The Prayer of Jabez
What was I thinking when I set up this year’s daily Bible reading? We decided that we would read the Old Testament (we read the NT two reads ago) and that we’d read it in chronological order. So I found a chronological reading list, stripped off the New Testament, adjusted it to weekday readings, and the result is our daily Bible reading for the year. What I didn’t do is spend enough time fine-tuning the readings to balance them better, and the result is that yesterday’s reading was a killer (Psalm 43, 44, 45, 49, 84, 85, 87… Yikes!) and todays is 1 Chronicles 3-5… which is largely a list of names.
But hidden in the list of names we read today is a very obscure guy that became a superstar several years ago when Bruce Wilkinson published a little book entitled, The Prayer of Jabez. Actually, we don’t know anything about Jabez… including why he is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4. This is a genealogy listing of the family of Judah, and Jabez isn't listed in the genealogy (though we can assume he fits in there somewhere). The Chronicler interrupts his listing of Judah's family tree to tell this story—
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)
Wilkinson's book encourages people today to pray that exact prayer—for God to bless us, enlarge our territory, and keep us free from pain. He gives plenty of stories about God has answered that prayer and blessed people through this prayer. You'd better have lots of stories when you are writing a book based on two Bible verses! Wilkinson sees this little text as the key to the Bible’s teaching on prayer, “It is brief, only one sentence tucked away in the Bible, but I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God.”
Of course, there are several problems with this view of the prayer of Bro. Jabez. It appears to make prayer rather mechanistic and ritualistic. All we have to do is pray this prayer and God will bless us and increase our territory... which seems to almost obligate God to answer our prayer positively. The fact is, God sometimes says “No, you have enough territory.” Sometimes God tells us that His grace is sufficient, and He chooses to work, not through enlarged territory, but in our weakness and thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:9-10). The Hebrew writers sees as the loving discipline of a loving Father (Heb 12:7-10). Also, the “Prayer of Jabez” is simply not the only prayer in scripture; there is also the "Prayer of Job," though that book would be a harder sell. Jesus certainly did not pray the "Prayer of Jabez" in Gethsemane. Sometimes God seems to increases our weakness and suffering rather than our territory and influence.
The point of the "Prayer of Jabez" is not the wording of his prayer but the fact that he prayed. Jabez stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries because he turned to God in faith and prayer. The point for us is not that we should pray the specific prayer that Jabez prayed as if it were some kind of mantra for success and blessings from God. No, the point for us is that we should follow Jabez as an example of one who trusted God and sought Him in prayer even when those around him did not.