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In this short, very evangelical, book Bruce Wilkinson offers a little known prayer from the Bible ( The Book of 1st Chronicles, Chapter 4) as a model prayer for us to use to change our lives. Jabez, the eponymous Biblical figure, appears in the midst of one of those seemingly interminable lists of names that make portions of the text nearly unreadable. But, suddenly, almost at random, there's this man with a prayer:
1 The sons of Judah; Pharez, Hezron, and Carmi, and Hur, and Shobal.

2 And Reaiah the son of Shobal begat Jahath; and Jahath begat Ahumai, and Lahad. These are the families of the Zorathites.

3 And these were of the father of Etam; Jezreel, and Ishma, and Idbash: and the name of their sister was Hazelelponi:

4 And Penuel the father of Gedor, and Ezer the father of Hushah. These are the sons of Hur, the firstborn of Ephratah, the father of Bethlehem.

5 And Ashur the father of Tekoa had two wives, Helah and Naarah.

6 And Naarah bare him Ahuzam, and Hepher, and Temeni, and Haahashtari. These were the sons of Naarah.

7 And the sons of Helah were, Zereth, and Jezoar, and Ethnan.

8 And Coz begat Anub, and Zobebah, and the families of Aharhel the son of Harum.

9 And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow.

10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.
This is actually the King James version. Mr. Wilkinson uses the translation that appears in the New Revised Standard Version:
Jabez called on 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 hurt and harm!" And God granted what he asked.
The thing that stands out about this prayer is the boldness of Jabez's requests: that God should bless him; protect him; and, most troublingly, "enlarge my border". There's some interesting back and forth amongst various religious writers about this notion of prayer as request time, some of which you'll find in the links below, but personally I have to say that kind of praying has always bothered me.

Even if you're not an adherent of a particular religion or aren't very pious, prayer strikes me as a structured moment during the day when you can step outside the narrow confines of self and acknowledge someone/something greater than you, greater than us. It is an opportunity to thank God for Creation in general and for allowing you, in particular, to partake of that Creation. It affords a chance to reaffirm that you are bound by the laws He handed down to us. If we approach it in this manner, prayer isn't about what God can give us right now, but about what He's already given and about our thankfulness for those gifts and our regret that we can't be more worthy of them.

In this sense the prayer of Jabez stands in particularly poor contrast to The Lord's Prayer, which is far more humble and submissive, and which Matthew frames with admonitions:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye 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 in earth, as [it is] in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Most of us say that prayer so many times over the course of our lives that it becomes a matter of rote and we can lose track of what it's saying and what we're saying when we repeat it. But, if you take a moment, it's really quite lovely and it expresses thanks and asks forgiveness without ever demanding more than simple sustenance. That, for me at least seems more appropriate in a prayer.

As it happens, while I was reading the book I came across the following quotation. It sums things up far more eloquently than I can:
In prayer we express deep penitence and contrition for our shortcomings, using sorrowful and self-accusing words. And this often in all sincerity. But, at other times, we are not really much disturbed about it; or, at least, not nearly so much as our heaped-up language would imply. What we imagine that we are achieving through this unreality I do not know. We shall not fool the All-wise; nor induce Him to believe that we are anything other, or better, than we actually are! Were it not saner to tell Him the truth, exactly as it is -- not that we are overwhelmed with sorrow for our sinfulness, if it is not so; but rather this, that, to all our other sinfulness, we have added this last and crowning sinfulness, that we are not much worried about it, or, at least, not nearly as much as we ought to be. Be pleased, in pity, to grant us such measure of sorrow for our failures as will lead us to a true repentance; and, through that, to a new way of life.
    A. J. Gossip (1873-1954), In the Secret Place of the Most High (1947)
That's the kind of humility and recognition of our very real mortal weakness that the Bible itself requires of us and, though Mr. Wilkinson is a spirited advocate for the words of Jabez, it seems like we might be better served assuming that was a one time deal.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Bruce Wilkinson Links:

    -Bruce Wilkinson (Multnomah Books)
    -BOOK SITE: Prayer of Jabez
    -Walk Thru the Bible
    In Defense of Jabez (Philip Zaleski, October 2001, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Spurgeon on Jabez | What history's most prolific preacher said, in 1871, about the Prayer of Jabez (Chris Armstrong, Aug. 23, 2002, Christianity Today)
   -ESSAY: God as Santa ( Rodney Clapp and John Wright, Christian Century)
   -ESSAY: Problems with The Prayer of Jabez (Berit Kjos, )
   -ESSAY: Pennies from Heaven: Until recently, even devout Christians probably didn't know Jabez from Adam (Steve Hockensmith, July/August 2001, Book)
    -COMMENTARY: The Prayer of Jabez (Joseph Loconte, 05/03/01, National Public Radio's All Things Considered)
    -ARTICLE: 'Prayer of Jabez' triggers avalanche of blessings (JOHN MARSHALL, November 18, 2002, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)
-ARTICLE: Tiny book with powerful message catapults Oregon publisher to national prominence (JOHN MARSHALL, November 18, 2002, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER) -REVIEW: of The Prayer of Jabez (Mark Galli, Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW: of The Prayer of Jabez (Bill Muehlenberg, AD2000)
    -REVIEW: of The Prayer of Jabez (Biblical Discernment Ministries)

Book-related and General Links: