In Praise of The Prayer of Jabez
With Pastoral Exhortation Concerning the Book by the Same Title
by Rev. A. Joseph Wheat
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested." 1 Chronicles 4:10 (KJV)
The newest, hottest phenomenon in evangelicalism today has to be The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life, a book written by Bruce Wilkinson, noted leader of the Walk Thru the Bible Ministries.
This little book has rocketed onto the New York Times best-seller list. It is everywhere. It’s easy to read and cheap to give away to others. Closer to home, it is enjoying wide circulation within many churches, including the one that I pastor.
After reading the book, hearing people talk about how they are now “using” the prayer, and even examining some complaints against the book, I am compelled to write a few words pastorally in the hope that this biblical prayer will not become a spiritual short-cut or be used in unbiblical ways.
Let me say first that I have nothing but praise and appreciation for the prayer of Jabez recorded in 1 Chronicles 4:10. It is the Word of God! It was written for our edification, direction and help. And it was written to help instruct our prayer lives. Who doesn’t need biblical models for prayer? Let me also say that I commend Mr. Wilkinson for bringing to light an oft-neglected scriptural prayer. His book has caused that which was seemingly hidden to glow in the spotlight.
Let me also state that I believe Mr. Wilkinson’s intent is good. He is attempting to raise prayer to a level of God-centeredness that is greatly needed today. His thrust is that we ought to ask God to bless us in God’s way so that we can best minister to others and serve Him. He’s right to emphasize that God knows how to glorify Himself through us better than we do. We Presbyterians have a historical and keen interest for seeking to bring maximum glory to God as evidenced in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever (Question 1).
This God-centeredness in prayer is especially important today. The prayer of Jabez reminds us that prayer is to be subservient to the will of God. Prayer should never be defined as the ability to manipulate the deity. Let us note the instruction we have in 1 John 5:14-15: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us ―whatever we ask―we know that we have what we asked of him.
Prayer Reduced to a Formula?
So what are the issues that cause concern? The issues are certainly not with the biblical prayer of Jabez. There are some secondary theological concerns, and there is the possibility that the readers of the book might interpret the blessings sought from God primarily as material blessings (although Mr. Wilkinson is careful to explain that the blessings to be sought are spiritual). My greater concern as a pastor is how the many readers of the book are using the prayer of Jabez.
We modern Christians live in a highly technological, pragmatic world. It’s one that emphasizes processes and outcomes like no age before us. There is something within our culture that seeks to reduce things down to the simplest process. This becomes a danger in the realm of our faith. Reductionism is that which boils the manifold truths of Scripture down to a few primary principles (e.g. “10 steps to true meaning,” or “five principles to living well”). The Scriptures themselves sometimes seem to do the same. Jesus said that all the Law and the prophets are expressed in the commands to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). Does he mean that all the Law and the prophets are no longer significant? Of course not. All scripture is God-breathed and profitable. The Bible’s summary verses do not leave the rest behind. Reductionism is overly simplistic, and drains the faith of its depth and texture.
I am sure that Mr. Wilkinson probably has no intention of promoting reductionism. Nor does he intend to make the prayer of Jabez the exclusive prayer of the believer. But he does strongly imply that this prayer should be the primary prayer of the believer. Mr. Wilkinson instructs us on page 86 to “Pray this prayer every morning, and keep a record of your daily prayer by marking off a calendar or chart you make especially for this purpose.” He even instructs to “Re-read this little book once each week during the next month…” On page 87 he tells us to pray this same prayer beyond ourselves: “Start praying the Jabez prayer for your family and friends, and local church.” This can make prayer “Jabezocentric!”
Prayer Diminished to a “Mantra”?
The potential problems, however, are not with the praying of the Jabez prayer, but rather with the tendency of readers to make this prayer into a kind of repetitive “mantra” prayer. We can’t be sure that even Jabez prayed this prayer more than once! Furthermore, we are not told that this was the extent nor even the primary thrust of his prayer life. As significant as the prayer of Jabez is, it is only a part of the beautiful mosaic of prayer found throughout the Scriptures. The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ high-priestly prayer, Paul’s several prayers, and the many others in the pages of the Bible are all significant and are all needed.
Moreover, if God intended us to use a patterned prayer, it would be the Lord’s Prayer and not the prayer of Jabez. This is how Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. " Mattthew 6:9-13 (KJV)
By comparison, the Jabez prayer pulls in only three of the six aspects of the Lord’s Prayer:
- To gain knowledge of God ― Our Father in Heaven… (missing from the Jabez prayer).
- To express worship of God ― Hallowed be Thy name… (missing from the Jabez prayer).
- Submission to God’s revealed will ― Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… (present in the Jabez prayer).
- Petition for God to provide ― Give us today our daily bread… (present in the Jabez prayer).
- Seeking forgiveness from God ― Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors... (missing from the Jabez prayer).
- Prayer for protection from evil ― And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one… (present in the Jabez prayer).
This six-point outline of the Lord’s Prayer draws attention to what should be the key elements of any ongoing prayer life. Half of these are missing from the prayer of Jabez. Using the prayer of Jabez as a primary model for prayer can leave one’s prayer life incomplete. Even the Lord’s Prayer should not be used exclusively as the only model for prayer (as if the other prayers given by God in the Scriptures are unnecessary). Even the Lord’s Prayer should not become a mantra prayer. All of the prayers in the Bible were given to us for our help.
My final concern is our need for specific prayer, not just general form prayers. God is honored by our coming to him as worshipful children to petition Him specifically. While Thy will be done is the heart attitude of prayer, give us this day our daily bread is also significant. Our prayers must be offered in submission to the Father who knows what is best. This is a principle of prayer which should be stressed in our day, and the Jabez prayer acknowledges this wonderfully.
Yet our prayers to the Father must also be specific. This aspect of prayer teaches us faith and helps us thank God specifically. We petition God for specific things, submitted to his purposes. When we see the answers to specific prayer, it bolsters our faith. We are also able to thank and praise God specifically for obvious answers to specific prayers. The Jabez prayer merely teaches one principle: that prayer should submit to the will of the Father. It doesn’t teach the other principle: our need for very specific prayer. We need both of these principles operating in our prayer lives.
In conclusion, I am grateful for the sudden popularity of the Jabez prayer in Scripture. Aside from certain secondary theological issues, I’m thankful for the emphasis in Mr. Wilkinson’s book that Christians should embrace a larger vision of God and His will and purposes for our lives. I thank him for helping modern, man-centered believers to look up and seek supernatural direction. However, I exhort us never to reduce prayer to a single pre-eminent formula. Rather, we should expand prayer. As we grow in grace we must grasp more and more teaching about prayer and the God to whom we pray. I exhort the people of God to discover and employ all the beautiful prayers of the Scriptures.
© A. Joseph Wheat, Senior Pastor
Village Seven Presbyterian Church
4050 Nonchalant Circle South
Colorado Springs, Colorado