It was just a Jesus fad. Like fish symbols on your car, bumper stickers that said, “Honk if you love Jesus” and “WWJD” or “What Would Jesus do?” bracelets. And while it may have started as simply a fad, it swept across the North American Church, and made the author a small fortune.
This summer, the staff has been preaching some of our favourite messages from the past. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some fun revisiting some of those messages. This particular message was preached on November 4, 2001. Cornerstone Wesleyan Church was known as Bedford Community Church, and we were meeting in the Empire Theatre in the Mill Cove Plaza. Many of you probably weren’t even aware that there was a movie theatre in Bedford at one time. It was there before Bayer’s Lake or Dartmouth Crossing, and it was the largest movie theatre in the Maritimes with 8 screens.
And on November 4th, 2001, we had an average service, there were 39 of us there that day. I was preaching, Angela was leading worship, Deborah was running PowerPoint and our son Stephen was the drummer. Paul and Louise Caza were there that service, along with Mike and Sajonna Kneebone, John and Helen Greenough, Bruce and Bonnie Barteaux, Judy Clements, Erv Lively and Pat and Heather Stubbert.
And that Sunday I preached on the Prayer of Jabez, which was a Christian book sweeping across the church.
It’s not a very big book. As a matter of fact, it’s just a little book, only 92 pages long, and they’re not very big pages either, but then again, it’s based on a very small portion of scripture.
The Prayer of Jabez hit the book stands twenty-one years ago in 2000 and became the surprise best seller of the year. I’m sure that when Bruce Wilkinson wrote his book, which is subtitled “Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.” He had no idea that it would take off like the way it did.
The original printing only numbered 20,000 copies. When they sold out, his publisher Multnomah took a step of faith and ordered an additional 70,000 copies printed.
At last count over 4.1 million books had been sold, keeping “The Prayer of Jabez” on the New York best sellers list for most of last year. You can now buy the prayer of Jabez on just about everything including your coffee cup, key chain, t-shirts, and bumpers stickers, and it has inspired half a dozen songs.
Not everyone was impressed by Wilkinson’s theology though. The New York Times had this to say: “The Prayer of Jabez” offers a new view of the prosperity gospel. It preaches that it is perfectly fine to ask God for personal success, as long as that success has a godly purpose.”
And Jeffrey H. Mahan, professor of ministry, media and culture at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said: “It fits with the narcissism of the age. Religious life is focused on me and my needs.”
When I first heard about the book, I would have probably agreed with the critics but after reading the book my views are more in line with Mark Galli the managing editor of Christianity Today who wrote: “Nevertheless, Wilkinson has accomplished much, especially in Jabez, for which we can be thankful. He’s managed to get millions of Christians to realize afresh their divine significance, reminding them of the ministries God has for them, encouraging them to think big when it comes to helping others. It’s not the whole counsel of God, but neither is it a bad start for those who had forgotten, or never knew, that the living God is as near as a prayer.”
This morning we are going to take another look at “The Prayer of Jabez”. Not the book, but the prayer in the book, and see what we can learn from it, what message it has for God’s people on September 26, 2021
So, what do we know? Let’s start with The Man
So, who was Jabez? Well, he has probably been mentioned more in that one year, 2000 than in the previous 2,500 years combined. All we know about him comes from two verses in the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles. The book itself was written about 500 years before Christ was born and although we don’t have any concrete evidence tradition tells us that it was written by the prophet Ezra. The first nine chapters Chronicle, thus the name of the book, the people of Israel back to Adam, and it is in this section that we find the words that Bruce read this morning. A little point of trivia, Bruce’s wife Bonnie read the scripture in 2001.
1 Chronicles 4:9–10 There was a man named Jabez who was more honourable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.
And that my friends is all he wrote. That is the sum total of everything we know for sure about Jabez. One preacher commented that when he had heard all the commotion about Wilkinson’s book that he went to 1 Chronicles and read the account of Jabez, and his first thought was “Book must have a lot of pictures.”
1) There was a man named Jabez who was more honourable than any of his brothers. We don’t know what set Jabez apart from his siblings, but there was something that made him a memorable figure.
There are over 500 names mentioned in the first nine chapters of the 1 Chronicles, 44 people are mentioned in the first eight verses of chapter 4, all without commentary and then for whatever reason the author interjects, and says that one man was more honourable than any of his brothers. And then after writing a mere 71 words he continues with listing people without comment or commentary. It’s as if in mid recollection the author says “Whoa, there’s something about this guy you gotta hear. He’s special.” But what was it that was so special? Wilkinson sums it up this way
- Things started badly for a person no one had ever heard of.
- He prayed an unusual, one-sentence prayer.
- Things ended extraordinarily well.”
The next thing that we learn about Jabez was how he got his name, 2) His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful.
Must have been a memorable birth. Man, if mothers named every kid “Pain” who had a painful entrance into the world it would be the most common name around.
The word Jabez isn’t actually the Hebrew word for pain, but it’s a play on the word, it means to grieve or to be sorrowful.
All children cause their mothers a certain amount of pain at their birth, and in most cases a certain amount of pain for the rest of their lives. But this must have been memorable, we don’t know if it was physical pain.
Family history says that my Great Grandfather weighed, get this, 15lbs at birth, I’m sure that must have been a painful birth. I wonder what Sydney means in Hebrew?
Or maybe it was painful emotionally, maybe her husband had deserted her, or maybe they already had a house full of kids and didn’t want any more. We don’t know why she named him what she did but I’m pretty sure, knowing the way kids are. that he probably took a lot of teasing.
The next thing we are told is He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, now that shouldn’t have been noteworthy. Here the author is telling us all about the people of Israel you would think that they all prayed, or most of them prayed, or some of them prayed, but instead he singles one man out and says He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel.
So what? I mean, if it wasn’t the act of praying that caused Jabez to be set apart then is must be the prayer that he prayed. What was it that set this prayer apart from the prayers of others?
It’s not a necessarily pretty prayer. By that I mean it doesn’t use a lot of flowery language and religious terms. It’s not a long prayer there are only 27 words in the entire prayer. And so, if it has nothing to do with the length of the prayer, and nothing to do with the construction of the prayer then it must have something to do with the content of the prayer. What was it that Jabez prayed for?
This leads us to The Prayer
Here is how the prayer begins, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory!” So Jabez begins with what seems to be a two-part prayer, but when we understand the Jewish style of writing, then we realize that it’s not two requests, but one request.
Jabez uses a literary device called parallelism, which is where something is stated and then repeated in a different way. David uses this in the twenty-third Psalm when he writes, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
And so Jabez makes one request, Bless me, and then he repeats it again, and expand my territory. The first thing that we need to understand with this request is what it actually means. The problem is that most of us have no idea what a blessing is.
Oh, we say a blessing at our meals, and if someone sneezes, we say “Bless you.” But to bless someone has become more of a courtesy than anything else.
It’s like saying “have a nice day” or asking someone “how are you?” And if that’s the way we see a blessing, as simply a nice thing, then we will never understand what Jabez was praying for.
When the Bible speaks of blessing though it’s not just a courtesy thing. Do you remember in the book of Genesis when Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of his rightful blessing? The blessing that belonged to Esau because he was the oldest. Sure you do.
Now do you remember Esau’s response when he found out that his brother had stolen his blessing? It’s found in Genesis 27:41 From that time on, Esau hated Jacob because their father had given Jacob the blessing. And Esau began to scheme: “I will soon be mourning my father’s death. Then I will kill my brother, Jacob.”
Sounds like he was a little put out, doesn’t it? That doesn’t sound like he had lost a simple “God Bless You.” Because he didn’t. A blessing in the Old Testament was the conveyance of God’s blessing on everything you did. It was a blessing on your family life. It was a blessing on your finances. And it was It was a blessing on your spiritual life.
When we ask for God’s blessing in every area of our life, it is asking that God would pour out His bounty. And that’s what he wants to do for each one of us. Jesus told a story to his disciples, Matthew 7:9–11 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
You see contrary to popular opinion God is not impartial, He is very partial. He has a favourite and it’s you. And it’s not because you are smart, even though I’m sure you are. And it’s not because you’re pretty, because I’m sure you are in God’s eyes. And it’s not because you’re good, although I’m sure you are.
It’s because you are His child, and he wants the very best for you. So, if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
What would happen if instead of expecting the worst in your life you expected the best? If when you come to Worship on Sunday Morning you expected that God would pour out his blessing upon you? What would happen if when you went to work or school on Monday that you expected that God would pour out his blessing on you? What if you expected him to bless your marriage and to bless your children? What if when you thought of telling others about Jesus you expected miracles to happen?
God isn’t some angry ogre who is waiting for us to mess up so he can laugh at us, he is our Heavenly Father, and He wants the very best for us.
Notice that Jabez didn’t ask for a specific blessing, he wasn’t asking God for a new chariot or a bigger tent. He was asking that God would extend his sphere of influence, he was simply asking that God would bless him. We can’t even begin to imagine what God might have in store for us if we would only ask and trust God to provide for us.
In 2001, the church had come to the place where we couldn’t afford a full-time pastor, which was a bit of a shock to their full-time pastor. When I came to the conclusion that I needed to find outside work if I was going to pay our mortgage and feed my family, I had this long discussion with God that boiled down to “If that’s what I need to do fine, but I don’t want to work in retail again.” But I had no idea what else I could do.
I’d been to sea, but it’s tough to do that and pastor, and I’d worked in retail, and I didn’t want to go there again. And so Angela and I began to pray and out of the blue, I got an offer to write. And not just to write, but to get paid for writing. “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory!”
The prayer isn’t greedy when the intent is to use the blessing to further the Kingdom. I may very well have obtained a personal blessing out of writing but for the next four years every dollar I made a dollar writing was a dollar less that Cornerstone had to pay me. And that was a dollar closer to having our financial house in order, and ultimately a dollar close to having this building.
God blesses his people to see the Kingdom expanded, you don’t think he gives you all you have just for you, do you?
And Jabez continues, Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” In the New King James Version, it reads this way; that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!
That sounds remarkably like part of the Lord’s prayer, you know the part that says Matthew 6:13 And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.
However we read it, the meaning of the first part is the same, Jabez is asking to be in the center of God’s will.
First, he’s asked for a blessing, for God to expand his territory and now he’s asking God to be in control of that blessing. It’s not selfish to ask for God’s presence, and it’s not selfish to ask for God’s protection.
Your children expect you to take care of them, right? It’s not selfish for our children to expect that you, as their parents will be there for them. So why is it selfish for us to expect God to take care of us? To ask Him to keep us from trouble and to protect us?
Often the only time we actually get around to praying is when we are in trouble, why not pray that He will keep you out of trouble in the first place.
It actually boils down to a question of obedience. If we pray that God will be with us in all we do. And then if we make the decision to stay close to God. Then by default, we are staying away from evil.
It’s when we decide to go our own way and we move away from God through our disobedience that trouble begins to come our way. Thomas Jefferson said, “The art of life is the art of avoiding pain; and he is the best pilot, who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which it is beset.”
If you don’t want to get into trouble spiritually, then don’t see how close you can get to sin, don’t see how close you can walk to the edge.
Stay away from the shoals and rocks that can cause you pain. Stay close to God; pray that He will be with you. Is it a guarantee that things will always go right? No, but if things go wrong, I want to be right next to the Creator of the universe because I figure that he can handle what I can’t.
And when we become disobedient to God, we not only cause pain for ourselves often we cause pain for the ones we love. And then we have the audacity to blame God!
Now the critics of Jabez and the prayer of Jabez would tell us that Jabez’s prayer is a selfish prayer. It’s all about me, me, me. But it is tempered by Jabez asking God to keep his hand on him. When you ask God to bless you, and then you give him control it’s the kingdom that benefits.
When as a church we ask God to bless us and extend our territory it isn’t so we can have a big church, it’s because there are people out there who don’t know Jesus. When as a church we pray for our community, it’s because we know that if the families in our communities don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ then their ultimate destiny is a Christless eternity in hell.
Which leads us to The Result, and then we read these words in the account of Jabez. And God granted him his request.
Do we really believe that God answers prayers? Do we really believe what Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 21:22 “You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”? But remember, when he taught them to pray, the first thing he taught them was to pray that God’s will be done.
And Jesus reminds us in Matthew 7:7–8 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
And Jesus’ brother James told the early church in James 4:2 . . . Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.
Would you join me in praying this morning, the prayer is on the screen, Let’s pray, “Oh, that you would bless this church and these people. Please expand our territory! Please be with us in all that we do, and keep us from all trouble and pain!”