Remember about 20 years ago when the Prayer of Jabez took Christianity in the United States by storm? It was like this one small verse was newly discovered to offer powerful insight and encouragement to the modern Believer. It was a small book, written by Bruce Wilkinson, and for some reason the Holy Spirit has been bringing it to my mind over the last few days. It actually took me a little while to recall the exact message that I took away from the book.
And then I remembered ... like most people at the dawn of the new millennium in the year 2000, I was focused on my own well-being and my future. Although, I had been a Christian for over 12 years, I was still struggling to find how Jesus fit into my worldview and how I was supposed to incorporate Him into my everyday life. After all, my husband was trying to establish his art career, and I had all the worries and insecurities that came from managing on one paycheck. Trusting Jesus was something I knew I was supposed to do, but how was I supposed to accomplish that when I couldn't see Him in the midst of my doubt and unbelief? Then that little book with it's promising title appeared on the scene ... The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life!
The Christian world gobbled up the idea that by saying a simple prayer, God would give you what you asked for and bless your life. First Chronicles 4:10 became the most memorized Bible verse that year: Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would indeed bless me and enlarge my territory, and that Your hand would be with me, and You would keep me from evil so that it does not hurt me!” And God granted his request. (Some versions of this prayer have Jabez asking God, "keep me from harm, so that I will not cause any pain." That is not the substance of the prayer in most translations, or in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. In my opinion, promoting the idea that Jabez is asking for blessings and enlarged territory, while praying that he not harm others, doesn't make sense in the context of the prayer, and is a distortion of Scripture).
So, the point of the book seemed to be that heartfelt prayer, in devout communication with God, does make a difference in your life; that praying continuously and consistently will yield results. It seemed to point out that Jabez was a man who wanted -- and was not afraid to ask God for -- extraordinary blessings in his life. And apparently that did not offend God, because the previous verse tells us that "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers". But critics of the book claimed that it promoted the "prosperity gospel"; that it is impious and ungodly to seek God's blessings for oneself. But when the author, himself, stated that he had been praying this prayer every day for over 30 years and, as a result, he experienced many blessings in his life, then the critics were no longer heard. The Christianity community flocked to this positive message about blessings and success, and the book was received with open arms.
But how come we never hear about it anymore? Did the message prove false, or at the very least, disappointing? And did American believers abandon their quest for blessings, and move on to other variations of the prosperity gospel? I'm not really sure what happened to its popularity, but when the Holy Spirit continued to bring it to my mind, I felt I was supposed to see if somehow, it was still relevant these 16 years later.
Needless to say, I am not in the same place I was in the year 2000. So I figure, maybe, I am to look at this simple prayer with new spiritual eyes and see what it is about it that the Holy Spirit wants me to discern. And there it was! I found that it was still relevant, but in a whole different way! I now see it within the context of spiritual warfare --- instead of as a self-serving method to receive personal blessings.
Just as yesterday, in my post on the Gadarene madman, the concept of "regions" or "territory" has surfaced. This has several implications. It is not just about physical territory, or actual real estate in this world, as many interpreted it in 2000 -- although that could certainly be part of the big picture. But I am of the opinion that the perspective we should consider here is our "spiritual territory". You see, I believe that every believer has a spiritual territory entrusted to us; a sphere of influence which is ours to govern -- some permanent, some temporary. Just as Adam was given the Garden of Eden "to cultivate it and keep it", I believe that God has ordained territories of dominion for us to develop in the spiritual world.
In his prayer, Jabez is asking to be blessed with more territory -- not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of serving God's Kingdom on earth. Since Scripture deems him as "more honorable" than his brothers, perhaps he has proven himself a faithful steward of all God has given him, and he desires to develop more of the Kingdom for God's glory. And in the context of spiritual warfare, Jabez knows that this is an invitation for the Enemy to come against him. The more he accomplishes for the Lord's Kingdom, and the stronger he gets in battling in the spiritual realm, the stronger is his opposition. So the next part of his prayer is to ask that God's hand be with him, to keep evil from harming him.
He knows where his protection comes from ... and he knows that Jehovah Nissi will proceed him in the battle; will go before him to clear his way. When you engage in spiritual warfare, you can expect that the Enemy will throw his full force against you. But this obviously doesn't scare Jabez off -- my spirit discerns that what he is saying to God is this: "I have conquered the allotted spiritual territory you have given me, Lord, and it was an honor to serve and glorify You. But I am not content to stay in this place of accomplishment. Please bless me with the honor of claiming more territory for You! All I ask is that you not abandon me, and deliver me from any evil that is brought to bear against me."
Now, I'm pretty sure that this perspective would never have flown with the believing community back in the year 2000. And perhaps it has been brought to my mind again for the specific purpose of pointing out a new viewpoint in this season of our Christian experience. All I know is that my spirit can no longer recognize it as a prayer for prosperity; instead it speaks clearly to my heart and mind and spirit as a prayer asking for more opportunity and authority to go forth into unchartered territory to conquer it for the Lord. It is a prayer that is unselfish in motive; courageous, yet wise enough not to enter new territory unprotected. Jabez is wise and confident enough to ask for the hand of the Lord to be upon him.
In being honest, I have no way of knowing if this was the intention of Jabez's prayer. The Bible is unclear as to why this single verse is stuck in the midst of a long list of the descendants of Judah. But I know that the Bible is a living document, and it speaks to every generation as God wills. Perhaps this verse has been brought to mind at this time to encourage us in pursuing the truth about spiritual warfare -- to encourage us and to bless us with the hope that we so desperately need in these times of great spiritual assault and apostasy. God is waiting to bless us if we will work with Him! Most people live in fear of ever venturing outside their comfort zones. It is time we become like Jabez -- asking for more territory, and never fearing that we fight the battle alone; resting assured that His hand will always be with us. It is a prayer worth praying, and your rewards will supersede any prosperity here on earth. And that only leads to more blessing and more glory for God!
Psalm 18:36 "You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip."