How a Man Learns to Pray

How a Man Learns to Pray

The first step in becoming complete is to stop relying on our own resourcefulness and recognize our great need of a powerful God.
By John Yates

Most of us have not had models for what an authentic, manly prayer life looks like. Religious people—especially ministers—pray at church, and the prayers prayed in church are beautiful. But most of us find that sort of prayer does not come easily. Women seem to pray more easily than we do. They’re good at organizing prayer groups. They talk about prayer more easily. In fact, your wife may be the “initiator” in your home, the one who prays with the kids because it just seems to come more naturally to her. But who do we look to?

Not long ago my sons and I had the opportunity to spend a vacation together alone in the Rocky Mountains, After several days in a rustic cabin at 10,000 feet, where we had few modern conveniences, we moved to a friend’s condominium in one of the ski villages in central Colorado, where we actually had hot water and a television. During the few days we spent in these luxurious quarters, we watched some videos. We saw Apollo 13, Tombstone, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Shootist with John Wayne. Great men’s movies! But not once did I see a man praying in any of these films. Every once in a while, we see football players go down on one knee in the end zone and it looks like they’re praying, but this is not particularly inspirational for the rest of us.

Why Prayer is Foreign to Men

The truth is, as men, we’re given a double message. We hear sermons about it, and we hear stories about it. We read the Bible and see that all the great men and women were clearly people of prayer. History is full of examples of great men and women who prayed. But most of us haven’t known many men of prayer—and my personal opinion is, from years in seminary and in the ministry, that most professional Christian leaders truly struggle with prayer, too.

The bottom line: prayer is confusing, and foreign to the way many of us think and live. Why is that?

First, prayer isn’t objective. It’s hard to get your hands around prayer. It’s hard to know if you’re really praying or just thinking or if you’re getting it right.

Second, prayer can be frustrating. A friend of mine says that prayer is like trying to run a road race after a hurricane—everywhere you go, something seems to block your way! There are so many demands on our time, so many activities that seem important. When it comes to prayer, we have good intentions and may even start out all right. But then we get interrupted—the phone rings, or we remember something that we have to do right away. We say we’ll pray later. After enough of these put-offs we can feel guilty, or think that trying to pray is useless. Sooner or later, we wonder if we’re really cut out for prayer after all.

Third, it can be so hard to focus. For years I tried to pray in my car. I’d drive down the road, shut off the radio, and start trying to concentrate on praying. As often as not, I’d decide I needed a cup of coffee … or start thinking about something my wife, Susan, had said. Then I’d catch myself and begin to pray again . . . only to find myself thinking about a particular problem I was having with someone at church. After many years, I finally gave up trying to pray in the car.

Fourth, prayer is, in part, admitting our need for help—and here we step into a bind. Few men I know like to admit that they need help—even though we’re confronted every day with our inadequacies (which is particularly true if you have a family)! There’s so much we need to know that we don’t know. I saw a book the other day entitled What Men Understand About Women, and when I opened it up, every page was blank! I don’t know about you, but I have often felt that way—that I really don’t knowvery much about raising my children, relating to my wife, or exercising my responsibility as a husband and father. We want to be the best fathers we can be. We want to provide for our children. We want them to have good health, to get a good education, and to mature as men and women of faith, integrity, courage, compassion, and discipline. In the face of all these needs—if we stop to face them at all—we can begin to feel overwhelmed, if we’re not careful, by our inability to make a difference.

Realizing We Need God’s Help

Life is wonderfully complex—and challenging. Frankly, as your kids get older, you realize more and more how much you need God’s help to raise them and to guide them toward maturity. We don’t know nearly as much as we think we know. Perhaps your daughter is spending time with the wrong kind of friends. A young son may be sullen and refuse to respond. Another child is not studying—or not learning, anyway. In the meantime, you’re thinking about the importance of SAT scores, or about all the lessons your kids have to learn before they can make a good marriage. You can tell your child what’s right and how they have to live and even share with them the hard lessons you’ve learned. But a wise man realizes how very much he needs God’s help in the whole process of being a parent.

Many men I know are quietly despairing about their families. His relationship with his wife may be in trouble. A child may have a serious illness or disability, or may be in open rebellion. His parents may be getting older and struggling with bad health. He may be looking at years of college tuition or years of nursing home bills. He may have a sibling whom he has to bail out of trouble time and again. The point is that most of us have large challenges in our families.

Ironically, it is this sense of failure and great need—our sense of being overwhelmed by so much responsibility—that can actually be the starting point of a genuine intimacy with God in prayer.

One of the most encouraging things Jesus said comes from the only long sermon recorded in the Gospels, the one we call the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins with a radical statement: “How blest are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3, NEB). When I first read that, it gave me a great sense of relief—because if there is one thing I’m sure of, it’s my need of God. Jesus was saying, that is the starting place to becoming the man God wants me to become.

He talks in this sermon about the “blessed” man. He says there is a kind of relationship with God that, if we have it, we will be blessed, trusting God to give us what we need.

The word Jesus used that is translated “blessed” has several meanings. It meanshappy, good, satisfied, or approved by God. In other words, we men who have such a heavy sense of responsibility weighing upon us can find release from the internal pressure of holding on to the ultimate pressure to “make it all happen.” We can begin, instead, to relax and trust God for all that we and our families need.

No, the secret to peace, power, and security in life is not to become omnicompetent, or simply to study and work harder, or to be more and more responsible. Neither is it to be better organized, brighter, stronger, wealthier. Actually, the first step described by the Son of God in becoming complete and competent for the responsibilities we have is to stop relying on our own resourcefulness and recognize our great need of a powerful God! Literally, what Jesus said is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” In other words, those men who realize how small their personal resources are, and who turn to God out of this great sense of need, have taken the first step toward gaining all that they need to fulfill their responsibilities in life.

Learning to Pray Genuinely

A man who is going to grow in relationship to God, and meet his responsibilities, first needs to learn how to have genuine, intimate communion with God. This communion is the heart and soul of prayer. Power in prayer does not come from “getting it right”—that is, using the right technique, words, or system. It begins with the realization of just how inadequate we really are and that God is the only adequate One.

So if you think you’re not “cut out” for prayer, you’re in good company with the rest of us. All that is needed is you and your need!

My favorite story of prayer in the New Testament comes in the account of Peter trying to walk on water to meet the Lord. His prayer wasn’t eloquent or long or theologically deep. It was just real. When he started to sink, he yelled, “Lord, help me!”—and the Lord answered his cry. Peter knew his need.

On the one hand, prayer is based on a deep mystery. That mystery is how an eternal God can desire friendship and intimacy with willful men—like me. But on the other hand, prayer is simple: It is lifting up to God those areas of life where we are inadequate to do the job, seeking His help from the heart.

Taken from How a Man Prays for His Family by John Yates. Published by FamilyLife Publishing, a subsidiary of Campus Crusade for Christ. Copyright © 2004 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.

Balancing Work and Family

Somewhere between the deadlines and the to-do list, I’d forgotten the most important ministry God had entrusted to me: my family.

by Greg Leith

I slipped into his room late one evening as I arrived home from work so that I could give him a goodnight snuggle and a kiss, only to find him wide awake. “Hey Dad, it’s Wednesday!” my 12-year-old said. “Tonight was our date night, Dad! You forgot!”

Somewhere between the deadlines and the meetings and the to-do list, I’d forgotten the most important ministry God had entrusted to me: my family. It had also been weeks since my wife and I had a date together, and I knew things needed to change – and fast. Instead of focusing on work, I needed to focus on my family and let them know they were just as important as my work and my ministry.

We set out to meet our work goals and somehow in the midst of it all, we forget that waiting at home is that young boy wanting to play catch, that teenage girl who needs to talk about boys, or that spouse that needs to be treated with all the attention we used to give when we were dating. Why does it happen? How does it happen? How can you prevent it from happening to you?

Let me ask you this: if you and I were sitting at that Tim Hortons near your house discussing the state of our lives, could I ask you a pretty personal question? What is the real goal that you are striving for? Is it possible that the prize you’re pursuing for has edged out your precious family, or that spouse you were madly in love with during your courtship days? They need some of your best time, not just your leftover time.

Well, before the coffee gets cold and we both need to run, here are ten ideas to help you as you strive to balance your work and your family. Got a pen? Jot ’em down on your napkin.

1. Get your family together and craft a family mission statement. It’s just as important to be intentional as a family as it is in the workplace. We wanted our family to all be on the same page in terms of our life purposes and the principles that would govern our time together. Need a head start? Here’s our family mission statement:

Our family is going through life’s journey together, growing roots in Christ and wings for our mission, becoming equipped to make a difference in our world by learning to live like Jesus, for Jesus and in Jesus.

We’ve designed other elements of this mission statement into the shape of a house, with walls of laughter, doors of prayer and windows of other important character qualities.

2. Carve out time for your family each week…in advance. Put it on your calendar. Stop saying you have to get one more thing done before you leave for home. Plan your week with specific ending times and stick to them.

3. Jettison things from your schedule that aren’t important. March to the mission that Jesus called you to, not the mission that others want you to do for them. Be ruthless here!

4. If your work situation requires constant excessive hours to get the job done, it’s time to evaluate other ways to accomplish the task. You can’t accomplish the mission of the organization single-handedly, so stop trying! Pray for the Lord to send workers into your harvest field and then sit back and watch Him go to work. Pray for supernatural results from the time you do put into your day, then go home and be a minister in the other mission field God gave you…your family.

5. If you’re a leader of others, have them actually write into their job descriptions the need to be committed to their family and specific ways in which they will make this a priority.

6. Develop an activity together with your family as a whole, and/or with individual family members. Maybe it’s hiking, a date at Denny’s for breakfast on Saturday, or coffee and prayer with your spouse each day. As you do this, remember that teachable moments are almost like ‘intentional accidents’: they happen, but not always because you planned them. So be sure to plan large quantities of time with your family throughout the year so they’ll have a chance to occur.

7. Create a ‘spiritual life development plan’ for each of your kids, outlining their strengths, their areas for improvement and your plans to shape their character as they grow up under your care. Our children are arrows that are being released into a world that we will never fully see. It’s our job to shape them into arrows that will fly straight and travel the distance to the kingdom target that God has intended for them.

8. Schedule a date night of at least an hour once a week with each child and your spouse, where you focus solely on them. It doesn’t have to be expensive; time is the critical ingredient here. When our budget has been tight, I’ve had this time in my backyard with my son.

9. When you’re traveling, send an email or a postcard back to your family. Call them on the phone and pray with them, in addition to chatting.

10. At the end of a day, ask your kids and spouse these three questions: ‘What happened today that you’re proud of?’ ‘What happened today that you wish you could do over?’ ‘Where did you see God in your day today?’

If your spouse or children were to describe how your performance as a spouse and parent, what would they say? If you’re not happy with the words that are echoing around in your head, it’s time to make some changes. I love how Eugene Petersen puts it: “Exploit or abuse your family, and end up with a fistful of air” (Proverbs 11:29, The Message). When my work years have come to an end, I want to be holding more than air, don’t you?

“Hey Dad! I passed!” exclaimed my 15-year-old girl. You see, I’m writing this morning from the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting room, where I came with my daughter to get her driving permit. Some days you just can’t achieve balance, so lately I’ve been working on integration – aren’t laptops wonderful? As my daughter and I celebrated her passing the test with a big hug in the lobby, I was glad I’d decided the to-do list at work could wait. The memory of this morning with her will last forever.

Used by permission of FamilyLife Canada. Copyright 2003.

Real Men Are Warriors Who Protect

As a husband and father, you are the warrior who has been charged with the duty of pushing back against the evil that seeks to prey on your wife, daughters, and sons. If you don’t step up, who will?

It began as a shopping date with my daughter Laura, who was 13 at the time. I never dreamed it would end the way it did.

Laura decided that she wanted to go where her older brothers and sisters went to shop at the time—Abercrombie and Fitch. There she found a beautiful baby blue sweater, and she went to the dressing room to try it on. While I was waiting I noticed a life-sized poster of a young man completely nude, leaning up on a boat dock knee deep in water. The shot was from behind, but I had not asked to see that guy chilling in his birthday suit.

I stood there looking at that poster thinking that I thought this was a clothing store and how inappropriate that was for my daughter and other girls. Finally I asked if I could please talk with the manager. The young man, who couldn’t have been over 30, came over and I greeted him with a smile. I shared with him that I had six children and was a good customer; then I said very kindly, “This picture … I’m sorry, but it’s just indecent.”  I thought I’d get agreement.

Instead he quipped, “I beg to differ with you, sir. By whose standards?”

A little stunned by his response, I replied with measured firmness, “By any standard of real morality.”

By that time, Laura had wandered back with her sweater. I pointed to the picture of the chiseled, buff-buddy’s buns, looked the manager squarely in the eyes, and said, “Sir, if that picture is not indecent, then I’d like you to drop your pants and get in a similar pose to that guy in the picture.”

He looked at the picture, then my daughter, and back at me. He looked like a deer in the headlights. There was a moment of silence, full of anticipation. Then he shook his head and said, “Huh-uh.”

I probably shouldn’t have pressed the point, but I added, “Come on, you said that picture is not indecent. Come on, drop ’em.”

“Huh-uh.”

I smiled and said, “You know, it’s a good thing you didn’t drop your pants, because you could have been arrested for indecent exposure.”

Then he replied, “Well, if you think that’s bad, you should see our catalog.”

So I went over and opened the catalog. One photo showed four teenage girls in bed with a boy; I’m not sure what they were advertising—maybe bedsheets—because none of them had clothes on. I pushed the catalog back and said, “I’d like you to take my name and phone number. I’d like someone from your corporate office to give me a call.”

To which he politely said, “Sir, I can take your name and address but they’re not interested. They really don’t care what you think.”

My response was kind, but firm: “I just want you to know I’m just one customer. I’m just a daddy of six kids, but I’ve got a lot of friends. And I want you to know that wherever I go, I’m going to use this episode as an illustration of a company that doesn’t care about the future of our young people, their morality, or the future of our nation.”

I figure I’ve shared the story with about five million people on various radio broadcasts, speaking at conferences, and in writing.

The courage to protect

One of my favorite quotes, attributed to British politician Edmund Burke, is “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” When evil invades a man’s life and marriage, his children’s lives, his work, and his community, the easiest thing for him to do is nothing.

As a husband and father, you are the warrior who has been charged with the duty of pushing back against the evil that seeks to prey on your wife, daughters, and sons. If you don’t step up, who will?

When you think of protecting your family, perhaps the first things that come to mind are keeping your house locked, or holding on to your child’s hand on a crowded sidewalk, or investigating a strange sound downstairs in the middle of the night, or teaching your children about what to do if the house is on fire. But as I’ve looked at my responsibilities as protector at home, I’ve realized that they go further. For example:

I have established boundaries to protect my marriage. I’m doing battle for my marriage when I don’t meet with a woman by myself unless the door is open or there is a window so that others can observe. I do not have lunch with other women alone. I do not travel alone in a car with other women. I copy my wife, Barbara, on e-mails written to women, and I don’t have private conversations with women on social websites without her knowing. At the same time, I do battle for my marriage by helping Barbara with household chores, taking her on dates and getaways, and spoiling her with an occasional gift of her liking.

I protected my children by training them in the choices they would make. I organized weekend getaways with both sons in their early teens to discuss peer pressure, dating, sex, pornography, alcohol, and more stuff the culture was throwing at them. I continued these conversations with my sons through the years—we even talked about things like dealing with girls who pursue them sexually, and what to do if they see a fight breaking out at school. In addition, Barbara and I made a big effort to get to know our kids’ friends—especially once they reached junior high and peer pressure kicked into high gear. We wanted to be aware of the good influences and the potential bad ones.

I protected my daughters by dating them and, later, by interviewing their dates. On these dates I showed them how a young man was to take care of them, what they should expect from a guy, and how to deal with sexual overtures. I explained why it was important to dress modestly, and I did it at an early age before they experienced much peer pressure on the issue. I met with their dates and made it clear to each young man that I expected him to keep his hands off my daughter.

I protected my family by working with Barbara to set up boundaries about media. We set standards on the types of films and television programs we would watch. We made rules about when and where they could access the internet, and talked about how to protect their privacy and how to guard against sexual predators. If I was a father with children at home today, I’d also be setting boundaries on cell phones, texting, and video games, and I’d install porn filters on all computers.

A trained warrior also has battlefield vision that anticipates the future.  He scans the horizon and assesses dangers that are coming so that he can prepare for them.

And he realizes he is never off duty.

Warriors in the community and boardroom

Not only does America need warriors at home, but it also needs men willing to use their influence to protect their communities and even the nation.

Like my friend Scott Ford, former CEO of a large wireless phone network, who told me of the pressure he felt from stockholders who wanted to increase the company’s profits by putting pornography on the mobile phones they sell. Scott stood firm and many times stood alone.

Robert Rowling, whose holding company owns Omni Hotels, is another corporate warrior. He pulled all the pornography out of his hotels at a cost of more than $6 million, reasoning that if he didn’t want his sons to view that stuff, why should he make it possible for other men or their sons to stumble?

The Scriptures contain a simple admonition that men of all ages need to take to heart today: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Men, we are in the midst of a cosmic conflict of good versus evil. Wars are made up of battles, and battles demand a few good men who assume the responsibility of warriors and fight.

Many of you are not corporate leaders, but you may have the opportunity to step up in other ways. Perhaps it will be taking a stand against deceptive practices in the company where you work, or speaking out against sexual harassment, or talking with your child’s teacher if he or she shows an inappropriate film during class.

It takes courage for a man to step out and push back against evil. It will mean that you don’t go with the flow. You can’t fight every battle, but you can get involved when opportunities come your way.

When men don’t step up, the cost of doing nothing means that indecency, immorality, and other aberrant behaviors become the new norm in the culture. Our children and grandchildren will pay the ultimate price if we turn our heads. When men are not warriors, when men don’t push back against evil with good, the evil we were meant to conquer turns around and preys upon us and our descendants (see Isaiah 59:11-15).

In all these various engagements with the culture and others, real men are firm, but gracious. Having convictions does not give a man the license to be rude or pummel another person with his beliefs. Truth and love must be kept in proper tension with one another.

“Freaking” on the dance floor

I have one last admonition: Be ready! You never know when you will come face-to-face with an issue that demands courage and stepping up.

A number of years ago a couple of our teens attended a junior high dance. Barbara and I decided we’d drop in unexpectedly and check it out. As we entered the darkened dance floor we saw about 30 kids off in the darkest corner, doing a dance called “freaking.” Now if you haven’t seen this, trust me, it’s an imitation of intercourse, but with clothes on.

A handful of parents were huddled near a light in a corner watching, grousing and complaining about what they saw, but generally doing nothing.

I walked past the parents and went over and stood near the swaying crowd. I watched as two boys drew a young lady in between them. As I stood there deciding what to do, my palms grew clammy, sweating with anticipation. I thought, Here I am, a 45-year-old man, and I’m afraid of what a couple of pimple faced, 14-year-old boys think about me?

I finally concluded, What they’re doing is absolutely indecent. It’s ridiculous for me to cave in to fear!

So I stepped into the crowd of “freaking” dancers and tapped one of the young men on the shoulder. I smiled sternly and told him to knock it off. I challenged him to treat the young lady with dignity and respect.

He had a very blank look on his face. I could see him thinking, Whatever…

His response didn’t matter, because one small step had brought victory. Feeling more courageous, I approached another trio of gyrating teens and busted them up. I looked over my shoulder and a bunch of dads were now joining me.

Here’s the point, guys: God made us to pierce the darkness. He didn’t make us to fight every battle, but He did make us to stand for truth, to embrace standards. And when men don’t embrace beliefs they are paralyzed and neutralized by the culture. They won’t step forward and can’t step up because they don’t have the mandate of truth resonating in their souls. In the absence of real men pushing back against evil, the culture continues its downward spiral and becomes increasingly shameless and vulgar.

Do not be overcome by evil. Step up and kindly overcome evil with good.

Adapted by permission from Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, Copyright © 2011 Dennis Rainey, FamilyLife Publishing.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.

20 Ideas for Dating Your Wife

20 Ideas for Dating Your Wife

Only you know how to best cultivate and guard the woman God has given you.
By Justin Buzzard

Men, you need to come up with your own ideas for how to date your wife. You know your wife better than anyone else. Only you know how to best cultivate and guard the woman God has given you. But, sometimes it helps to build off other people’s ideas in order to form your own … My prayer is that the power of the gospel would drive how you date your wife and implement these ideas.

1. Attend a wedding. Sit in the back row and spend the whole time whispering memories from your own wedding.

2. Make a list of ten things your wife loves to do. Each new time you take your wife on a date, do one of those ten things as your date.

3. Take up a new hobby with your wife; do something new that you’re both excited about.

4. Do the classic date: dinner and a show. Take your wife to din­ner and to a movie she wants to watch.

5. Take a twelve-month honeymoon with your wife. Relive your honeymoon by scheduling a 24-hour getaway for every month of this year. Each month go somewhere new with your wife.

6. Devote one hour each night for alone time with your wife. Talk about how your days went. Joke around with each other. Cultivate your friendship. Talk honestly about what’s going on in your lives. Help each other. Encourage each other. Pray together.

7. Mark your wife’s birthday, your wedding anniversary, and Mother’s Day on your calendar every year and plan to make those days special.

8. Write a love note to your wife. Tell her all over again what she means to you.

9. Spend an evening stargazing with your wife and talking about dreams you have for the future.

10. Spend an evening reminiscing with your wife about all you’ve been through together and all God has done and redeemed in your life together.

11.Devote the next month to studying a book of the Bible with your wife. Take twenty minutes several nights a week to read, discuss, and pray through a shorter book such as Ephesians or Philippians.12. Visit your roots. Visit where your wife grew up and where you grew up. Learn more about each other’s backgrounds.

13. Hold your wife’s hand often, in public and in private.14. Tell your wife that you love her.

15. Tell your wife that Jesus loves her more than you do.

16. Set a weekly date night. Each week rotate going out and stay­ing in for your date night.

17. Cancel work for the day and do something special with your wife.

18. Take dancing lessons with your wife.

19. Cut something from your schedule and use that time to date your wife.

20. Vacation with your wife without your kids, without your work, and without your cell phone and computer.

Adapted from Date Your Wife by Justin Buzzard, © 2012, pp. 133-139. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.