Do you remember The Prayer of Jabez, the best-selling book from a few years ago? It had wide circulation among evangelicals, and it certainly stimulated some thoughts about praying for results. Let’s take another look at the man made famous for his prayer:
A Famous Prayer?
“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10, NIV).
This little passage was the subject of Bruce Wilkinson’s book, “The Prayer of Jabez, Breaking Through to a Blessed Life”, back in 2000. Mr. Wilkinson’s work was embraced by many who agreed with him that praying this prayer devotedly and persistently would result in God’s blessings. Others criticized it because they said it focused on prosperity rather than on spiritual blessing, and prescribed rote, formulaic prayer rather than sincere, heart-felt prayer. Whatever your take on it, it is a well-written book that was quite popular, and got folks talking about the power of prayer.
The book does a great job of encouraging us to be persistent in prayer and to claim Bible promises for our own, just as Jabez did in 1 Chronicles 4. Mr. Wilkinson did a great job sharing the story of Jabez and drawing some Biblical principles from it. I’ve given it some reflection as well, and here are my own observations about this passage:
1) Jabez is a sincere and honorable man, and he turns to God for blessing. I’d have to say that if everyone we met was sincere and honorable, the world would be a better place. But apparently then—as now—being honorable was the exception rather than the rule. Be the exception.
2) Jabez seemed to be motivated by the fact that his name meant “he makes sorrowful”, apparently or possibly because of the pain he caused his mother in childbirth. He didn’t name himself, but as he grew up he was constantly reminded that he had once been the source of pain…
Parents, be careful what hurtful things you say to your kids, because there are things that stick with them. (I can remember some that were said to me, and I know there are lots of dumb or angry things I have said to my kids or my wife that I wish I could have back! I’m very sorry guys, if anything I said gave you a negative message or memory. I really do love you a lot with my imperfect love!).
The Fine Print
3) This isn’t necessarily a bad prayer, since Jabez asks for God’s hand to be on him, and to keep him from evil so that he would not cause (or have) pain. “And”, the Bible says, “God granted his request”. So there’s that. It’s a prayer that identified Jabez uniquely among his peers, and God answered it. It’s a good prayer, and probably one that all of us would make from time to time…
But when you break it down and look closer, the prayer of Jabez does seem perhaps a bit self-serving, and might just be a bit focused on personal benefit. (Bless ME. Keep your hand on MY territory. Let your hand be with ME. Keep ME from harm. Keep ME free from pain.) These are all legitimate requests to make of God, but there’s a different prayer in the Bible that also asks God for something about ME, and it’s one I can relate to far better.
If I had to pick a Bible prayer that we should pray early and often, it’s not the one prayed by the arrogant Pharisee who stood in the Temple in Luke 18 and thanked God that he was more righteous than his fellow men; it’s the sincere, passionate one prayed by the humble, repentant tax collector as he beat his breast in anguish in Luke 18:13: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Now, THERE’s a prayer worth repeating! (And one that I can certainly relate to!) “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Try praying that one. I bet it will enlarge your territory.
My Own Personal Jabez Prayer
Jabez was an honest man who went to God and prayed,
He asked for God’s protection in the petitions that he made.
Apparently he was honorable; and he was surely blessed.
The Bible says when Jabez prayed, God granted his request.
I guess I’m not like Jabez, since my prayer life is much thinner;
I’m much more like the man who said, “Be merciful to this sinner!”
You may have a different prayer you think of when you pray,
But when you kneel before your God, and find the words to say,
I hope you pray with love and passion every single day.
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