The prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4 is remarkable, but not for the reasons it has often been celebrated in contemporary evangelicalism. In the year 2000 Bruce Wilkerson turned an obscure passage in the Old Testament into a runaway best seller that sold more than 2 million copies in just over a year. While it was wildly successful at pew level, many reviewers and Christian leaders criticised it for commending “vain repetitions” and for espousing a soft prosperity Gospel. The book focuses on Jabez’s prayer for God to bless him and enlarge his borders:
Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. (1 Chronicles 4:10 ESV)
Sounds like prosperity Gospel to me.
But is it?
Regardless of where the book went (I don’t recommend it; read a thorough review here), the prayer itself is worthy of further study. The name “Jabez” means “pain” in the original Hebrew. His mother gave him that name, the text says, “Because I bore him in pain.” (1 Chronicles 4:9 ESV)
The text mentions no father for Jabez so it would seem that he came into a broken world in a difficult way but the emphasis of the text seems to be that he prayed his way out of it.
Michael Wilcock says here, “He proved that the threat of evil can be overcome by believing prayer and the power of a prayer-answering God.”
This would have been an encouraging reminder to the original readers of 1 Chronicles. They too had come into a broken world in a difficult way and it seems that the Chronicler wanted to point them toward the way out:
Faith in a prayer answering God.
There are many people today in need of that reminder. There are many people today who have come into a very broken world in remarkably difficult ways. They feel trapped and powerless and afraid. The prayer of Jabez should remind them that there is a way out. There is a God who hears prayers and who does alter circumstances.
Your birth is not your destiny.
This world is not your Master.
There is a God in the heavens.
He is powerful.
He is merciful.
And he answers prayer.
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.
Michael Wilcock, The Message of Chronicles, ed. J. A. Motyer, The Bible Speaks Today. Accordance electronic ed. (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 33.