There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.
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That last paragraph is taken right off the back of my copy of a book published fifteen years ago. In case anyone is wondering, that short book is also the title of today’s devotional: The Prayer of Jabez. Within eight years, that little book had passed over ten million in sales. Whether or not anybody else got rich by following Bruce Wilkinson’s recommendation to repeat this prayer every day, he surely did. He also had his share of critics and a couple anti-Prayer-of -Jabez had their turn on the bestseller list so they can’t really complain about the success of their complaining. But all criticism aside, what actually was it that Jabez was praying?
React: I will do my best to summarize that four part prayer in not ninety-two pages but rather four paragraphs:
1) Oh that You would bless me – Jabez asked God to do something God wants to do for all of us. He longs to, and does, bless us every day in ways beyond counting or measuring. I could demonstrate this with scripture after scripture but I will instead leave you with just one He promises to His followers: The Lord your God will then make you successful in everything you do. He will give you many children and numerous livestock, and he will cause your fields to produce abundant harvests, for the Lord will again delight in being good to you as he was to your ancestors.
2) Oh that You would… expand my territory – Literally, Multiply my boundary. Jabez was praying for an expansion of influence. He wanted his life and his decisions to ever impact more and more people. This is the part of his prayer that I think is easiest to be misunderstood. Yes, in Hebrew culture riches was tied up in the land and in effect he was praying for God to make him rich. But if that was all it was about, there are more appropriate ways to word it. I see this not as “make my business successful” but rather “make my business successful so that it can impact as many people as possible.” The reason God answered this part of the prayer is tied up in the next part.
3) Please be with me in all that I do – Jabez wanted God to walk with him throughout his life. Be near me, God. This is a prayer that God will always, without fail, answer. It demonstrates that Jabez’s heart and motivations for this prayer are completely pure and God honoring. Those who just want to get rich for riches sake, or for power and pleasure, don’t truly want God’s presence in everything they do. His presence has a tendency to make us uncomfortable at times.
4) And keep me from all trouble and pain – literally keep me from adversity (or evil) and grief (or worry). This first word is used very frequently in the Old Testament and very often refers to ethical evil or evil persons. The second word speaks of the grief God had with the generation of Noah (Gen 6:6). It is used twice in Nehemiah when after Ezra had read the law and the people realized how far they had wandered from it. Nehemiah is telling the people not to be grieved for this is a holy day, a day for celebration. (Neh 8:10-11) In Psalms and Isaiah, it is used to tell how Israel rebelled against God and grieved His Spirit (Ps 78:40, Isaiah 63:10) More often than not, this word carries with it moral connotations. I view what Jabez is praying for here as protection against those who could morally influence Him and also those ways he might grieve God or others through his actions.
Oh God, that You would bless me and increase my influence. In everything I do, be with me. Protect me against evil situations and keep me committing from evil actions.
How could God not honor this prayer?
God, I ask that You would bless me. I pray that You would ever enlarge my borders. Increase my influence that I might impact more and more people for You. In every thing that I say and do, be near me. Be with me every minute of every day and help me to always be aware and alert to Your presence. Keep me from those people and situations that mean me harm and also keep me from the temptation to harm others through my words and actions. In Your name I pray, Amen.