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The Prayer of Jabez ::

What is wrong with the Prayer of Jabez? After all it’s from the Bible. LUKE TATTERSALL takes a look at what’s wrong with the Prayer of Jabez, and explains the dangers of this approach to applying the Bible …
Source: Perspective Vo9 No3 © Perspective 2001


What is wrong with the Prayer of Jabez? After all it’s from the Bible. LUKE TATTERSALL takes a look at what’s wrong with the Prayer of Jabez, and explains the dangers of this approach to applying the Bible ...

It is the #1 best seller at Koorong. In fact it was a #1 New York Times Best Seller. It is a book that promises to revolutionise your life. It is called the Prayer of Jabez by Brian Wilkinson.

If we were to start listing the problems with the book it would be hard to know where to begin and it would certainly take more pages than are available here to reach the end of the list.

Here is a book that further fuels one of the most ungodly and damaging ideas to plague the Christian church in the past 50 years – the Prosperity Gospel. It is saying that God wants you to have more – all you have to do is ask for it in the right way. It is a book that says we have the power to restrain or unlock God’s power and blessing (as though God were some kind of Magic Genie in the Sky). It is a book that gives the impression God is powerless to bless us unless we ask for it. It is a book that presents a very unbiblical view of what blessing means.
In short, I suppose it is a book that tells people just what they want to hear (that they can have a fuller and richer life) – but not what the Bible is saying. It is a book that promises almost the same thing as every self-help program on TV – power, blessings and contentment. And the book is filled with real life examples of how this “prayer” has worked for the author and others. (You can even go to the web site to read more testimonials – www.prayerofjabez.com).
As I said, I can’t begin to list how many ways this book distorts the clear message of the Bible.
But the purpose of this article is not to list all the faults with the book. I want to focus on the fundamental problem of this book: The lack of a Biblical Theology. This book presents an incredibly unhelpful way of reading the Bible – and especially reading the Old Testament.
The Prayer of Jabez is based on 2 verses from the book of 1 Chronicles 4.

Jabez was more honourable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
(1 Chron 4:9-10)

Wilkinson says these verses contain “the key to a life of extraordinary favour with God” (p.7). The logic runs something like this: Jabez prayed for blessing and got it so we should pray for blessing and we will get it.
But is that what the verse in 1 Chronicles means? Is that what we are supposed to do with the this brief account of Jabez – a man mentioned nowhere else in the Bible?
Is that the right way to handle the Bible? Well I want to say a very loud: No it isn’t.
Wilkinson’s approach to the Bible is to take a story he likes the sound of and then take the extraordinary step of saying that it applies directly to us as well. When it comes to “enlarging our territories” Wilkinson says we are not talking simply about land but any area of our life that we might want God to expand. His example is this:

“If Jabez had worked on Wall Street, he might have prayed, “Lord, increase the value of my investment portfolios.” (p.31)

He wants to take the story of Jabez as part allegory, part moral lesson. But that is not how we are to read the Bible.
We need to read the Bible in the way the Bible says it is to be understood. This is where Biblical theology comes in. When you read the Bible (and especially the Old Testament) you need to remember two things:

The Bible has a central theme or story running right through from Genesis to Revelation At the focus and fulfilment of the story of the Bible is Jesus When you are in the pages of the Old Testament you need to remember that the story is driving toward the fulfilment that will come in Jesus.
The story of Adam and Eve, Abraham and the whole history of Israel is leading to the climactic fulfilment in Jesus. You can’t really understand the story of the Bible until you see the end of the story – Jesus.
That is the way that Jesus and the Gospel writers say we should read the Bible (Matt 1:22, Luke 4:21, John 5:39). It is the way the New Testament writers say we should understand the Old Testament (1 Peter 1:10-12, 2 Corinthians 1:20, 1 Corinthians 10:11, etc).

The whole book of Hebrews is a perfect example of this. The overwhelming point of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus has come as the fulfilment of the promises God made. Jesus is the fulfilment of the things that were only in shadow under the old covenant (tabernacle, sacrificial system, priesthood, even the covenant itself). All that Israel hoped for – all that God had promised his people – is found in Jesus. Biblical Theology is an attempt to understand the Bible in terms of the whole message – in terms of where the book is leading.

Barry Webb offers a helpful description of how Biblical Theology works:

[The] focus [of Biblical theology] is on the unity of Scripture, while doing full justice to its diversity. The key to this unity in diversity is found in the gospel preached by Jesus and his apostles, to which the New Testament bears witness. This gospel is everywhere anchored in the Old Testament, of which it is seen to be the fulfilment. In short… biblical theology… derives its rationale from the evangel (the gospel) itself. (Five Festal Garments – p.15)

We need to let our reading of the Old Testament be shaped by Jesus. When we are looking at the pages of the Old Testament we need to ask where it fits in the overall story of the Bible and how what I know of Jesus helps me understand the passage better.
So how should I understand the verses from 1 Chronicles 4?
What do I make of the prayer of Jabez?

Well, let’s think about where it fits into the overall story of the Bible. It fits into a summary section at the beginning of 1 Chronicles where the writer is talking about the tribes and clans that moved into the land. The promises God made to Abraham (land, blessing, becoming a great nation, rest from their enemies and God being with them) have been fulfilled. What Jabez prays is exactly what God had promised to give Israel – land, blessing and rest from all their enemies. God is willing to grant Jabez’s prayer because it is what God had promised to give his people Israel. What makes Jabez “more honourable than his brothers” seems to be the fact that he wants what God wants for his people. Is there a “Jabez Principle” that we should apply?

No, I don’t think so. Jabez prayed that particular prayer at that particular time and God graciously answered it. There is a “God Principle” there: God is faithful to his promises and to his people. Does it mean that God will answer every prayer to “enlarge our territory” (figuratively speaking)?
No, it certainly does not. Just because God granted Jabez’s request doesn’t mean he will answer every prayer that is remotely similar.

Wilkinson gives the impression that this prayer is a kind of mantra that we can say over and over again. He says that he has been praying it every day for 30 years. At the end of the book he encourages you to commit yourself to pray it every morning for 30 days. But when it comes to understand what it means to be blessed by God we have to remember that the promises to Abraham find their fulfilment in Jesus. All the blessing we see God give Israel in the pages of the Old Testament are just a shadow of the greater things to come in Jesus.
It is at this point that Wilkinson’s lack of a Biblical Theology is most evident and desperately needed.
Wilkinson wants to say: “Jabez prayed for personal blessing and got it. We should pray for personal blessing and we will get it”. But that is failing to see where the story is going. Wilkinson has failed to see the difference that Jesus makes to our understanding of the Jabez story. In a book about “Breaking through to the blessed life” (the sub-title of the book) Wilkinson fails to see that we already have the “blessed life” if we trust in Jesus. He fails to see that we have already been blessed more than we could ever hope for – and more than Jabez could have ever dreamed of.
Look at what Paul says to the Ephesians:

b q. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-10)

The impression you get from the book is that Wilkinson wants to say: “Yeah! Thanks for that blessing – but that is not enough. I want more”. He even says that we should be “selfish” in our prayers (p.19). Read through that Ephesians passage again. Does it sound like God has short-changed us when it comes to blessing? Does it sound like there is some blessing that God is not going to give unless you ask for it the right way?

Does it sound like we need to “break through to blessing”? No. Paul says, to those who trust in Jesus, you have been “blessed … in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”. Here is a book that wants to talk about blessing – but barely mentions the blessing we have received in Jesus. In fact it is more than half way through the book before the name of Jesus is used (page 47 of the 92 pages). Failing to read the Bible with the whole message in view and failing to read the Bible without recognizing that Jesus is focus and fulfilment of the story can lead to some very dangerous ideas.

So how is your Biblical Theology? Do you have the overall story of the Bible clearly in your mind? Do you see how Jesus is the fulfilment of all that God was at work doing in the Old Testament? There have already been thousands of people who have made Wilkinson’s book a best seller. I am sure that there will be thousands in Australia who will lap up the message thinking they are hearing what the Bible has to say. But when you know the message of the Bible, when you know that Jesus is the fulfilment of all things, then you know that God has already lavished his blessing on us in Jesus.

Luke Tattersall is the pastor of the Parramatta City Presbyterian Church, Sydney.




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