The Promise of the Prayer of Jabez and the Failure of Formulaic Faith

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

Acts 25:1-27

Psalm 5:1-12

Proverbs 18:19


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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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.

  1. Which reading spoke to you?
  2. What formulas have you expected God to follow?
  3. How has God answered your prayers?

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog


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4 responses to “The Promise of the Prayer of Jabez and the Failure of Formulaic Faith

  1. Linda

    So glad you came out and said it: we “Evangelicals” tend to love the formulaic. (For that matter, you can erase the term “evangelical” and fill in “Pentecostal”, “charismatic”, “Catholic”, “Episcopal” … the list goes on.) Whether it’s “name it and claim it” or praying the liturgy as a rote part of going to church, we humans gravitate to the easy and convenient formulaic. Thank you for a thought-provoking commentary about one of the latest in the “do-this-and-you’ll-be-blessed” genre.

    Oh, and before anyone wonders, I catch myself doing the same thing … my putting on the armor every day tradition being one of them. Some mornings, I realize — driving to work — yikes! I didn’t spend time with the Lord. So I say a few trite words to Him and then “put on the armor”. Not that the armor is wrong or bad or anything like that, but it’s not a mantra which one should repeat for protection and blessing.

    Being human. Wow…

    • Linda:

      Your honesty is refreshing and convicting. You’re right. This belief crosses all denominational lines–and maybe all faiths. The ironic thing is that these formulas make us feel safe but at best put us at a distance from our Protector.

      Thanks for your response and may God speak to you when you are least expecting it.


  2. david1963

    Why have so few “seekers” become finders? 7.7.10

    When we are ready, “God Himself” will take the final step in our return to “Her.”

    Jesus would tell us we are not ready as long as we follow the “Ego-mind” (The Devil). Truth is known Not “thought” about. Doubt is what poisons truth. Truth is what you Are. You can remember truth as you put aside doubt (fear). You are loved beyond any doubt the Ego can “think” about, and You know this deep “within” and that is why to follow the teachings of a man like Jesus we must do as he says and DO as he tells us to do; “GO-WITHIN.” This is why Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and other man made Temples are filled with “lost souls” they do not follow the teachings of the true founders. As soon as the Devil or Ego tries to “organize” the Word of “God” all true meaning is forgotten or lost.

    Doubt/fear is to the Ego as certainty/Love is to the child of “God”. It makes no difference what form doubt comes in. It is all time consuming and unnecessary. Time is the trap to eternity. Eternity is Now, not some far off “time in the future”. You can free your self of time and step into eternity as soon as you no longer doubt/FEAR anything.

    Be certain of your awakening (Salvation from the world) and it will be so.

    What “Path” are you on? If you do not know what “Path” you are on any “Path” will take you there. You need to be clear about one thing and here it is:

    JESUS was Never speaking about an “AFTER DEATH HEAVEN” He was telling you, me , us, and EVERYONE who would listen that; The Kingdom of Heaven or The kingdom of God is NOW. He told us forget about death, “Let the dead burry there dead!”

    Also be clear about this Hell:

    JESUS was never talking about an “AFTER DEATH HELL.” He was telling us, We are in Hell (Fear, Guilt, Worry, Etc…) as long as we allow the Devil to run our lives via “Our THOUGHTS.”

    Jesus was and is Now (Via the “Christ consciousness within“) teaching all those who will “listen” in spirit that The Kingdom of Heaven is Now. We are “Sleeping” in our own desires, Fears and wants and can not SEE or HEAR what “Your father in heaven” has presented for us NOW!

    Fear is used to control You even if it comes in the form of the TV, Bible, Koran, Torah, sickness or dis-ease.


    Whom ever is reading this “Wake-Up” to the control you lost by “having allowed” by means of fear to cast the shadow over your “Garden of Eden or Paradise or Heaven” or what ever you are looking for.

    What are you really looking for? Really?

    You are looking for a complete PEACE OF MIND without fear of any kind. How do I know what You are looking for??? Because the Holy Spirit tells every One who asks. Ask, seek and it will be shown to you. The Devil say’s IAM WRITE and you ARE wrong. That my Brothers and Sisters is INSANE and the reason for so many “DIFFERENT BELIEF’S.”

    I will leave you with this:

    The More You Surrender, (ego); The More You Remember, (“God”/Love).

    NEVER FEAR THE “HOLY SPIRIT, GOD, ALLAH, JESUS, YOUR-true-SELF, LOVE, DEATH, LIFE, No FOOD, No SHELTER, No CLOTHING we could add more but You get the Spiritual message here.

    Become One with CHRIST, and as Jesus tells us all; “FEAR NOT CHILD OF GOD!”

    YOU reading this are a CHILD OF LOVE!

    You were created in Love, by Love to Be Love.

    Fear NADA!



    more to follow…..

    • Wow, David. I was unsure whether to publish this because it goes so far afield. Rather than being a conversation about the given blog entry and topic, it seems to be your views about God/Jesus/Religion/Etc. in general.
      You have some valid points. Fear is a lack of faith and very destructive.
      And I will grant you your interpretation of Jesus’ message about heaven and hell. But I don’t agree. Try reading Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God” for a very good study of Jesus’ teaching on kingdom, heaven and hell and life here on earth.
      Finally, you seem a bit dogmatic about what you believe and what others don’t. You have that right, but we would prefer all our conversations here reflect a bit more give and take.


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