Tucked away in one of the more neglected books of the Bible, is a little prayer which is incredibly helpful for us today. It was prayed by a man we know almost nothing about; other than that he was a man blessed by God. Let’s look at Jabez’ prayer together, in 1 Chronicles 4: 9-10.
9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez,[c] saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10 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.
The Context of The Prayer
1 Chronicles is one of the history books of the Old Testament. It can be a little hard to get into, if you are new to the scriptures – and can’t see the immediate relevance of everything it records. It is absolutely worth persevering with though, even if it takes a little effort to unearth its treasures!
If you were to read the whole of the chapter that Jabez’ prayer is found in, you would immediately be struck by the fact that this little prayer is found hidden in the middle of a genealogy; that is a list of the family tree of this part of God’s people. There are 600 names listed in this book, many of which sound strange to us. Yet – they are recorded here, each one. It shows us two things.
Firstly it shows us that God knows all of His people by name. We have almost no biographical information about most of these characters, yet they are all known to God. God wants us to know that as His people He does not see us as just part of a vast crowd; but that He knows us by name. Everyone who has faith in Christ has their name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 13:18). We are not just an anonymous number to God – He knows us. I spoke to a young man recently who worked in a vast warehouse. “In this place, senior management get called by their names, middle management are given a number, but we’re just scanned in and out by a bar-code. No-one here knows my name.” No wonder he was unhappy! God’s Kingdom is vast, but you and I are known to God by our names.
Secondly these lists of people are meant to show us the continuity of God’s faithfulness to His people across the generations. Old Testament history comes to a thrilling finale when Jesus the Messiah is born to Mary. Matthew’s gospel begins with a genealogy, a family tree – linking Jesus back to promises made to Abraham, and the prophets.
These genealogies might seem a bit odd to us – but there is so much here for us to learn from them.
Who Prayed these words?
While most of the people in this list have no comment added alongside their place in the family-tree; Jabez is given the honor of having his prayer recorded, along with just one or two details about his life.
His mother had named him Jabez,[c] saying, “I gave birth to him in pain,” Is really about as much as we know. People have speculated about what pain his mother was in here. Was it a difficult birth? Was she bereaved as there is no mention of his father? Was she traumatized by circumstances? Some have argued that he was born with a disability. We actually don’t know. What we do know is that while babies are a blessing from God, they can arrive in the middle of all manner of circumstances. I spoke to someone yesterday who had been born during a bombing raid in World War II, for example. We do not know whether Jabez’ mother’s pain was physical, emotional, or psychological; but we do know that it was so defining at the time that she named her son in recognition of that pain.
We also know that Jabez grew to be an honorable man, who prayed. He clearly did not think that the circumstances of his birth and his rather troubling name, would define his life or his destiny. Rather, he was a man who called out to God, to redeem him from all these negative experiences and labels. Because God called Jabez, loved him and blessed him; he is remembered today not because of the suffering that marked his birth – but by his prayer.
As I write this, I am aware that some of you reading this are in pain. Yesterday I took a call from someone from church, who I have not seen since lockdown began. After a bad fall, she was in ongoing pain. Others of you I know are in emotional distress, confusion and difficulty. I pray that you will be like Jabez, in that you will not assume that the pain that marks your life means that God is not interested in you; or doesn’t care for you; but that you will turn to Him from the middle of your pain-marked life. People sometimes read the Bible assuming that the people God loves are those for whom life seems to be working out well. But stop and look; here is a special mention in scripture for a man whose name was virtually pain; and who turned to The Lord and was blessed! Don’t write yourself off, because The Lord has not!
Who was he praying to?
It may seem obvious, but this is such an important question to answer! A few years ago, a major US TV channel ran a series of programs about the importance of thankfulness for spiritual growth and wellbeing. The problem was, that at no point did they ever say who we should be thankful to! It was all so vague and formless, that it was more harmful than good. Jabez didn’t turn to the universe, he didn’t turn to the stars, or to foreign gods (like so many in Israel did when they were under pressure); rather 10 “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel.” That is so important – and instructive for us.
I love to imagine the people of Israel in the wilderness when Moses first taught them the book of Genesis. He must have thrilled them when he told them that ‘in the beginning God’; and then God said, “Let there be light!” In Egypt they would have seen many worshippers of ‘Ra’, the sun god. It’s as if Moses is saying, “Now let me tell you about the real God; the one who made that sun, they worship”. Our love, worship and devotion, along with our prayers are only directed to God!
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he said, “Our Father, who is in heaven…” (“The Lord’s Prayer”). Jesus tells us to address God our Father, only. The Bible also says, “5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people (1 Tim 2:5-6). That means that we do not pray through saints or priests, or any other intermediaries – we pray to The Father, in the name of Jesus the Son, as we are moved by The Holy Spirit! This is the same God, as the God of Israel that Jabez called out to.
What did he pray?
Jabez’s prayer is very helpful for us. It is worth memorising, and praying regularly to God. Don’t misuse it as if it were a mantra or magic charm that will bring good luck; that is an abuse of scripture. However, if you are willing to learn from this great prayer of scripture, then there are blessings to be found here, from The Lord.
Jabez prayed four things
- I pray that you would bless me.
When Jabez asks for God’s blessing, he’s not seeking some kind of lucky charm or good omens. Instead, he is asking that God would place His divine favor on every aspect of his life. This is not some sort of anonymous superstitious ritual that somehow manipulates spiritual forces to one’s favor; rather is it asking God Himself, to personally place his kind favor on your life. There is a world of difference between the pagan attempt to control spiritual forces to one’s advantage through rituals; and the Christian believer who comes humbly before their heavenly Father and asks for help!
Often in the Old Testament, God’s blessing was passed on from a father to a son, like Isaac did for Jacob in Genesis 27:27-29. Jabez, it seems did not have a father to speak a blessing over his life (leading some to speculate this his mother had been widowed while carrying him). Thankfully Jabez was not daunted, and cried out directly to God, “Oh that you would bless me”.
Stop and pray that now. Don’t pray to anyone or anything else other than the one, true Living God. And say this to Him:
“Oh Lord – please will you bless me?”
- Jabez asked God to enlarge his territory!
Some people are very wary of this part of Jabez’ prayer, thinking that he should have prayed to be content in all circumstances! Now, there is a time for being content in all circumstances – once we have sought The Lord and asked what he has for us! Remember that although the Apostle Paul learnt contentment in his difficulties, he also prayed three times for his troubles to be taken from him! He would have happily accepted healing from the thorn in the flesh, had God willed it. So, we should never hold back for asking God for His help, blessing and for our growth and prospering; while also contentedly accepting whatever answer He gives!
Often our problem is that we are too ready to accept our circumstances, when The Lord would wish to cause us to be restless for more blessing from Him. It is one thing to be content without great riches or the praise of people; but it is another thing altogether to content ourselves with spiritual mediocrity! If you are in a ministry or a church, pray that The Lord would enlarge your territory; more blessing, more glory, more conversions, more Spirit-filled disciples, more worship, praise and more influence for Christ in the world!
- “Let your hand be with me”
Jabez’ wants The Lord to know that He doesn’t merely want good “stuff” from God. He also wants God himself to be with Him. Let it be so for you and I too; that we do not seek to extract gifts from God; but that we want to embrace both the gift and the giver; to walk humbly with our God! So many ministries have gone horribly wrong when they have understood the ‘enlarge my territory’ part of the prayer – and sought growth, and buildings, influence and power; but not hungered after the presence of God Himself.
People of real spiritual depth, power and Christlikeness do not seek gifts from God, without seeking for God Himself. All those other things are tokens of His goodness, kindness, generosity and grace towards His people. What Jabez knew though, was that the great prize is God Himself.
- Jabez prayed, “And keep me from harm”
I think there is a delightful absence of presumption here from Jabez. He doesn’t look at his life, and all he has gained and assume that he’s earned it, and that he has an inalienable right to it. He seems to understand that everything he enjoys he does so under the grace and sovereignty of God.
We too, must learn this lesson – regardless of our age, income, status or health. All good things we have, are gifts from God.
Note too, that the word for ‘harm’ here is often translated (KJV), as “evil”, and that the devil and all his malevolent spiritual forces wish harm to come upon us, God’s people. The devil cannot harm God; so he will attempt to harm God’s children. We are not unaware of the devil’s schemes and will take up the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith; and resist him in Jesus name. Let us also pray, so that God’s protection rests over us, and the evil one is unable to bring us harm. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”, is how The Lord Jesus would phrase it himself.
The Lord answered Jabez’ prayer. He will answer yours too. Take a moment now to pray these words to The Lord.
“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.”