What does a real man look like in today’s (western) culture? A macho tough guy who never cries; he doesn’t let anyone tell him what to do – not his wife or his workmates or his buddies and certainly not God. He does what he likes with his money and his free time. If he wants to spend every night watching sports or his favourite TV shows or playing X-Box, that’s his right.
It would be easy to let the world’s expectations and stereotypes shape what we are as Christian men, even though the word of God challenges these cultural norms at every point. It would be so easy to just copy the models of masculinity we see all around us—our own fathers, our friends, our fictional heroes from TV and the sporting world—rather than searching the Scriptures to see what a real man is meant to be. A whole series on this topic would be helpful for those of us who need all the help we can get in learning to be men, but let me mention just one way the God who invented masculinity when he made human beings male and female tells us we are to act like men. It’s found in 1 Timothy 2.8:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling.
Let’s unpack this verse a little…
The Greek word for ‘men’ here is a word that means males as opposed to females. The verse is not at all forbidding women to pray—they should and must (although the contexts in which they are to lead in prayer is a separate question)—but it is calling men to step up and take the lead in praying. Why? Verse 13 explains: ‘Adam was formed first, then Eve’. God made men to be leaders. This verse is not just for ministers, elders and deacons. All men as men have the responsibility of being leaders in prayer.
This is underscored by the phrase ‘in every place’. No matter where you go in the world, this should be the norm because it’s a creation pattern and not a cultural one. And in every context it’s men who have the responsibility of taking the lead in prayer. Whatever your own church believes about the appropriateness of women praying aloud in a prayer meeting, it is the men who should be taking the lead. If your prayer meetings suffer, as ours sometimes do, from prolonged gaps between prayers, it’s the men’s responsibility to fill those gaps and set an example to the younger men of what masculinity looks like. In the home it is the man’s responsibility as the head of the home to gather his family for family worship. I’m not saying that she will not share in the reading/praying, but it should be the man who take the lead. But he won’t just take the lead at set times of prayer like family worship or giving thanks before a meal—a man lifting up his hands in prayer in every place will be frequently leading his family in prayer on all kinds of spontaneous occasions, as and when the opportunity arises. When his wife is troubled about something, he comforts and encourages her… and lifts up his hands in prayer. When he has disciplined one of his children, he leads the child in prayer. When a crisis has rocked the family, or some joyful news has been received, he lifts up his hands in prayer. God wants the men in every place to pray. Are you stepping up to fill the place God has called you to fill in prayer?
If not, what is holding you back? A sense of inadequacy? ‘I don’t know what to say’. Then learn. Don’t let the fear of not doing something excellently stop you from doing it at all. That’s just pride. It doesn’t stop you playing golf, does it? And like golf (maybe!), the more you do it the better you’ll get. There are plenty of resources to help you – not least your pastor or other elders. It will never get any easier to start leading in prayer than right now, today. So man up!
Or is it a sense of shame? Maybe you haven’t been a great example of a husband and father in your home in other ways. Don’t let that hold you back either. Change, by the grace of God. Confess your failures as a husband and father to your family and ask for their forgiveness. That’s another thing that real men do, according to God’s word. Confess that you haven’t been the leader in prayer that you ought to have been and ask for their forgiveness for that too, and make it clear you’re going to work at it from now on. God wants you to channel all that masculine gutsy determination that you display in other areas of your life into being a spiritual leader in your home. Talk to other men in your church who are good examples of men who lead in prayer and find out what makes them tick, spiritually speaking.
Lastly, we need to pray with holy hands. Scripture often speaks about the incompatibility of anger or quarrelling with prayer and worship. If you have an issue with another member of the church, deal with it before you offer up your prayers in the prayer meeting or enter into worship (Matthew 5.23-24). That’s another thing real men don’t do—they don’t nurse grudges like cowards but have the courage to resolve things openly and in a straightforward way with others. Deal with any sinful habits of behaviour that you’re hiding too—you can’t pray with holy hands if you’re holding onto an internet pornography habit at the same time, or if you’re making no effort to rein in a foul temper in your home. Psalm 66.18: If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
Why not find another couple of men to pray with on a regular basis—men you can be accountable to and share your struggles with (and they to you), so that as iron sharpens iron you can sharpen one another to man up and lift up holy hands in prayer.