Bruce Wilkinson's runaway bestseller, The Prayer of Jabez, is based on the prayer of a little-known Old Testament character. In I Chronicles 4:9-10 we find, And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, and it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.
The book is a concise commentary on these verses, well illustrated with stories of answered prayer and deepened devotion from Wilkinson's own life. The book is profitable for both personal and group study.
Perhaps a caveat concerning the use of this prayer would be in order. Many theologians have criticized a certain wing of the Christian church for its unbiblical and almost superstitious use of the Lord's Prayer. Some Christians have believed that the prayer could be recited with almost magical results immediately following. Some have recommended, even ordered, the reciting of the Lord's Prayer as part of a regimen of penance for sin. There is no doubt that many have used the prayer in an almost mystical way, believing that the mere repetition of the words would guarantee divine results. Repeat the prayer a sufficient number of times and sins will be forgiven, some have thought.
Nothing in the content of Wilkinson's book will lead the reader to such an unbiblical practice. But pastoral experience leads one to be aware of the tendencies of human nature at this point. Most of us are looking for a handle on prayer or a gimmick that will transform our ordinary lives into something extraordinary. Given this tendency, it will not be surprising to discover many people praying the "Prayer of Jabez" with mindless repetition, hoping for magical results.
Jesus warned against any such concept of prayer. Before he introduced the Model Prayer, which is the most appropriate name for the so-called "Lord's Prayer," he said, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do" [Matthew 6:7]. Prayer is not about finding a secret formula or repeating the right words. Prayer is no "abracadabra" or "hocus pocus."
Personally I have been praying the Prayer of Jabez each morning before I arise from bed. I pray the essence of the prayer for our church members on their birthdays. I recommend the study of the prayer. But it is not a matter of saying the words, don't forget. We are talking to a loving Father who wants to give His children good gifts. Let the words of the prayer remind us of this.
New Light From Old Lanterns
The Prayer of Jabez
Jabez, we are told, was more honourable than his brethren, and his prayer is forthwith recorded, as if to intimate that he was also more prayerful than his brethren. We are told of what petitions his prayer consisted. All through it was very significant and instructive. We have only time to take one clause of it - indeed, that one clause may be said to comprehend the rest: "Oh that thou wouldst bless me indeed!" I commend it as a prayer for yourselves, dear brothers and sisters; one which will be available at all seasons; a prayer to begin Christian life with, a prayer to end it with, a prayer which would never be unseasonable in your joys or in your sorrows.
... The very pith of the prayer seems to lie in that word, "indeed." There are many varieties of blessing. Some are blessings only in name: they gratify our wishes for a moment, but permanently disappoint our expectations. They charm the eye, but pall on the taste. Others are mere temporary blessings: they perish with the using. Though for awhile they regale the senses, they cannot satisfy the higher cravings of the soul. But, "Oh that thou wouldst bless me indeed!" I wot whom God blesseth shall be blessed. The thing good in itself is bestowed with the good-will of the giver, and shall be productive of so much good fortune to the recipient that it may well be esteemed as a blessing "indeed" for there is nothing comparable to it. Let the grace of God prompt it, let the choice of God appoint it, let the bounty of God confer it, and then the endowment shall be something godlike indeed; something worthy of the lips that pronounce the benediction and verily to be craved by every one who seeks honour that is substantial and enduring.
"Oh that thou wouldst bless me indeed!"
Think it over, and you will see that there is a depth of meaning in the expression.
C. H. Spurgeon, "The Prayer of Jabez," The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 17, 314.
Alan Day is pastor of First Baptist Church, Edmond, Oklahoma.