Prayer and the Harsh Husband

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b).

It is astounding to consider all that God delights to accomplish through the prayers of His people. Prayer is powerful, and yet it also connected to the character of those who pray. The prayers of a “righteous man,” we are told, are powerful. Likewise, Peter warns men that the way they treat their wives directly impacts their prayers. Character plays a part in our prayers. Men who are harsh with their wives should not expect God to respond to their prayers.

In his first epistle Peter addresses significant matters of the home. Chapter 3 focuses in on the dynamics of husbands and wives and the conflicts that can arise in their home. He begins his instruction with the wife, explaining how she ought to respond to a husband who “does not obey the word” (3:1). He shifts gears then to speak to this very husband. He states:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (v. 7)

It’s worth considering the specifics of this command.

The passage begins with the words “likewise,” which refers back to duty of submission incumbent upon all Christians (it is mentioned in 2:13, 18, and 3:1). Husbands are commanded to submit in service to their wives. The same principle is at play when Paul speaks to the Ephesians. Just before outlining the specific responsibilities of husbands and wives in chapter 5, Paul establishes the universal principle of mutual submission (5:21). Submission is not simply a wifely duty, it is a Christian duty and therefore husbands are commanded to do it too.

Husbands are to “live” with their wives “in an understanding way.” A man’s submission to his wife begins with the practice of consideration. Living with you wife in an understanding way means to be considerate of her needs, concerns, desires, and hurts. It means to be sensitive and attuned to her. Husbands who dismiss their spouse’s feelings or worries, who downplay or minimize her hurts, who outright ignore her interests are not fulfilling this mandate. A husband who puts his own interests, desires, concerns, and needs ahead of his wife’s is failing to fulfill this command. Often men will couch their own selfishness in the language of “leadership,” asserting that they must do what is best for the family. It just so happens that what is “best” is often what they want. They rarely, if ever, make sacrifices and even when they do it comes with a great deal of passive aggression and displeasure. Godly husbands, on the other hand, are deeply concerned to understand their spouses, and live with them in a sensitive and attentive manner.

They are to be honoring, as well. The language of “weaker vessel” is not intended to communicate inferiority, since it is pointedly followed by the truth that wives are “co-heirs” with their husbands. They are equals. The language of “weaker vessel” is about care. The “weaker vessel” is a reference to a highly prized possession. Think of it in terms of the difference between a Ming Vase and a cheap Wal-Mart imitation. The valuable vase is protected, cared for, valued enough to be look after with intentionality and precision. Husbands are to honor their wives by caring well for them. They ought to seek with all diligence to protect them, provide for them, and preserve them in physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual ways.

All of this, Peter warns, is to be done in order that your “prayers may not be hindered.” That means that where husbands fail at this their prayers will be hindered. The husband who is harsh and selfish yet maintains that he is a godly man whose life is marked by spiritual growth and faithfulness is deceived or deceptive. God himself refuses to hear or answer the prayers of such a man. His prayers are not “powerful in their working” precisely because he is not a “righteous man.” Character impacts prayer.

Husband, evaluate yourself. Think carefully about the nature of your home, the culture, the interactions, and the relational dynamics. Think about how you esteem your spouse. Think about how your wife expresses herself. Does she feel safe to disagree? Does she feel honored in disagreements? Does she feel her opinions are valued? Furthermore, do you respect her views? Do you ask for her opinion and listen carefully? Can you identify your spouse’s greatest fears, desires, and needs? Would your spouse agree with your assessment? How do you handle conflict and disagreement? How do you respond when you are told “no”? Is your authority more important than your spouse?

Think carefully about these issues because how you relate to your spouse directly impacts your spiritual life. The prayers of a harsh husband accomplish nothing. That will only change when such a man prays a prayer of repentance and seeks to live that out with his wife.

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