Wednesday, April 12, 2006


The Prayer of Jabez

“O 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.”

This prayer of Jabez is recorded in 1 Chronicles 4:10. It has been widely promoted through a series of big-selling books by Bruce Wilkinson as a model prayer for us, if we want to be prosperous, influential, or fruitful in ministry.

If we read with open eyes, we notice that “God granted his request.” This has been taken to mean that God is bound to grant the same request to anyone who says the prayer. The Chronicler, however, does not recommend that others pray in this way, much less promise that it guarantees success.

There are many prayers recorded in the pages of Scripture. In Genesis 17:18 Abraham prays, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing.” In Exodus 32:18 Moses prays, “Now show me your glory.” The tax collector in Jesus’ Luke 18:13 parable prays, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The Gerasenes in Mark 5:17 “began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” God granted all these requests.

How do we know which prayers we should make our own and which are merely specific to the stories in which they appear? Most people answer that question according to their own desires. We pray the ones that appeal to us and avoid the ones that don’t. (This is similar to how we handle the Bible’s recorded promises to other people: we put Jeremiah 29:11 on our walls, but not the parallel promise in Jeremiah 21:10.)

If a Bible prayer expresses well the intentions of our prayers, there is nothing wrong with using that quotation as our prayer. The same thing goes for material from other sources. If a Shakespearean quotation (or a line from a movie, or a nursery rhyme, or a prayer written in a book) expresses well the intentions of our prayers, we can use it as our prayer. However, this is not the same thing as placing extra confidence that God somehow is obligated to answer this prayer because someone in the Bible—or some holy person outside the Bible—used these words in a prayer.

The prayers in the Biblical Psalms were written to provide God’s people with words to express their thoughts and needs. We ought not approach them as magical formulas to use in superstitious ways, but as appropriate expressions for the various kinds of prayer we engage in. C. S. Lewis often reminded people that prayer is a request, not some kind of power over God.

The disciples approached Jesus in Luke 11 and asked for instructions in prayer. He did not answer, “When you pray, pray what Jabez prayed.” He gave them (and us) the model we know as The Lord’s Prayer.

Let’s read with our eyes open.

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