When Bruce Wilkinson’s book came out, The Prayer of Jabez was an obscure prayer by a relatively unknown bible character. The book vaulted both the man and the prayer to stratospheric heights – beyond the humble words uttered with hope. Then came along some good critiques, that were a caution to some of the loose language that Wilkinson intimated. And there were some harsh critiques of the author that didn’t really advance the discussion (in other words, I take it as de facto that Wilkinson would be inconsistent, hypocritical, and illogical… just like me. He doesn’t get a “pass” any more than I give myself one; but that is beside the point: sometimes criticism is designed to distract us from our own application and teachability).
Nevertheless, the Bible records such a person, Jabez, who prays such a prayer as this, and despite the critiques all the way around, I maintain there is no such thing as bad prayer; or to put it another way: “the only bad prayer is to no prayer at all.”
So what can we learn from this little prayer?
- If you don’t shoot – you won’t score – you will not have when you will not ask… so ask. But the simple ask is to be blessed – SO THAT WE WOULD BE ABLE TO BLESS OTHERS.
- Ask to enlarge the sphere of influence – which is Your sphere of influence – IN ORDER TO BLESS OTHERS.
- Ask for the hand of the Lord to be with you SO THAT THE LORD WOULD KEEP US FROM EVIL – AND SO THAT WE MAY NOT CAUSE PAIN.
To understand what I consider a strange end to this prayer, go back to how Jabez got his name. In verse 9 it says that “his mother named him saying, ‘because I gave birth to him in pain.'” Jabez is a play on words as his mother rearranged the root letters of the Hebrew word for pain (‘atsab), perhaps expressing the hope that this would undo the pain of his birth.
But why pray “to be free from causing pain”? Ron Kurtus explains that Jabez may have been wise enough to fear that receiving God’s blessings could result in falling into “the temptation that happens to many successful people, and that also evil people may not try to harm him.” Here is an allusion to the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Temptation and evil can lead a person to harm others, as well as ourselves. Thus, this is as big an “ask” as the petition for blessing; this is the prayer that asks to prevent doing harm or causing pain.
- So ask! Ask SO THAT YOU WOULD BE A BLESSING AND NOT A PAIN IN ORDER TO BLESS EVERYONE IN YOUR EVER ENLARGING SPHERE OF INFLUENCE to the glory of God and to the healing of many.
“Oh, that you would bless me indeed,
and enlarge my territory,
that Your hand would be with me,
and that You would keep me from evil,
that I may not cause pain!”
For an interesting contrast read “Spurgeon on Jabez.”