I spoke in church a few weeks ago and the text I chose for the occasion was about a few lines of prayer embedded in between a historical narrative of names in 1 Chronicles 4. This prayer can be found in verses 9-10 and in many Christian circles is called The Prayer of Jabez.
“And he prayed to the God of Israel: Oh that thou wouldst bless me indeed and enlarge my border and that thy hand might be with me, and that thou wouldst keep me from evil, that it be not my sorrow!”
But who is Jabez? 1 Chronicles 4 is a chapter that chronicles the lineage of the family of Judah. Of all the dead men’s names mentioned -Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal (among so many others)— the most remarkable name of all is Jabez. Jabez, according to the Bible was born of pain and sorrow. In spite of this 1 Chronicles 4:9 says that Jabez was more honorable, more remarkable, and more successful than his brothers. Why? It’s because he prayed a very specific (and to me, a very scary) prayer. I believe that it takes guts to pray the prayer Jabez prayed.
First, Jabez sought God’s blessing. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to seek means to search for and to ask for something. This verb requires both an actor and a receiver of the action. Here we are told that Jabez TOOK ACTION and went directly to God and to humbly acknowledge his need to be blessed by a higher power—by the God of Israel. Many of us are afraid to acknowledge our weaknesses, our needs. But Jabez humbled himself and prayed; this simple act itself takes courage.
The second reason why Jabez’ prayer is a scary prayer is because he asked God for #blessing. No, this doesn’t mean that Jabez asked God for a nice cabin up in the mountains, for a cool new Montero Sport, or for an all-expense-paid trip to Bali. All too often, we imagine blessings to be of the material kind: money, a promotion, or perhaps new shoes or clothes. But if we look back, these material and monetary blessings are really not the blessings that are talked about in the Bible.
In the dictionary, a blessing means “an approval that allows or helps you do something.” It also means “help and approval from God.” Other texts also define a blessing as a thing conducive to happiness and welfare. When we think of a blessing in these terms, our entire idea of what a blessing is expands! It is no longer just a physical, material thing we take photos of and post on facebook or thank our benefactors for. A blessing encompasses so much more—the approval—God’s approval of our entire life and being—and this despite our sinful and broken nature—that God will bless us, approve of us, and bring us things thay are conducive to our welfare and happiness.
Asking God therefore for a blessing means that we acknowledge our brokenness—that we do not deserve anything he bestows on us—and yet we NEED his blessing.
The third reason why I believe Jabez’ prayer is a scary prayer is because he specifically asked God to enlarge his borders. A border is a boundary between places or a line that separates one country, state, or city from another. Borders are, for the most part, imaginary and man-made, but borders tend to keep people within certain areas and boundaries. Borders are usually protected and controlled and anyone who wishes to cross this border would have to show identification, a visa, and other such paperwork.
When we travel, we cross borders. When you step out of your houses to attend church services, you cross the border of your home and step into the borders of church. But imagine if you can expand ALL your borders—the limits of your abilities, the limits of your relationships, the limits of where you can work or serve, the limits of how much you can give, the limits of where you can go—just imagine what you can do with expanded borders!
But border expansion entails some risk and a good amount of courage because this means stepping out of what we are used to and comfortable with in order to discover more of the unknown. In expanding our borders, we may have to overcome fear, to undergo change, to offer a sacrifice. This is what Jabez so courageously prayed for.
Fourth, Jabez’ prayer is a scary prayer because he was willing to harness hinself to God’s power. He prayed: “That thy hand might be with me…” To harness ourseves to God’s power means to put it to use much like we harness the power of tje sun for solar energy or the way we harness our homes to electrical energy providers like MERALCO. Bing connected to such high voltage power sources is both a danger and a privilege. It can be dangerous when used incorrectly. But when used in the right way, being connected to such a power source can light up entire homes, cities, countries. In the same way, being connected to God, we are asking that we be agents of his mighty power, for his glory. Again, this is what Jabez prayed for.
Finally, Jabez prayed: “That it be not to my sorrow…” Jabez himself was sorrow and pain, thus, Jabez himself was the epitome of pain and sorrow. In his prayer, not only was Jabez clarifying that his blessings not be paired woth pain and suffering, but that Jabez was also letting go of himself, letting go of pain and sorrow. This is a scary thing, letting go of one’s identity. And yet Jabez knew that by letting go of who he was, he can do new things, work on expanded borders, and receive God’s approval—only if he let God work through him.
So, if I truly believe that Jabez prayer is a scary prayer, then why in the world am I telling you about it? One of the reasons I chose this text to share is because I remember how it felt to realize that I could actually ask God for the same things Jabez asked God for. I remember how liberating and exhilirating it is to realize that it is possible to break away from the mundane and the boring, and possible to break away from pain and suffering the way Jabez did.
Yes, breaking away can be scary as I feel the prayer of Jabez is scary. But the most beautiful thing about Jabez’ scary prayer can be found in 1 Chronicles 4: 10: “God granted him what he requested.”
Once we, once you and I, as Christians, as children of God realize that we can pray such a prayer, our God —the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Gentiles, the God of Jabez—will grant our prayers just as he did to this man who was more honorable than all his brothers.
The question and challenge therefore is: “Are you willing to pray Jabez’ prayer?”