I’ve encountered several troubled marriages in my ministry. I’ve noticed that many of them have one thing in common: the couple never received any substantial marriage preparation from the church. If there was anything, it might have been a short sit-down with the pastor to go over the Form for the Solemnization of Marriage and perhaps talk about some of the logistics of the ceremony. This seems to have been the common practice in the Canadian Reformed Churches up until about the late 1980s.
Beginning in the 1990s, I believe it became more common for pastors to offer marriage preparation classes. These would typically feature a number of sessions covering such topics as what the Bible teaches about marriage in general, the roles of husbands and wives, communication, and conflict resolution. Sometimes they would be done on an individual basis (with just one couple); at other times there might be several couples in such a class.
Prior to our wedding in 1994, Rose and I were blessed to have such a marriage preparation class with our pastor. This class included several couples from our church. Because of the size of the group, the class was offered in the catechism classroom in the basement of our church building. In each session, our pastor went over a particular topic and then, if I remember correctly, he would assign us some homework.
One of these sessions stands out in my mind. Our pastor was teaching us about the importance of spiritual unity between wife and husband and how to foster it. He emphatically stressed: “By this point already in your relationship you should be praying together. If you’re not already praying together, you need to start now, as in tonight. And guys, you need to be leading the way in this.”
As our pastor was saying this, one of the couples in the class started snickering. Of all the things to laugh at, they chose this sage advice from our pastor. For some reason, they thought the idea of them praying together was worth a chuckle. The reason it’s lodged in my memory is just the sheer swagger it evidenced. It was disturbing.
When I became a pastor myself some years later, I determined to always offer marriage preparation classes. I have. I’ve also repeatedly given exactly the same advice that my pastor gave us back in ’94. Thankfully, I can report that I’ve never had anyone ever laugh at this. That said, I don’t know how many actually put it into practice.
There are three good reasons why a young couple should be praying together before marriage, and even before their engagement.
First, it does lay a good foundation for the spiritual unity that will later be enjoyed as husband and wife. Praying together as a Christian couple acknowledges that God is vitally important for the success of your relationship. By praying, you’re concentrating on what’s really important in your relationship.
Second, it sets a good pattern for life together later as husband and wife. If you’re praying together before you get married, praying after you get married will simply the natural progression of things.
Third, it provides a protection against the temptation to sexual impurity. The physical aspect of the pre-marital relationship is typically going to be a huge challenge for couples. Prayer can be a game-changer. It doesn’t necessarily magically evaporate your sexual desires, but it does give the wherewithal to manage those desires in a God-honouring way. Prayer and intimate sexual involvement before marriage just don’t mix. One is going to be driving out the other. Far better to have prayer driving out your temptations to sexual impurity.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying pre-marital prayer is a silver bullet that will magically prevent all marriage problems happening down the track. Nor am I saying that marriage preparation classes are a sure-fix to prevent marital breakdowns. After all, what happened to the couple who laughed at our pastor? Would it surprise you to hear their marriage was short-lived? Even though they heard the marriage preparation instruction, it didn’t save their relationship. That shows that, while the prospects can be improved with marriage preparation classes (and prayer!), ultimately these things can’t do anything where hearts are not truly committed to God.