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The Prayer of Jabez, Its Principle, and Paul
In the recent past, I’ve heard numerous media preachers and Bible teachers make reference to “the prayer of Jabez.” In my Bible reading I recalled a Bible person with that name, and looking him up in a concordance I re-read what is here stated:
1 Chron. 4:9 And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow.
1 Chron. 4:10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep [me] from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.
Scanning the above text one finds some interesting facts and probably things that could develop into deeper applications. However, such would be the case in most Scriptures that we might study, specially as we remember Paul’s teaching from Romans 15:4:
Rom. 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Within the past month a book was placed in my hands entitled: The Prayer of Jabez with the subtitle: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. The book is authored by Bruce Wilkinson, founder and president of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries. The book is published by Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, Oregon, and carries a copyright date of 2000. The back cover of this book offers impressive advertisements of its contents: “Do you want to be extravagantly blessed by God? Are you ready to reach for the extraordinary? To ask God for the abundant blessings He longs to give you? Join Bruce Wilkinson to discover how the remarkable prayer of a little-known Bible hero can release God’s favor, power, and protection. You’ll see how one daily prayer can help you leave the past behind–and break through to the life you were meant to live.”
The four parts of Jabez’s prayer, in one sentence, will be reviewed in what I will call the Pauline perspective, and then the reader will be able to make his own conclusions as to what is the real breakthrough to the blessed life.
JABEZ AND PAIN, PAUL AND SUFFERING
The Hebrew word Jabez means: “to grieve, or be sorrowful.”1 The text of 1 Chronicles 4:9 explains how this name came to be, as Jabez’s mother “bare him with sorrow,” and therefore called his name: Jabez, i.e. sorrow, or pain. In order to memorialize whatever pain/sorrow she had, Jabez’s name would forever remind the son of what his mother experienced. However, as part of the Prayer of Jabez, he asks that “it would not grieve me.” The word grieve here is italicized because its the same Hebrew word translated sorrow in verse 9, and is from the root word Jabez. Observe this interesting quote: “The reason of this is probably that the vow had acquired importance sufficient to make it worthy of being handed down only from God’s having so fulfilled his wish, that his life became a contradiction of his name; the son of sorrow having been free from pain in life, and having attained to greater happiness and reputation than his brothers.”2
Therefore, God was faithful in responding to Jabez’s request if for no other reason than that his name [sorrow] was reversed in his life and his reputation outshined that of his peers.
Now, by comparison, let’s look at Paul the apostle. Shortly after his Damascus’ road conversion, it was told to Ananias by the Lord:
Acts 9:16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
If ever there was a man who suffered for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ it was Paul. And yet, throughout that life of pain, sorrow, and suffering, we hear from his lips and pen words like the following:
2 Cor. 12:8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
2 Cor. 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Cor. 12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
Phil. 1:29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
Paul was not named sorrowful as was Jabez by his mother. Rather Paul was permitted to bear the name of Jesus Christ among the Gentile world with great suffering by God’s choice. Jabez was successful in reversing his reputation/name [i.e. sorrow] in his lifetime and this was accomplished by God for him. Paul planted the seed of the gospel of the grace of God as Christ’s apostle by means of great suffering so that we who follow may be pointed to that same sustaining grace of God, and God of all grace.
I. POINT #1 OF JABEZ’S PRAYER
“And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed…” 1 Chronicles 4:9a.
The author of The Prayer of Jabez has been praying this prayer for over 30 years and attributes it, and God’s answer thereto, to having revolutionized his life and ministry above anything else. It is certainly not my, nor anyone’s, responsibility to deny results from this prayer of Jabez. What we do need to address is the legitimate components of this prayer, yes, the principle that it has been allowed to become by virtue of its supposed results. The Prayer of Jabez points out that this first part of his prayer evidences a desire in a believer to reach for God’s fullest blessing in his life. Nothing less says the author, will do.
What could be more commendable than to ask God daily to bless us? If we were living back in Jabez’s day, his prayer would be most appropriate and commendable. Israel, in that time of her history, knew little of God’s blessing due to national spiritual erosion and disobedience to Moses’ Law. And what kind of blessings was Jabez asking of God and expecting from Him? Surely these would be blessings consistent with God’s covenant promises to Israel.
Now in regard to asking God today for blessing, and even a blessing indeed, how does this resonate or harmonize with Paul’s teachings? Paul does speak of blessing, in fact he speaks of blessings. In fact he added some very critical words to this word blessing in Ephesians 1:3:
Eph. 1:3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly [places] in Christ:
Note the added words that Paul places in this matter of blessing: he writes of “blessings” plural, and to this he adds “spiritual.” And to these Paul adds: “all.” Therefore, Paul informs the believer today that “all spiritual blessings” are available to those “in Christ.” Observe also that Paul qualifies these blessings as being related to heaven. This is where the believer is seated with Christ as per Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3:1. However, there’s one major additional fact to note here in Ephesians 1:3! We are not instructed to ask, beg, nor pray for these! We are rather told that we have already been blessed [i.e. past tense verb]; it’s not a future expectation, but a past accomplishment by God on our behalf.
When I read the book, The Prayer of Jabez, and especially that section on asking God to bless me, I was in great expectation that the author would surely lead us eventually to the truth of Ephesians 1:3. But I was disappointed. Unless I overlooked it, there was not one reference in the book to Ephesians 1:3 and the all spiritual blessings that the believer already possesses in Christ. Is it possible then, that this prayer of Jabez-emphasis is something better or beyond the all spir-itual blessings in Christ? If this prayer of Jabez-emphasis is not something better than what the believer already possesses in Christ, then is it as good or equal to it? Where is one today to place the emphasis in his praying? Should the pattern and principle be Jabez or Paul? Should we pray to the God of Israel or to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as per Ephesians 1:3?
What right does a believer have to ask God for blessings which he already possesses in Christ? Isn’t this tantamount to ignoring what has been clearly recorded for our faith obedience?
And just what might be some of these “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ?” One does not have to leave the immediate context of Ephesians 1 to find some of these spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: observe:
1) Chosen in him before the foundation of the world, 1:4
2) Holy and without blame before him, 1:4
3) In love predestinated unto adoption by Christ, to himself, 1:5
4) To the praise of the glory of his grace, 1:6
5) Accepted in the beloved (One), 1:6
6) In Him, redemption, forgiveness, according to the riches of his grace, 1:7
7) He has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 1:8
8) Made know to us the mystery (secret) of His will, as purposed in himself, 1:9
And more follows in chapter one of Ephesians. In fact, the first three chapters of Ephesians could well be titled: “Some of the all spiritual blessings we have in heavenly places in Christ.”
Another point from the book is that the believer is expected to “ask” from God according to Matthew 7:2 and James 4:2. And, once again, Paul is overlooked in this emphasis and the contexts of these two cited passages are not explained.
The book makes this statement on page 29: “His kindness in recording Jabez’s story in the Bible is proof that it’s not who you are, or what your parents decided for you, or what you were `fated’ to be that counts. What counts is knowing who you want to be and asking for it.” Now, lets suppose we could find a text that says the believer is complete in Christ. That all the fulness of God resides in Christ, and that the believer in Christ today is filled full in Christ. Would it be right for us, then, to pray that we be complete in Christ? Surely to so pray would be in ignorance of what we had found in Scripture and what God had already said we had/were in Christ. Well, such a text does exist–see Colossians 2:9,10. Who could want more than what we already are and have in Christ? Wouldn’t it be better to ask God to help us understand what all this is and means, rather than for us to decide what we want to be and then asking Him for it?
II. POINT #2 OF JABEZ’S PRAYER
“…and enlarge my coast,” 1 Chronicles 4:10.
“The next part of the Jabez prayer–a plea for more territory–is where you ask God to enlarge your life so you can make a greater impact for Him.3
This chapter deals with what the author calls: the Jabez appointments, the Jabez opportunities, or Operation Jabez. All of these are really challenges to one’s faith to ask God to do more and greater things in one’s life and ministry.
Wilkinson suggests that “the highest form of Jabez’s prayer for more territory might sound something like:
“O God and King, please expand my opportunities and my impact in such a way that I touch more lives for Your glory. Let me do more for You.”4
What troubles me about Chapter 3, Living Large for God, is that no reference is made therein, even by way of example or illustration, to the ministry of the apostle Paul. Nor is there reference made to Paul’s grace teaching, which [today] is God’s highest level of motivational and instructional dynamic for living large for God!
To fortify and support this Pauline dynamic for “Living Large for God,” we want to look at just one example from Paul’s teachings and how he applied this to his own life. This is the simple but profound principle of [what we’ll call here] Grace in Service.
One of the biggest, if not the largest, words in God’s vocabulary today is: Grace! We live in what the Holy Spirit calls “the dispensation of the grace of God,” Ephesians 3:2:
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
To dramatize the change that God has made from His previous dispensation, Paul wrote that we are no longer under the Law but under Grace, Romans 6:14,15:
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
Today, grace not only is God’s factor in saving people, but also His educating feature for those who become saved, Titus 2:11,12:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
Paul teaches in his 13 letters a principle of grace that is the prime factor in the believer’s service for Christ. We’ll cite here three major texts and comment on them in order:
2 Cor. 6:1 We then, [as] workers together [with him], beseech [you] also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
1 Cor. 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
1 Cor. 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which [was bestowed] upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
2 Cor. 9:8 And God [is] able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all [things], may abound to every good work:
What does Paul mean, not to receive the grace of God in vain? Surely he’s not talking of saving-grace, for none can receive that in vain; one is either saved by grace or he isn’t! The context makes it plain that Paul is here talking about grace in service, which all too often is received by believers in vain. Paul offers himself as one who did not receive God’s grace in vain [see 1 Corinthians 15:10 above]. Grace in service motivated and moved Paul to labor more abundantly than they all! Just who in context might have been they all? Paul is referring to those listed who witnessed Christ in resurrection [as per 1 Corinthians 15:5-8]. In other words, one apostle of the Gentiles, motivated by grace, out-labored the Twelve apostles. Now, Paul makes it plain here, that it was not he “…but the grace of God which was with me.” To whom does God point the Church to emulate this matter of grace in service? The Holy Spirit guided Paul in writing these things to the Gentile churches so that in following Paul we’d actually be imitating [the] Christ Who the apostle emulated, see 1 Corinthians 11:1:
Be ye followers of me, even as I also [am] of Christ.
Now, for the third major text [above]: 2 Corinthians 9:8. God is able to make all grace abound…God starts with grace, then He adds all, and now He has all grace. But He’s not finished with it on behalf of the believer; He makes this all grace abound. And, as we receive this in our service for Him and He through us, we then have all sufficiency in all things and abound unto all good works. Now this is really Living Large for God, and doing it squarely on the solid foundation of Pauline grace in service.
Please understand, Jabez lived large for God in his time and under the dispensation of the Law regarding the God of Israel. But we today have much greater principles and foundations for doing this by grace. Therefore, would it not seem below God’s standards today to reach back under the shadowy past of the Law dispensation for principles to live large for God in the present era of the glory of His grace?
III. POINT #3 OF JABEZ’S PRAYER
“…and that thine hand might be with me…” 1 Chronicles 4:10.
This part of Jabez’s prayer is said to demonstrate the idea of dependence upon God, His power and presence, according to author Bruce Wilkinson. He suggests that often in a given endeavor for God the believer eventually comes to the place where he realizes his abilities and resources have worn thin and spiritual panic sets in:
“Maybe the new ministry opportunities you prayed for and received are turning out to require a person with much more ability than you will ever have.
“You have taken up an armload of God’s blessings, marched into new territory…and stumbled into overwhelming circumstances. When believers find themselves in this kind of unexpected quandary, they often feel afraid. Misled. Abandoned. A little angry. I did….”5
This feeling of inadequacy is what one is supposed to experience, Wilkinson found out, and therefore cites this as the reason why Jabez asked for God’s hand now upon him. And, in his book, this becomes the title of chapter four: The Touch of Greatness.
Just what is this touch of greatness from God? And how does one feel/experience the hand of God on the believer? Wilkinson seems to answer these questions by the one word: dependence. Dependence, of course, upon God.
Again we are hearing truth that is applicable to every dispensation of God. From Adam to the present dispensation of grace, God has always expected man to depend upon Him, by faith. The very essence of grace teaching demonstrates that God has done it all [in the spiritual area of our Salvation and need], and desires to have the believer experientially prove this in his or her daily walk with Him. Well then, if this be so, the current chapter may stand on its own and needs no critique in reference to applying further Pauline teaching.
IV. POINT #4 OF JABEZ’S PRAYER
“…Oh, that you would keep me from evil…” 1 Chronicles 4:10.
Chapter five of The Prayer of Jabez is entitled: “Keeping the Legacy Safe.” The issue here is to be kept from evil, or an encounter with the evil [one] i.e. the devil. The author reasons that since Jabez has asked for God’s blessing [and obviously received it], and he has asked for his borders to be enlarged [and obviously received it], he well knew that in such times of success evil would be lurking to defeat him. This is summed up in the chapter with the words: The Perils of Spiritual Success. This is proven by the author pointing to many Christian leaders who at the pinnacle of their success succumbed to temptation and ultimately dropped out of ministry. It is stated that this is an accepted rule of thumb, “In fact, if your experience is anything but that, be concerned.”9
This matter of being kept from evil is cited as part of the model prayer Jesus gave his followers [Wilkinson’s words on page 67]… “`And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’ (Matthew 6:13).” Surely most believers would want to follow the words of Jesus, and in most cases they do with regard to repeating this [so called Lord’s] prayer, in Matthew 6:9-13.
But what really causes confusion here is to read carefully all of the above verses and note that the prayer asks the Father for His Kingdom in heaven to come to earth. Paul tells the Church today we are already seated with Christ in heaven and awaiting Christ to take us there, Ephesians 2:6 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17,
Eph. 2:6 And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus:
1 Thes. 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
1 Thes. 4:17 Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Further, this model prayer of Matthew 6:9-13 requires of those praying that they forgive others if they would be forgiven. The implication is: if one doesn’t forgive others, God will not forgive him! How different this is from Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 2:13,
Eph. 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Col. 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
In these two verses Paul makes plain that, under grace, God has already forgiven the believer all sins. We do not pray to receive forgiveness nor must we today forgive in order to be forgiven.
Surely, the context then of this Matthew 6:9-13 model prayer demonstrates that prayer is directed for Israel in yet a coming day when Christ will return to earth with that expected Kingdom.
But might not this part of Jabez’s prayer to be kept from evil and that part of Christ’s Kingdom prayer [in Matthew 6:9-13] mentioning the same be found “parallel”10 to our present dispensation of grace? If we could find a text from Paul where this concept of praying to be kept from the evil one [i.e. the devil], it might prove helpful. What The Jabez Prayer makes its emphasis is not Paul’s direct teaching of grace. Therefore, if and when Paul is cited/quoted it’s almost as an accommodation or as another possible resource, not in any sense showing that his teaching is the norm and standard under grace today.
Some Pauline Teachings About the Evil One:
1. Eph. 6:11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Eph. 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places].
We don’t find in the [above] verses the words “evil one” but surely the references to the devil and the evil day and God’s protection [whole armour of God] against this spiritual wickedness are legitimate synonyms. The point in this context of Ephesians 6:10-18 is that God has equipped the believer under grace to stand against the attacks of our enemy Satan.
2. 2 Thes. 3:3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep [you] from evil.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:3, we have a similar Greek text to Matthew 6:13 with the use of the words: “the evil,” and therefore the word “one,” may be added. Therefore, Paul says that the Lord will keep us from “the evil one.” Here, it’s a stated fact. Not something to be asked or to be prayed. One cannot help but compare [i.e. contrast] Jabez’s prayer: “…and that thou wouldest keep me from evil,” with Paul’s declared statement of fact: “the Lord will keep you from [the] evil [one].”
Perhaps this is the key and crucial point in The Prayer of Jabez book: that what the author sees in Jabez’s prayer that should result in a larger life for the believer today, we already possess in greater abundance in Christ, as clearly stated by Paul. Why is this so hard for the Church to see? Why has it been relegated to less than front page in our best selling books among evangelicals today?
God has placed the revelation of His grace in the present dispensation in the writings of the Apostle Paul. The apostle made every effort to acknowledge this God given emphasis in his writings and ministry as he laid stress on his apostleship; see Romans 11:13:
Rom. 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
V. POINT #5 OF JABEZ’S PRAYER
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, see 1 Chronicles 4:9.
Chapter 6 of the Prayer of Jabez book is entitled: Welcome To God’s Honor Roll. Jabez is shown to be one of God’s favorites as God honored him beyond his peers. “Simply put, God favors those who ask. He holds back nothing from those who want and earnestly long for what He wants.”11
The author sees in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith chapter “ordinary easy-to-overlook people who had faith in an extraordinary, miraculous God and stepped out to act on that faith.”12
The point of this chapter seems to be that God’s highest reward is wrapped up in the principle of Jabez’s prayer and even Paul is cited as proof that this should be pursued as in Philippians [which by the way Wilkinson says was Paul’s last epistle!]13 3:14,
Phil. 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Surely Wilkinson is correct: God desires that believers earnestly long for what He wants. But is the prayer of Jabez the essence and totality of what God wants from believers today under grace? Isn’t the prayer of Jabez that the believer would enjoy blessing and expanded/enlarged borders and deliverance from the evil one? When we analyze these components, it appears that the benefactor here becomes the one praying Jabez’s prayer. And we understand that God has always desired to bless those who would believe Him and obey His Word; see Hebrews 11:6:
Heb. 11:6 But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
God’s Desire and Will for the Church Today
The Jabez Prayer places an emphasis which to me is really out of focus with what God desires first and foremost today. God’s prime desire today centers in and around what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:15-23,
Eph. 1:15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,
Eph. 1:16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;
Eph. 1:17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
Eph. 1:18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
Eph. 1:19 And what [is] the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
Eph. 1:20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set [him] at his own right hand in the heavenly [places],
Eph. 1:21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
Eph. 1:22 And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church,
Eph. 1:23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Just to read these verses and contemplate what Paul is telling us that God the Father wants is awe-inspiring, is it not?! Actually, what we have here is part of Paul’s prayer for these Ephesians. And, since we’re dealing with the subject of prayer in this article, why not look at one of the classics available from the pen of Paul himself. How many believers have ever prayed this prayer? And if not, why not? Wouldn’t we all agree this would certainly be what God the Father desires and wants?
The believer will not go astray by praying the prayers of Paul which are as equally inspired of the Holy Spirit as is the prayer of Jabez. Therefore, the issue is not which is more inspired but which is God’s emphasis today in this dispensation of His grace and the fulness of the glorified Christ.
VI. POINT #6 OF THE JABEZ PRAYER
“And God granted him that which he requested…” 1 Chronicles 4:10.
Wilkinson’s final chapter 7, is entitled: Making Jabez Mine. He challenges his readers to make the prayer of Jabez a treasured and life long habit. He suggests 6 steps to be followed, some each day, some once a week, others involving one’s family, friends, and local church. From the author’s personal experience, the Jabez Prayer and Principle is legitimate having contributed to his success in his personal life and ministry with Walk Thru the Bible, of which he is the founder and president. One cannot argue with the success of his ministry which he attributes to “God’s grace and Jabez praying….”14
Obviously Wilkinson does not suggest that all who [as does he] pray the Jabez prayer, will experience the ministry successes as he has. But, none the less, one cannot miss that he has written The Jabez Prayer as a norm and standard for other believers to follow.
My thesis in this critique of the book, The Jabez Prayer, has been that God’s principle in prayer and the breaking through to the blessed life is to be found in Paul’s letters to the Church, the Body of Christ. When we realize what the Jabez Prayer asks believers today to pray and practice, and when we realize what Paul’s grace teachings claim that believers already possess in Christ, it should be easy to respond accordingly in faith.
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