Long ago an unknown man uttered an obscure prayer. God recorded that prayer to be an encouragement to each and every seemingly insignificant and unknown believer who has the boldness to pray and trust Him for great things. If the answer of God to Jabez ended in a village where families were devoted to the spread of the word of God, this alone would have been a magnificent answer. However, as we will see in our next study, the story doesn't end here. In fact, what is ahead is even more amazing. So I will leave you all with a principle to consider: when we pray effective prayers, the answers send out ripples of blessing that go on to eternity. As Oswald Chambers once said, "Prayer is not preparation for the work, prayer is the work." Never underestimate what God can do through prayers that are according to His will. Let us humble ourselves under His mighty hand ‚ and give ourselves to prevailing prayer!
"The effective prayer of a righteous man avails much."JAM 5:16b
James could very easily have had the prayer of Jabez in mind here. Even if not, the Holy Spirit would have! Here we have three things that result in amazing results.
1) The righteous man (a believer in Jesus Christ, imputed with God's righteousness, living in fellowship with Him). 2) The effective prayer (It meets God's criteria for a prayer that He will answer). 3) The mighty, ongoing results of the answered prayer (which go far beyond what we imagine).
Possibly no prayer in scripture gives a better commentary on this statement of James than the obscure and enigmatic man named Jabez, and the prayer he prayed.
"Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, 'Because I bore him in pain.' And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, 'Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!' So God granted him what he requested." 1CH 4:9-10
This prayer has received much attention due to the book by Bruce Wilkinson. While it is not my intention to critique his book, I believe the greatest truths and lessons from this man and his prayer were missed by Mr. Wilkinson, and some unscriptural claims are made. I do not believe this is a prayer that God intends us to repeat, neither do I believe that God will always hear it and bless us with what we may selfishly desire. So we are going to study this obscure prayer, in order to use Jabez as a Biblical example of how to pray effectively. We will look first at the man, then at his prayer, and finally at God's amazing answer to the prayer.
Jabez: the man
I. A man of honor.
When God honors a man, it is always because that man first honors God. "Those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed." (1SA 2:30b) The word for "honor" here is Cabod in Hebrew. It means to be heavy, and speaks of honor as that which is weighty. It is in the Niphal stem here, the simple passive meaning "To receive honor, be honored." It is used thus of Benaiah, one of David's mighty men in 2SA 23:23. This is the idea in Paul's concept of an "eternal weight of glory" (2CO 4:17) which awaits those who endure their sufferings in faith. Our first principle of prevailing prayer follows.
Principle One: God hears and answers the prayers of those who honor Him, both in their lives, and in their prayer requests. This prayer will lead to God's greater glory!
II. A man in need.
The need of Jabez is much greater than appears to us at first. His name, due to the difficulty of his mother's birthpangs, means "He will give pain." (cf. footnote, Nelson Study Bible) We must remember that among the Hebrews a name was indicative of the child's character and therefore was considered to be predictive of their life. The story of his birth, the true focus of his prayer, and a play on his name at the end of his request all emphasize his sense of great need. That need can be summarized in two words: personal transformation. Jabez is praying to be transformed by the power of God.
Principle Two: We often say "Prayer changes things." The often forgotten truth is that God wants the one praying to be changed by his prayers!
III. A man of faith.
We read that "Jabez called on the God of Israel." Let's not miss the importance of what is being said. This is much more than just saying the God of the Nation of Israel. This is the One who transformed Jacob, "the cunning Canaanite" (HOS 12:2-7, "Canaanite" here means "merchant.") into "Israel," a prince having power with God (GEN 32:28).
As the end of his prayer indicates, he does not want to "cause pain." The play on words actually says, "That I may not be Jabez!"
Principle Three: God honors prayers that are uttered in unconditional faith (JAM 1:6-8, JAM 5:15). Faith trusts in God's faithfulness and omnipotence, therefore, expects the impossible! Faith is always in keeping with the word and will of God (1JO 5:14-15). Faith pleases God (HEB 11:6), and God is pleased to answer prayers offered in faith.
IV. A man God hears
The brief record ends; "So God granted him what he requested." In other words, his five-fold prayer was effective. God's ears are open to hear and answer the prayers of those who seek to do His will (1PE 3:10-12). We are left to either draw what we can from the story, or dig deeper to find out how God answered him. We are going to continue to follow this "mystery wrapped in an enigma." You see, the ancient Hebrew scribes used to say that hidden in the text of the Scriptures were amazing truths. These truths were indicated by subtle signs, things that seemed out of place or did not seem to fit, such as this brief story which is strangely inserted into four chapters of "begets and begots." We are told that God heard and answered this prayer, but not until we carefully "follow the track" do we find that God answered in a manner that is not only staggering to the mind, but one which continues to effect history in general and our lives in particular. So we can draw another principle from the study of the man.
Principle Four: Answered prayer is never limited to one individual or to a given time. Prevailing prayer will always continue to have increasing impact as it echoes through time and into eternity! What is true of our actions has even greater application to our prayers, "What we do in time echoes in eternity" (from the movie "Gladiator").
As a preview to our next study, let's summarize his request, and what God did for him.
1. He asks for genuine blessing. 2. He asks for enlarged borders. 3. He asks for God's hand to be with him. 4. He asks that God keep him from evil. 5. He asks that his name would not be his fate.
Just what is involved in these requests, and the amazing way in which God will answer will be the subject of our study for the next several weeks. It is an astounding and challenging look at what can happen when we pray effectively.
"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (EPH 3:20-21).