A college student shared a story about his family opening gifts at Christmas in his living room. His father walked over to his mother and presented her with a large, heavy package. The student remembers the excitement on his mother’s face as she unwrapped the present. Just as quickly, her expression changed to dismay as she slowly lifted the cold, steel shotgun from the box. The young man’s own spirits fell as he realized what his father had done; the gun was something he, not his wife, had always wanted.
This kind of thing would occur less frequently if husbands would take 1 Peter 3:7 seriously. Peter states what should be common sense: husbands, live with your wives in a considerate and respectful manner. He then goes on to say that if a husband does not do this, his relationship with God will suffer. (“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” NIV)
To be considerate is to live with your spouse in an understanding manner. It is to really know your wife, which implies being a good listener. This is an important skill to develop because it not only helps a husband understand his wife, but it communicates that he values her. For many of us, it doesn’t come naturally, but it can be cultivated.
In his book, Hearing God, Peter Lord tells of an encounter with an entomology student during a wedding reception at his home. The young man had his head cocked to the side and was intently listening to something. He asked, “Mr. Lord, do you realize you have 18 different kinds of crickets in your bushes?” Lord had not paid attention to any of the crickets. As it turned out, this Ph.D. student had trained his ears to distinguish over 200 different kinds of crickets!
This student had developed his ability to hear what very few of us would even notice. Why? Because it was vital to what he wanted to do in life. Could it be that one of the reasons husbands don’t listen well to their wives is that it has ceased to be vital to them? In the courtship days he could come up with any excuse needed to be with her and to hear all about her. In the first year or two of marriage time to listen begins to wane as the responsibilities of daily life tug at them. Throw in a child or three, and “suddenly” there isn’t time for just the two of them. What was so vital in courtship has ceased to be so in marriage. However, according to the above verse, it is even more vital now. First, it’s important because your wife is your equal in Christ (“co-heirs”). As Eugene Peterson translates it: “In the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives then as equals, so your prayers don’t run aground” (The Message). One way to treat someone as your equal is to respectfully listen to him or her.
Second, it’s vital because if you don’t listen to your wife (treat her as equal), your prayers will “run aground.” But this brings up a question. Is it the husband’s prayers or the couple’s prayers that are hindered? J.B. Philips takes it as the couple’s prayers: “If you don’t do this you will find it impossible to pray together properly.” Philips may be right because prayer is an intimate thing. To intimately open up to someone you don’t consider your equal is very difficult, but it’s easier to do with someone you respect as an equal. Therefore, if you do not respect your wife, you are not truly intimate with her. If you are not intimate with her, how can you enter into the intimacy of prayer together?
On the other hand, Peter could also be saying the husband’s prayers are hindered. Simply, if my relationship with my wife is strained, my relationship with her father will be, too. That includes her heavenly Father.
In Mark 4, Jesus says something about listening that is instructive here. “Everything that is now hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! And be sure to pay attention to what you hear. The more you do this, the more you will understand — and even more, besides. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them” (Mark 4:22-25 NLT).
He’s stating a simple fact of life. The more you listen and pay attention, the more you understand. If you neglect this, you will find yourself on the losing end, like the employee who loses his job because of not listening to his boss or the husband who loses his wife because he doesn’t care enough to really listen and understand her.
Husbands, how is your prayer life these days? More specifically, are you seeing answers to your prayers? If it seems that God is not listening to you, could it be that you have not been listening to your wife the way he would have you? To paraphrase Peter, honor your wife or hinder your prayers.
It’s up to you, husbands. Will you determine that listening to your wife is as vital as God says? If you have let your hearing atrophy, it may take awhile to regain it. But it will be worth the effort. You just might discover the thrill of relationship once again — not only with her, but with God as well!
This is the edited text of the second installment of a series presented by Pastor Nils Swanson in his church in the state of Washington.