The prayer of Jabez is one of the most famous prayers in the Bible. For a time it became the mantra of the entire evangelical Christian world. The book by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson became a bestseller. Pastors world round preached it. Bible studies poured over it. Marketing gurus produced The Prayer of Jabez trinkets that popped up like baby bunnies in every Christian book store.
Of course many of us prayed it. I know I did. But did God plant this gem of a prayer in the dry sands of 1 Chronicles’ endless genealogies so that I could be blessed, have my territory enlarged and my pain reduced? Join me in wrestling with that question as we explore today’s readings.
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
1 Chronicles 4:5-5:17
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
1 Chronicles 4:5-5:17: “The practice of inserting short historical notes into genealogical records,” such as the prayer of Jabez, was common in the ancient world, says the NIV Study Bible. Why? Though we can’t know for sure without asking the author(s), they are usually insights that further or validate the author’s over-all theme. The theme here seems to be showing how God has kept the promise to Abraham by increasing Israel’s territory (verses 10 and 38-43).
Acts 25:1-27: Paul’s trial continues. And God continues to use him to proclaim Christ to everyone from prison guards to kings.
Proverbs 18:19: A popular paraphrase of this proverbial truth may be “Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be in relationship?” Too often proving our arguments are the winning ones drive those we love away. We have to have the last word. And when our version proves true we retort, “I told you so.” In so doing, our ideas and advice have no more chance of influencing our loved ones than a small army attacking a fortified city.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Can you and I expect God to bless us, expand our territory, protect us, and keep us from pain? Maybe, maybe not.
Though I prayed and preached The Prayer of Jabez, I am profoundly uncomfortable with formulaic faith. I even struggle with rote recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, despite that Jesus told us, “This, then, is how you should pray.”
This aversion to formula comes from both my understanding of and experience with God. Nowhere in Scripture do we find the “Five Keys to Unlocking This or That” or the “Six Steps to Successful Something or Other” that we preachers so love to enumerate. Few, if any, biblical heros lived what we today call successful lives. Rather we find Paul, a true hero of faith, languishing in prison. Did Paul not know about Jabez’ prayer? If he did pray it, it seems God increased Paul’s territory by blessing him with a prison sentence and also increasing his pain.
No, life, even with God at the helm, is messier than that. And unpredictable.
What God did for Jabez, or even Paul, is not necessarily what God is doing with and through me. As my brother-in-law is prone to say in his slight New England accent, “Gawd is Gawd.” God is not bound by my prayers or my interpretation of Scripture.
In truth formulaic faith is not faith at all. It is a lack thereof. If God is bound by his Word to act in accordance with what I pray or claim to believe, faith plays no part. God’s answer becomes a mechanical must.
Instead Jesus‘ famous prayer reminds us to pray for God’s will to be done in our lives just as it is in heaven. God will answer according to his divine plan and what he knows is best–not just for me in that moment. There is promise in the prayer of Jabez. Not the promise of a formula, but rather the promise of an honest, prayerful conversation with the Creator of the universe that can develop authentic faith.
Can we pray the prayer of Jabez today? Sure. I have many times. God has always answered in his way and in his time. I’m comfortable with that–most of the time.
- Which reading spoke to you?
- What formulas have you expected God to follow?
- How has God answered your prayers?
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