One of the most popular “discoveries” in Scripture of all time has been the prayer that Jabez prayed in the fourth chapter of the Old Testament book of I Chronicles.
His prayer request was obviously noteworthy, or the Holy Spirit would not have included it in the Old Testament. But for what reason was it noteworthy? Here’s what the passage says:
“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.” – I Chronicles 4:9-10
To summarize his petition to God …
- bless me
- enlarge my territory (i.e., prosper me)
- let your hand be with me
- keep me from harm so that …
- I will be free from pain
Jabez asked for God’s blessing so he himself could lead a painless life.
Contrast that with King David’s request in Psalm 67:7: “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear Him.”
King David asked for God’s blessing so that all the ends of the earth would fear God.
Jabez prayed for a life with no challenges. He wanted to be blessed at all times. He wanted prosperity. He wanted to always have God’s hand right there with him, and he wanted to be kept from all harm, because he wanted to be free of pain.
I think that if Jabez had been born in our generation, he would have blended in beautifully with the average Christian.
When I am in prayer meetings, I hear people praying that God would bless them and those they love. They ask God to prosper their plans or activities. They pray for a sense of God’s presence. They pray that God would keep all harm from them. It all boils down to a longing to live life without pain of any type.
Jabez’s prayer is such a perfect reflection of the American prayer life that when his verses were “discovered” lurking there in the Old Testament, they were made into a book that became a tremendous best seller here in the United States.
Did you notice that Jabez’s prayer was all about himself? The focus of his five requests is “me, my, me, me, and I” (in that order).
Those five sentences are a template of avoidance. “God, I don’t like painful experiences!” “I don’t like harm to befall me.” “I don’t like to feel like you have abandoned me, God.” “I don’t want my business to fail or my efforts to be unsuccessful.” “And I certainly don’t want to feel like my life is cursed or at least lacking all the blessings that God could give.”
I get all that. I want to avoid all of those things, too! But just when I am tempted to make “Jabez” my go-to prayer, a thought strikes me. Where else is Jabez mentioned in the Bible? And the answer sweeps a cold chill over my eagerness to pray his prayer, because he is never heard from again!
There are no heroic deeds by which Israel remembered Jabez. He is not said to contribute to the lineage of Jesus or even to the people of Israel. In an entire chapter about who gave birth to whom, Jabez sticks out like a sore thumb: he asked for a challenge-free life, and God granted his request. But …
- Children are a challenge, and he is not described as having any children.
- Hard-earned victories are a challenge, and we read nothing about any victories.
- Heroic exploits are a challenge. He does no heroic exploits.
- Mighty, miracle-working faith in the face of insurmountable odds is a challenge.
Jabez got NONE of that. He wanted to be left alone, and that is exactly how he was left. Alone.
He got what he asked for, but he had no impact on the world’s history. Zero!
But King David? Oh, he knew pain. He didn’t always have an easy life. He certainly didn’t avoid all harm. But David changed the world!
When we get to Jabez, we just turn the page. Nothing else to learn here.
The life — and prayer — of Jabez, bland and unremarkable as it was, reminds me of a verse in Psalm 106: “God gave them the desires of their hearts, but He sent leanness into their souls.”
In the sunset of their years, God’s passionate followers could use their scars as mnemonic devices to tell their stories. Jabez’s spiritual war stories were that he dodged the draft.
If we only had the foresight to realize what we are asking!!
So why in the world did God say yes to Jabez’s request? Only God knows the answer to that question, but I have a suspicion. Sometimes when God says yes, it is not because our request is His preferred will for our lives. Sometimes it is because He knows that it is the shortest path to learning the painful lesson that we desperately need.
How many times in the Gospels do we hear Jesus praying, “Bless me, Father!”? By my count, zero. I acknowledge that Jesus doubtless prayed many things that we know nothing about.
But seriously: Did Jesus EVER pray that He would get to live a life without any pain or opposition? That doesn’t even sound like Him, does it? In fact, having arrived at the evening when He would be handed over to a torturous death on the cross, Jesus provided the perfect example of how we should live. He acknowledged there in the garden of Gethsemane that, humanly speaking, everything in Him wanted to avoid the pain that was looming. “My Father,” He said. “If it’s possible, let this cup (of suffering) pass from me.” But then He turned away from the mental space where Jabez spent his entire life and said in effect, “Nevertheless, don’t do what I wish would happen. Do what You know is best to happen.”
Jabez prayed a prayer worth noting, but the most noteworthy things about it were that it was all about himself and that he was asking to opt out of the great struggles that everyone else experienced. He got the sideline pass he requested, but in doing so, he slipped out the back door of history into the night.
Should we pray the prayer of Jabez? If it is to have any value in our lives, we need to acknowledge that it is incomplete, and finish it — EVERY time — with the sentiment of the Lord’s phrase, “Nevertheless, please prioritize your will for my life over my own.”