their husbands in that they come under them, support them, and point them to the Father. But as I think about the lesson learned from these swimming dogs, I see that the analogy can work both ways. When husbands intercede for their wives, they come beneath them to lift up their beloved brides to the Father that life may be found. Marriage is a team event, and when done according to God’s design, it attracts on-lookers and points them to the glorious gospel.
Mark A. Weathers currently serves as pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Concord, N.C. He and his wife, Tara, have three sons.
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