The Prayer of Jabez
David gave this talk at Jubilee Church (Coventry) in 2018, as a one-off for their 20th Anniversary. Click here to download it.
It's a privilege to speak at Jubilee's 20th anniversary - I was very much involved in the planting of the church through the Midlands Initiative. It was a God initiated project to which we responded in obedient faith. I also spoke at a previous anniversary (the 10th I think!) and am so encouraged to do so at the 20th and see something of what God has done among you and through you.
Today we're looking at prayer of Jabez – a little known character from the Old Testament. His story occupies just 2 verses in the whole Bible. He’s never mentioned again; he is not quoted anywhere else as a person of faith; yet what he prays is a profound and powerful example that can change our lives. I believe this prayer is to be an important lesson for individual believers here but also to be prayed by you as a church going forward from this point.
THE BACKGROUND STORY
The people of Israel and Judah who made up the, sadly, divided people of God in the Old Testament, had been taken into captivity away from their land by 2 empires, Assyria and Babylon. After 70+ years a small number had been allowed to come back to the land of Israel. The people needed to be encouraged because of their smallness, that they were part of the history of God’s people and also for many of them, they needed to know that they could return to their family land.
Therefore, a “chronicler” (a word that describes writers of historical events in order) spent 2 books setting out their history starting with their family tree or genealogies going right back to the beginning of time. If you're reading through the Bible, the first 9 chapters to us are pretty boring – just lists of names, most of whom we have never heard of. But into this long list of names the chronicler once or twice inserts something inspiring about one of the characters – including Jabez.
“Ashhur, the father of Tekoa, had two wives, Helah and Naarah; 6 Naarah bore him Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. These were the sons of Naarah. 7 The sons of Helah: Zereth, Izhar, and Ethnan. 8 Koz fathered Anub, Zobebah, and the clans of Aharhel, the son of Harum.9 Jabez was more honourable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” 10 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. 11 Chelub, the brother of Shuhah, fathered Mehir, who fathered Eshton. 12 Eshton fathered Beth-rapha, Paseah, and Tehinnah, the father of Ir-nahash. These are the men of Recah.” (1 Chronicles 4:5-12)
THE POWERFUL PRAYER
What does Jabez's prayer in verses 9 and 10 teach?
God’s idea of honour
Jabez was more honourable. Why? Because of his family line? No – he was more honourable than his brothers. Birth and upbringing give honour in the world but not in God’s “upside down” Kingdom. Because of his great accomplishments? No – we’ve no idea what he accomplished. Because of his background? No – all we know about that was that he got his name, Jabez, meaning “pain” or “misery” because his birth was even more painful and difficult than most, and it may have been a miracle that he and his mother survived – but he had to live with this dreadful name.
So, why was he honoured? Because he realised all his deficiency and weakness and therefore cried out to God in prayer. Honour in God’s eyes is not boasting about ourselves, not pushing ourselves forward but to be so needy and dependent that we ask God because we can do nothing. Jesus said “For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). It therefore puts us all in the same place – nobody better than another – but each dependent on what God can do for us and through us. He was particularly honoured because God graciously answered his prayer. “God granted what he asked”.
Jabez asked for blessing
It sounds a bit selfish – why didn’t he pray for other people? – “Oh that you would bless me”. He was putting himself in God’s hands, demonstrating dependence and leaving with God what the blessing would be.
In Western culture, we don’t fully understand the power of “blessing”. In many cultures, it is a substantial idea. In the East, I’m often asked to “bless” people. It carries and almost tangible sense of power, prosperity etc. I’ve been reading "The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series)" by Bruce Wilkinson, David Kopp, and wanted to share this quote:
"To bless in the biblical sense means to ask for or to impart supernatural favour. When we ask for God’s blessing, we’re not asking for more of what we could get for ourselves. We’re crying out for the wonderful, unlimited goodness that only God has the power to know about or give to us”. Bruce Wilkinson.
Jabez left it to God as to what the blessings would be. This was not “prosperity gospel” where we are focusing on specific material blessings: "Instead, the Jabez blessing focuses like a laser on our wanting for ourselves nothing more and nothing less than what God wants for us."
Yet what God wants for us is often far more than we think we want for ourselves. However, to ask God to bless you at work, help your sales targets, give you wisdom as to what to say to patients as a doctor or nurse, blessing you with your teaching skills and being able to communicate well so that your pupils get it. Bless you with new orders or work opportunities. You carry the blessing of God as you ask him.
We can often think that asking for something is bad. I find it difficult to ask for a favour. Being brought up when I was, I was taught, “don’t ask”. Jesus commends asking. My friend, Edward Buria, tweeted at the beginning of the year – “2018 a year for the big ASKING! Solomon asked for Wisdom & was given! Hannah asked for a boy & was given! Jabez asked for Blessings & was given. Matthew 7:7 says Ask, Seek and Knock. And it will be done by your Father who is in Heaven.”
To ask exposes our need of God, and so ask for the blessing of God in all you do. In Scripture, when we are blessed, we bless others – pass on the favour of God – like promise to Abraham.
Jabez asked for enlargement
“Inheritance” was very important to Old Testament believers. The land belonged to God and He blessed families with the enjoyment of their part of it from generation to generation. Jabez was asking to benefit from more and more of what God had for him and his family.
What is our “inheritance” today in New Testament language? It is inheriting the promises of God – it is:
- Our salvation through Jesus Christ – offer that inheritance to those attending who have not yet experienced it – summarise the gospel.
- Our inheriting the promises of God to bless the world.
- Our inheriting the Kingdom - to take the rule of Jesus to the world.
That's my prayer for Jubilee Coventry: Enlarge this church’s inheritance Lord – may they influence more people in Coventry for the sake of your name. May the initiatives they have taken to bless the city be fruitful for the city, that the city may know God cares for them and so do the people of God. May the church be enlarged as they take these initiatives. May they reach more people in Coventry and may Christians have more influence for good. May people from this church affect more nations of the world. May this church be caught up in a desire to reach the nation and the nations. May this church that was born in a church planting movement give people for further church planting. May this church that has sent people to other nations be enlarged in influence by sending more. May they see conversion growth of great proportions here in Coventry. May it be so amongst students and long term Coventry people. I can pray – may my inheritance serving the nations grow in influence. You can all pray for more people you know to be influenced by the gospel.
Jabez asked for the presence of God to be with him
The “hand of the Lord” speaks of His power and presence accompanying what we do. eg.:
- “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.” Ezekiel 37:1.
- “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” Acts 11:21.
We can pray this every day for every task – not just church related but in everyday work – we are to carry the presence of God.
Jabez asked to be kept from evil or harm
This prayer involves a number of things. The word “harm” could equally be “evil” so:
- Protection from harm – it is good to do this. It doesn’t mean that we won’t ever fall ill or go through tragic circumstances but it is still right to pray for special protection as the children of God from harm and through difficulty and pain. Pray when doing a car journey or a plane journey. It is right to pray for this.
- To be delivered from temptation. Temptation is not sin but how we respond is. We have responsibility for what we do but we pray not to fall into sin.
- Overcoming the curse. Jabez identity would have been linked to his name – pain and misery. However, this was not his true inheritance – it was blessing as part of the people of God. Many suffer under the curse of words bringing failure etc – pray for such people.
Here's the prayer again:
“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!” (v 10).
“God granted what he asked” – Hallelujah!