The Prayer of Jabez
During an uneventful time in Israel's history, a faithful man named Jabez prayed a simple, straightforward prayer and gained the favor and blessings of God. Now, a small book has prompted millions of saints and seekers to memorize and repeat the same prayer daily. After three thousand years of obscurity, Jabez has found surprising favor with the world.
So, what's the problem with promoting a Biblical prayer that God honored in His Word? After all, our Lord delights in the prayers of His saints -- all the daily thanks, praises and petitions that turn our hearts to Him in faith, worship and surrender. Using Bible verses as a basis for prayer and worship is a wonderful habit. Why be concerned?
Because this book -- not Jabez' prayer -- promises rewards from God that God doesn't promise in the Bible. While author Bruce Wilkinson enriches the meaning of Jabez' prayer in the rest of his book, the first part (many readers go no further) seems to put the book into the unbiblical realm of the "name it claim it" movement. Consider the opening words:
"Dear Reader, I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief--only one sentence with four parts--and tucked away in the Bible, but I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God....
Thousands of believers who are applying its truths are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis. Will you join me for a personal exploration of Jabez? I hope you will!" Emphasis added
Millions have joined his quest. Many have testified to miraculous answers which demonstrate God's love, mercy and intervention on behalf of those who seek Him. But these amazing interventions and anecdotal stories don't prove that God "always answers" this specific prayer. Nor do they verify that this Old Testament prayer by itself "contains the key" to extraordinary favor with God.
Nor does the Bible suggest that we -- God's people -- have the authority or power to "put Jabez' [or any other] prayer to work," as Christianbook.com suggests in its publicity statement below. Ponder its invitation to potential buyers:
"Discover how to release the miraculous power of God in your life! ...See what God will do for you when you put Jabez' prayer to work!"
It is hard to see how anyone could conclude that Jabez' prayer "works" better than the prayers of Moses, David, Elijah and Paul -- men used by God to liberate His people, slay giants, restore life to a dead boy and bring sight to the blind. The "miraculous power of God" demonstrated through their lives came, not because of the words they uttered, but because they had consecrated their lives to God, humbled themselves before Him, trusted in His provision for sin, and chose to seek and do His will with all their heart and without compromise.
Therefore God forgave their sins, offered His strength in their weaknesses and -- through the Holy Spirit in them -- put prayers in their hearts that expressed His will. Because these men took time to know His Word and will, God "spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." (Exodus 33:11) No less amazing, He called David "a man after My own heart, who shall fufill all My will." (Acts 13:22)
The Prayer of Jabez
Unlike these friends of God who loved His Word and walked with Him, the church at the dawn of the new millennium tends to be Biblically illiterate. Many are too distracted by work, life's pressures and "the pleasures of the world" to open the Bible. But we all want His help, peace and blessings. In this cultural context, the "positive assurances" and marketing tactics behind Wilkerson's little book raise some searching questions:
1. Does the Bible justify using "the prayer of Jabez" as a formula for success? If so, why would Jesus give us the model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 ("Our Father, who art in heaven....") rather than the prayer of Jabez?
In the days of Jesus, rabbis would often use prayer outlines. Today, many faithful students of Biblical history believe that "the Lord's prayer" was such a prayer -- one that provided a pattern or outline for longer prayers. Then as now, its short parts were reminders that God would be pleased if we would include certain points in our quiet times with Him:
Praise to our heavenly Father who hears and provides.
Confession and cleansing as we bow before a holy God.
Thanks for the goodness and glory of His Kingdom.
Confidence in His perfect plan and readiness to yield to His will.
Trust that our Provider will meet our needs each day.
Faith that through the cross, we have forgiveness for every sin.
Prayer for grace to forgive others and be filled with His love.
Prayer for wisdom to recognize and resist any temptation or evil.
Praise for His sovereignty, love and faithfulness to those who follow Him.
Though both prayers were pleasing to our Father, their differences are important. Jabez focused on God’s gifts. Jesus emphasized the Giver. Jabez’ prayer reflects the Old Testament context where God demonstrated His love by prospering His people. The Lord’s prayer reflects the New Testament understanding that -- because of the cross -- we share in the life, suffering, ministry and triumphs of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Since the prayer of Jabez precedes the New Testament call to absolute commitment, it is acceptable to the world. It sounds good whether people serve God or self. Since it doesn't point to Christ or the cross, it carries no offense. It offers the same blessings to those who pursue a self-made image of God as to those who walk with Jesus.
In a recent interview, George Barna, founder and president of the Barna Research Group, shared his concern:
"One of the frightening things that we find in our research all the time is that even among the tens of millions of born again Christians, about half of them would say that when it comes to Christianity they are not absolutely committed to the faith. ...we’ve made it too easy to be part of the Christian church. I think that there is very little sense of privilege and awe and responsibility that comes along in our culture with the notion of being considered a disciple of Christ. It is like, ‘Hey, I got my salvation taken care of, I’ve got my membership card at my church. Now let me go to the country club and do my thing.’ The problem is that Christianity is not just about being a church member. It is about consistently trying to become more like Christ. It is about life transformation.
"... small groups may be doing more to inhibit peoples’ spiritual growth than to facilitate that growth. Part of the reason is that, first of all, in most groups, you have an individual who’s in charge of the group or leading the group who really doesn’t know Scripture very well. So if they’re leading a discussion or trying to teach on things, more often than not, what you wind up with is heresy rather than Christian orthodoxy."
It’s easy to distort our understanding of God in a culture that prompts people to interpret His Word according to a politically correct consensus rather than by the Bible itself. It’s tempting to seek a feel-good god whose will and ways match human wants and illusions. But to assume that an imagined God will bless our lives and extend our sphere of influence, is presumptuous at best.
"Thou thought that I was altogether such an one as thyself," warned God. "But I will reprove thee"...." [Psalm 50:21]
2. How can Mr. Wilkinson assure anonymous readers that God "always answers" this particular prayer in contrast to other prayers? The preface of the book implies that God not only answer this prayer, His answer is always "yes." That's a denial of some of the Bible's guidelines for answered prayer.
For example, Psalm 66:18 tells us that "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." And Proverbs 21:13 warns, "Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard."
James 4:3-4 explains another reason for unanswered prayer: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses,know ye not that the friendship of the world is enimity with God?"
God's will and guidelines overrule the desires and requests of those who don't know Him. Perhaps some people need to learn humility, surrender, obedience and faith based on Scriptures before they excel in "daring" prayers? For, throughout the Bible, God shows us that the state of a believer's heart is as -- if not more -- important than the particular words used.
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." James 5:16
3. Could a formula prayer raise false expectations of what God might do and therefore bring disappointment, doubt and disillusionment rather than faith and thankfulness?
Bruce Wilkinson makes more staggering claims. "Join me for that transformation," he writes on page 91. "You will change your legacy and bring supernatural blessings wherever you go. God will release His miraculous power in your life now. And for all eternity, He will lavish on you His honor and delight."
He will? In a chapter called "Welcome to God's Honor Roll," Wilkinson writes,
"You don't reach the next level of blessing and stay there. You begin again -- Lord, bless me indeed! Lord, please enlarge...! And so on. As the cycle repeats itself, you'll find that you are steadily moving into wider spheres of blessing and influence, spiraling ever outward and upward into a larger life for God.... You will know beyond doubt that God has opened heaven's storehouses because you prayed."
Wilkinson mentions the "mostly ordinary, easy-to-overlook people" listed in Hebrews 11 who won honor from God. But Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah and Moses hardly fit that description. Then he fails to mention the faithful men and women who received the opposite of honor and blessing in this world:
"...others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover bonds and imprisonment:. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy." Hebrews 11:35-38
God shows us that suffering -- not prosperity, power or influence -- is an essential part of our life in Christ. We cannot be one with Jesus without sharing His battles as well as triumphs. "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake," wrote Paul to the Philippians (1:29)
Jesus told us to "count the cost" of discipleship -- not the blessings of the world:
"If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you....." (John 15:20-21)
4. Could an habitual prayer such as the prayer of Jabez, distract from hearing and praying according to God's will for the day? The Bible tells us that " we know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us.... according to the will of God." (Romans 8:26-27) Remember, Jesus always prayed and served according to His Father's will and purpose on each occasion. If we give ourselves unreservedly to do the same, He will answer our prayer:
"Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us. And if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him." 1 John 5:14-15
5. Might some readers be seeking the power of prayer rather than the power of God? There's a significant difference between the two, and the former has always been far more alluring to human nature than the surrender and obedience involved in ongoing Biblical prayer. Most people would rather memorize and repeat a formula prayer that "works" than take time to seek to know the heart of God. It's easier to imagine "what Jesus would do" than actually study His Word and know His will -- then to submit will to His.
Formula prayers dominate in pagan religions. Compare Mr. Wilkinson's preface and the Christianbook's publicity statement with the following quote from Medicine Buddha Sadhana, a small book given to thousands of people who attended a May 2001 a "Medicine Buddha Empowerment" workshop led by The Dalai Lama:
"To recite the Medicine Buddha Mantra brings inconceivable merit. ... If you recite the mantra every day, the buddhas and bodhisattvas will always pay attention to you, and they will guide you. All your negative karmas will be pacified and you will never be born in the three lower realms.... and all your wishes are fulfilled."
Sounds tempting, doesn't it? It appeals to human nature and its "felt needs." Who wouldn't want to recite a prayer or mantra that promises easy access to higher powers that will fulfill your dreams and satisfy your wants?
But God knows that our finite dreams and human wishes fall far short of His wonderful plan for us. His rocky road to victory includes hardships and humiliations that rarely find a place in our hopes and prayers. Therefore, knowing the inclinations of our human nature, He shows us the way:
"And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. be ye not therefore like unto them: For your Father knows what things you have need of before ye ask Him. After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done...." Matthew 6:7-9
The issue here is your motive -- your reason for repeating certain words. Do you believe that repetitions will add strength to a prayer? Then you may be trusting mere words more than your all-powerful, sovereign God.
For instance, the customary words used to "put on the armor of God" could be little more than a "vain repetition" if you merely and mindlessly recite the familiar steps: "Now I gird my loins with truth... I put on the breastplate of righteousness... the sandals of peace..." There's no magic in those words alone. Instead they remind us to actively -- by faith -- "put on" Christ's truth (His Word), righteousness (includes confessing sins), peace, etc.
But it's no "vain repetition" to pray through the steps listed in Ephesians 6:12-17 , giving Him thanks for each vital part and praising Him for the protection He offers you in Himself. For when you turn to Him in love, faith, humility and surrender -- "pouring out your heart" to your Father and King -- then He will surely hear and answer according to His perfect plan for your life.
6. Can we assume that a step toward victory in one battle will work the same way in another battle? For example, God told Joshua to march around Jericho 7 times. Victory involved obedience to those specific guidelines. They don't apply to other battles.
A generation earlier, God had told his faithless people to enter the promised land. Fearing the giants in the land, they refused. God didn't give them another opportunity. But when they faced the consequences of their disobedience, they made a belated decision to do what he said. But it was too late. The grace that came with God's command, couldn't be applied at will. So they lost both the battle and their lives. (Numbers 13-14)
7. Is it Biblically accurate to expect that the evils that surround us not touch and "grieve" us? In Christ, we are "more than conquerors." But that doesn't mean escape from the wounds and griefs that today's warfare inflicts on God's soldiers. As long as we live in a fallen world and walk with Him, evil will touch us. But we won't bear its assaults alone. When we stand equipped with His truths and promises, He will lead us in His triumph -- a triumph that would look anything but triumphant to those who expect the world's peace and prosperity. Prayerfully consider 2 Corinthians 4:7-10,
"...we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are
- hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed;
- we are perplexed, but not in despair;
- persecuted, but not forsaken;
- struck down, but not destroyed
- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body."
If we are one with Jesus, we must set our hearts -- not on blessings in the world but on fellowship with our King -- as did Peter, James, Paul and countless other saints and martyrs who, through the ages, have relinquished earthly comforts and popularity for a far greater eternal treasure. Paul said it well,
"But what things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings....
"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which that which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." .... One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus...." Philippians 3:7-14