Ever since we married 34 years ago, we wanted regularly to pray and read the Bible as a couple. But for 15 years, no matter how often we tried, we couldn't establish a habit.
But our lives changed one summer when Charlotte was teaching at a Christian college. Her topic was "Bringing the Families Together Through the Bible School." As she taught, she was struck by the irony that our five family members were in four different states. Bob, who was on staff with a large church, was attending an out-of-state conference; our oldest son was on a missions trip; and the two younger children were on a camping trip. Our family was being splintered by ministry.
So we concluded that spending time with the Lord as a couple was a must. Starting the practice seemed like a bird struggling to hatch, but eventually the habit, which we call our "devotional in duet," was born.
Since making this practice part of our lives, we have been rewarded in several ways:
1. We have time together. Hectic schedules go with ministry, and they can keep partners apart. Charlotte once kept track of Bob's schedule over several weeks and discovered he spent an average of 85 hours each week in ministry work. In one congregation we served, Charlotte was teaching six times a week with five different age groups. Without a daily devotional time, we might not see each other some days except to trade greetings. Our daily devotional lets us share at least 15 or 20 minutes.
2. God has input. So many impressions — some ungodly, many mundane — bombard our minds each day. Without a specific time and place to listen to God, we may not be able to hear him. So our devotional time is an opening in the day for him to guide us in marriage and ministry.
3. We experience intimacy at a deeper level. Marital intimacy is more than a sexual relationship; it involves coming before God as one flesh, not merely as two individuals, and growing together in our walk with him. Devotionals in duet provide a way for us to do that. (This intimacy also helps protect against temptations to be unfaithful to God and to each other.)
4. We set an example for our children. Our three children learned the importance of a consistent, shared devotional life, and now our married children are practicing their own devotionals in duet.
We know this habit is hard to begin and maintain, and it is tempting to drop the whole idea. But the investment yields great dividends. These suggestions can help you begin and maintain this discipline.
1. Make a covenant with each other and with God. Nothing this important should be treated casually. We conducted our own ceremony in which we admitted our need for devotions together, stated our decision together (including all details) and verbally promised each other before God that we would treat our devotions as "top sacred."
2. Stick to a schedule. To guarantee consistency, early morning is our only option; we usually begin between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. That way we can get a jump on our full day (and, when they were home, our children).
If a breakfast business meeting is unavoidable, we meet later in the day. Even while we are apart, we decide how to get together. During one seven-month stretch when Bob's job kept him away from home five days a week, we each read the day's selection and then briefly talked and prayed by telephone.
3. Set the place. A specific place becomes a special place. Our "altar" is the bed, where we lean against the headboard on recliner pillows. It is comfortable, with reading lights above us and coffee cups on the bedside tables.
4. Agree on content and approach. Scripture and prayer are the main ingredients, but you must answer several questions as you begin: What will you read, and how much? If you use a devotional guide, how will you select it?
Several times, we have read the entire Bible during the year. (We often use Daily Walk or The Daily Bible.) We each read silently and then discuss application. Then we turn to prayer.
During our prayer time, we share requests, both for ourselves and for others. (We use a prayer list so we can see how God responds.) We both pray aloud. Some families assume the man should lead prayer while his spouse remains silent. But we are convinced that men need to hear their wives pray in order to know their wives' hearts better. And as a minister, I especially need to hear my wife pray for me, because she is my main supporter.
5. Be flexible. One December, as we were planning for the coming year, we felt a need to read more slowly instead of going through the entire Bible. We spent the next 12 months in the Psalms and the Gospels, reading less but discussing more.
We breathe freshness into our routine in other ways. We may use different versions each year or supplement Bible readings with devotional materials written by saints from the past and present.
6. Be honest. It takes effort and courage to confess weaknesses, sins and struggles to each other, not to mention asking God for forgiveness in each other's presence. It is hard to admit that we struggle with the meaning of a certain passage or with how it confronts us. But such honesty brings us closer to each other as well as to God.
Ministry marriages are in trouble. Once, Bob began naming ministers he knew who were facing serious domestic problems. He quit counting at 28! We are convinced that our devotional in duet helped us avoid many heartaches. This habit has been a cornerstone for our marriage and work, ensuring that we minister to each other and not only to a congregation.
Passing the partially opened door of my pastor’s bedroom one evening, I saw a sight I’ve never forgotten. I was a teenager at the time and I’d been invited to spend the night in the parsonage. That evening, through the cracked door, I saw him and his wife on their knees by their bed, pouring out their hearts to the Lord. It was the private side of a successful public ministry — and I was deeply moved.