The Prayer of Jabez

I Chronicles 4:9-10

Lutherans have a difficult time praying spontaneously in public. A lovely elderly woman, Lillian, shared this with me. She told me of once sitting at the head table at a banquet before about 300 people. Suddenly the chairperson turned to her and said to the audience, "Lillian will have the prayer." Shocked at hearing this, Lillian was in a panic; she stood up, folded her hands, closed her eyes and said, "Let us pray: Now I lay me down to sleep…"

Hopefully, after this summer of focus on prayer, if called upon you wouldn't panic, but stay calm and just offer a simple prayer from your heart. One or two lines would do.

God speaks to us in many ways through our prayers and through the prayers of others. Sometimes we are the answer to someone else's prayer. Joe was asked by a neighbor to drive her son to a hospital. Although he had other things planned, Joe didn't know how to say 'no.' He put the boy in the car and started on the 50 mile journey. Suddenly the boy turned to him and shyly asked, "Are you God?" Startled, Joe said, "no." The boy continued, "I heard mother asking God for some way to get me to a doctor. If you aren't God, do you work for him?' Joe replied, "I guess so, sometimes. And now that you ask, I'll be doing it a lot more."

God speaks to us in many ways. Each day we have many opportunities to serve God. Most times we aren't even aware of being an answer to another's prayer. And there are many times that we are given opportunities to serve but aren't tuned in to it being God who is asking. Also, we let many blessings for us go by the wayside because we don't ask for them.

Today, since it's the last Sunday of the summer, so to speak, I want to end my summer focus on prayer with a special prayer recorded in Scripture, the Prayer of Jabez. I've been using this for several weeks in my homilies at the Wednesday Night Informal Communion service. But I wanted to also use it as a Sunday sermon, so decided to do that today. My apologies to the Wednesday night folks, but some of what I have to say is new, and some can certainly bear repeating.

The Scripture is from I Chronicles, Chapter 4, the 9th and 10th verses. It focuses on a man named Jabez. Bruce Wilkinson wrote a small book based on this prayer, entitled THE PRAYER OF JABEZ, Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. (All quoted material in this sermon is from that book: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2000)

Jabez doesn't stand along side the very well known folks of the Old Testament like Abraham or Moses or David, or folks in the New Testament like Matthew or Peter or Paul. Wilkinson focuses on Jabez who you'll find hiding in "the least-read section of one of the least-read books of the Bible. The first nine chapters of I Chronicles are taken up with the official family tree of the Hebrew tribes, beginning with Adam and proceeding through thousands of years….and long lists of unfamiliar and difficult names-more than five hundred of them…but 44 names into the 4th chapter a story, of just two verses, breaks through…"

"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." In the next verse, the list of names continues without any explanation of why there was that interruption, and we never hear of Jabez again.

Wilkinson shows us that the prayer of Jabez, in calling on the God of Israel, is in four parts and his little book focuses on each of those parts.

"The Jabez Prayer

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.

(I Chronicles 4:10)"

The first is: Oh, that You would bless me indeed! In adding 'indeed' to this request, in Hebrew it's like adding a bunch of exclamation points or putting it in capital letters. Many times we sort of pass over blessings. That is, we hear the word 'bless' tossed around so much, like after someone sneezes, or even in a sarcastic way by someone who is asking you for a donation for something on the street corner or at the entrance to a grocery store and you don't contribute and they say "God bless you." You know they don't mean that.

Blessings are powerful. "To bless in the biblical sense means to ask for or to impart supernatural favor." Many Christians are reluctant to ask for a blessing for themselves. They feel okay about asking it for others, but not themselves. Jabez' prayer focuses on "our wanting for ourselves nothing more and nothing less than what God wants for us." Jabez "left it entirely up to God decide what the blessings would be, and where, when and how Jabez would receive them."

When you sincerely seek God's blessing in your life "your life will be marked by miracles." When you pray for God's blessing you are opening yourself up to the power of God in your life.

But, as Bruce Wilkinson points out, "There's a catch….What if you found out that God had it in mind to send you 23 specific blessings today, but you got only one? What do you suppose the reason would be?

There's a little fable about a man who dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter welcomes him and gives him a grand tour. Midst all the splendor the man notices a building that just looks like a big old warehouse-no windows, one door. The man asks to see inside. St. Peter tries to deter him saying 'You really wouldn't want to see what's inside.' The man wonders why there are secrets in heaven, and persists. So, St. Peter takes him in. The building is filled with row after row, stack after stack of plain white boxes tied with red ribbons. The man notices they all have names on them and asks St. Peter if there's one with his name on it. St. Peter says 'yes' but tries to persuade the man not to look in his, but the man is already rushing to the "J" aisle for Jones. He finds his box and pops the lid and as he looks inside he has a "moment of instant recognition, and he let's out a deep sigh like the ones Peter has heard so many times before. There in Mr. Jones' white box are all the blessings that God wanted to give him while he was on earth…but Mr. Jones had never asked."

"That's the catch-if you don't ask for God's blessing, you forfeit those that come to you only when you ask….God's bounty is limited only by us, not by God's resources, power or willingness to give. Jabez was blessed simply because he refused to let any obstacle, person or opinion loom larger than God's nature. And God's nature is to bless."

The next request from Jabez is: That you would enlarge my territory. Now this is not just about real estate. This is about increasing our opportunities to serve God. Jabez wanted "more influence, more responsibility, and more opportunity" to show others the wonderful love and compassion of God. A prayer of ours today along this line might be, "expand my opportunities and my impact in such a way that I touch more lives" in service to you.

"Whatever our gifts, education or vocation might be, our calling is to do God's work on earth. If you want, you can call it living out your faith for others. You can call it ministry. You can call it every Christian's day job….When we pray Lord, use me, give me more ministry for you, the blessings and opportunities will start pouring in. The problem is, when God answers, fulfills these requests, many people shrink from living at this level of blessing." Once the blessings and opportunities start flowing in, we get reluctant and hesitant. And here's where the next request comes in.

Oh, that your hand would be with me. After the opportunities and blessings start flowing in, we start to feel inadequate, not up to the task to handle all that is coming our way. When we receive blessings on a scale we hadn't imagined possible, and see God stretch the limits of our influence and opportunities, we start to feel overwhelmed. We start to lose our focus. We start to feel afraid, misled.

We start to feel that what God has called us to do is beyond us. We feel that what we are attempting is beyond us. But that's just how we are SUPPOSED to feel. We need to feel dependent. We CAN'T do this on our own. We need to rely on God's strength and power. We need to trust in GOD'S guidance and wisdom. "As God's people we are expected to attempt something large enough that failure is guaranteed…unless God steps in. We have to cry out to God, "Oh that your hand would be with me." "With that we release God's power to accomplish God's will and bring glory to God through all those seeming impossibilities."

After blessings and opportunities start flowing in, many Christians get fearful. "They tend to come to the wrong conclusion: I've gone too far, I've ended up in the wrong place. And since I have all the resources I'm going to get, I need to exit fast." We must be convicted in our faith and our trust in God. We must know that all things are possible with God.

We at Trinity have trusted God in our search for an associate pastor. We have been blessed in that process and over that time. We have been blessed by wonderful additions to our family through baptism and through joining us in membership in working for the Lord. We have been blessed with receiving large sums of money left to Trinity through the estates of various members who have left the ranks of the faithful here and joined the saints in eternal life in the presence of Jesus.

We have come to this place now in our search for an associate pastor. We could become afraid for various reasons. We could feel overwhelmed by what is entailed in calling the associate. But here is where we should NOT falter. Here is where we especially must ask that the hand of God be with us. We must attempt something so great for God that it is sure to fail unless God is with us. We have asked God to bless us and God has. We have asked God to expand our opportunities and God has. And now we must not become afraid. We must not back down. We must ask for God's hand to be with us and do the work of the Lord as the Lord expands our opportunities.

I am not going to take up the fourth and last request of Jabez' prayer because of time restraints. I'll let you read that in your own Bible.

So I'm going to close by emphasizing that we must look at how God has blessed Trinity with faithful members and workers and volunteers and new family members. We must look at how God has expanded our opportunities and how God is calling us to fulfill our ministry in Jesus' name to meet the needs of those expanded opportunities.

The reason this congregation exists is to do the work of the Lord in the world. We not only minister to one another, but we must continue to let others know about the love of Jesus. We must continue to reach out in every way possible. God has not blessed us as a congregation and expanded our opportunities for us to back down now. We must attempt something that is beyond ourselves that can only succeed with the help of God. We must stand faithfully and trust God. When Jesus asked Peter to walk to him on the water, Peter was successful only until he started to be fearful. He stared to sink because he took his focus off of the Lord. And he was immediately strengthened by the Lord when he called out to the Lord.

Let us not be fearful or feel overwhelmed. Let us realize that God has blessed us and has increased our opportunities for ministry. Now we must take the step that is necessary to fulfill what God has given us to do. O Lord, that you would bless us indeed, and expand our opportunities, and that your hand would be with us. God has indeed done all this. Now it is up to us to respond in faith and trust.


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