“Bible prayers: Jabez prays”
I Chronicles 4:9-10
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Back in the 60s, Reader’s Digest told the story about a group of hippies that were living near Santa Cruz, California. When they married and had children, they didn’t give their children “normal” names like Bob and Tim and Henry. Instead, they called them “Time Warp” or “Spring Fever.” Then when the children went off to school, teachers became rather accustomed to names like “Moonbeam,” Earth,” “Love,” and “Precious Promise.”
And that’s when the Kindergarten teachers first met a little boy named “Fruit Stand.” You see, when the school year began, parents dutifully fastened name tags onto their children’s clothes, kissed them goodbye, and sent them off to school.
So it was for “Fruit Stand.” And while the teachers thought his name was a little strange, they tried to make the best of it.
“Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?” they asked. And later, “Fruit Stand, how about a snack?” And by the end of the day, his name didn’t seem any stranger than “Autumn Flower” or “Crystal Rain.”
Finally, when it was time to dismiss the children at the end of the day, the teachers led them out to the buses. They asked, “Fruit Stand, do you know which one’s yours?”
But he didn’t answer. That wasn’t strange. Lots of children are shy on their first day. It didn’t really matter.
But the school had instructed the parents to write the names of their children’s bus stop on the other side of their name tags, so the teacher simply turned over the tag to read the other side. And there, neatly printed on the other side was the name “Anthony.”
Names are curious things. We choose them for our children very carefully. It’s something we want them to appreciate and to be proud of.
And as you can guess, in Bible times, names were especially important. They often said something about a person’s character or the man or woman they might become. Abraham, for example, was a name that meant “father of many nations” and Sarah meant “princess.” Jacob meant “he deceives.” Moses meant, “Drawn out of the water.” And Joshua meant “deliverer.”
So it was in the book of Chronicles where we meet a man named Jabez. But before I tell you what his name meant, let me explain.
Now it’s easy to say that I Chronicles chapter 4 is not necessarily the most exciting chapter in the Bible. If you want to read about something exciting like Noah and the flood, you could turn to Genesis chapter 7. If you want to read about David and Goliath, you turn to I Samuel chapter 17. And if you want to read about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, you turn to the book of John chapters 19 and 20.
But, as much as I hate to say it, I Chronicles chapter 4 is not real high on anyone’s reading list.
You see, it’s part of a long section of genealogies--name after name after name--that begins in chapter 1 and keeps on going all the way through chapter 9!
Let me try a little bit of it on you: “The sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei; and the sons of Zerubbabel: Meshullam and Hananiah, and Shelomith was their sister; and Hashubah, Ohel, Berechiah, Hasadiah, and Jushab-hesed, five…” (I Chronicles 3:19-20).
You get the idea.
And somewhere in the middle of all those “so-and-so begat so-and-so,” we meet a man whose name is Jabez.
And what’s so strange about him is that, for whatever reason, the Bible actually pauses to tell us something about him. And while it doesn’t say anything about Shepatiah, Ithream, or Eglah, it does choose to tell us something about Jabez.
Let me read what it says: “Jabez was more honorable 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” (I Chronicles 4:9-10).
So what did his name mean? The answer, simply enough, is “pain.” Jabez is the Hebrew word for “pain.”
Now we’re not completely sure just why his mother called him that. We guess that his birth must have been so remarkably painful that she couldn’t think of anything else to call him. And while Josiah would have been nice and Simeon would have been pretty good too, instead she called him, “Jabez.” “Pain.”
Can you imagine? Whenever his friends saw him on the street, they’d say, “Hey, Pain! Wait up! Let’s go out for pizza.” Or his brothers would call him to the table: “It’s time for supper, you little pain. Come and get it!”
So he went through all of his life, with a very unfortunate name.
As one commentator wrote, “Imagine if you had a child, and you named him ‘Cramp’ or ‘Itch.’”
Or to put it another way, if you think a boy named “Sue” is bad, a boy named Jabez isn’t much better.
But what’s so amazing about him is that, out of the blue, there he is in a long list of genealogies, shining like a star. And though he’s not remembered for winning a great battle or building a great building, he is remembered because of a prayer he prayed. Out of the people mentioned in I Chronicles chapters 1 through 9, he alone is lifted out because of his prayer.
So what was his prayer?
He prayed for four things--first, ”Lord, bless me.” Second, “Enlarge my territory.” Third, “Be with me.” And fourth, “Keep me from harm.”
Now before we go any further, we need to get something straight. The prayer of Jabez is not a prayer of greed. And neither is it some kind of “magic formula” to get God to fulfill our demands, to do what we want, when we want, and how we want it. Instead, it’s a plea asking Him to intervene in our lives, to acknowledge His power to act, and, in the end, that He may have the glory.
So what does the prayer of Jabez really mean? Let’s take it apart, piece by piece, starting with this: “Lord, bless me.”
Did you know that the word “bless” means “to consecrate” or “to set apart as holy”? That’s what it says in Genesis chapter 2: “By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:2-3).
So when Jabez asked God to bless him, he really wasn’t asking for material things. Instead, he was asking Him to set him apart, to make him holy, as one who belonged to God. In other words, he prayed, “God, guard me, and protect me, and keep me from all evil. And if it’s Your will, help me to be a fountain of blessing to others.”
Second, he prayed, “Enlarge my territory.”
Now it would seem that he’s simply asking God to give him more land and to make him more wealthy. But there’s more to it than that.
You see, “more land” meant greater responsibility that, of course, required a closer relationship with God. So when he prayed, “Enlarge my territory,” he was, in effect, saying, “Lord, if it’s Your will, increase my responsibility. But at the same time, hold me beneath Your covenant. Make me faithful to You.” Third, he prayed, “Be with me.”
How often do we pray that? How often do we ask God to be with us?
Sure we ask Him, but it’s often only when we need help or when we’re afraid. But do we really want God to be with us all the time--when we’re acting in anger, when we’re unfaithful to Him and to others? Do we really want God to “be with us” then?
But that’s exactly what Jabez prayed. He said, “God, be with me, not just sometimes, not just in those times when I’m in the deepest of trouble. Be with me all the time.”
And there’s one more thing for which he prayed. He said, “Keep me from harm, so that I will be free from pain.” In other words, “I have caused pain. My name is Pain. But help me to be someone entirely, completely different. Watch over me. Protect me. And be with me. And when You’re with me, I won’t cause anyone any pain anymore.”
The prayer of Jabez is a good prayer. In fact, it’s a prayer that any of us should pray: “Lord, if it’s Your will, bless me. Guide me. Protect me. Give me the gifts that You, and You alone, desire. Keep me faithful and, best of all, set me apart and make me holy. Only then can I be the faithful disciple You’ve called me to be.”
A little over fifty years ago, back in 1970, author John Paul Moore wrote a poem called Drinking from My Saucer. This is how it goes: “I’ve never made a fortune and it’s probably too late now. But I don’t worry about that much; I’m happy anyhow. And as I go along life’s journey I’m reaping better than I sowed. And I’m drinking from my saucer ‘cause my cup has overflowed.
“Don’t have a lot of riches and sometimes the going’s tough, but I have family and friends that love me and that makes me rich enough. I just thank God for His blessings and the mercies He’s bestowed. I’m drinking from my saucer ‘cause my cup has overflowed.
“Oh, I remember times when things went wrong and my faith got a little thin. But then, all at once, the dark clouds broke and that old sun peeked through again. So Lord, help me not to gripe about the tough rows I’ve hoed. I’m drinking from my saucer ‘cause my cup has overflowed.
“And if God gives me strength and courage when the way grows steep and rough, I’ll not ask for other blessings. I’m already blessed enough. And may I never be too busy to help another bear his load. Then I’ll keep drinking from my saucer ‘cause my cup has overflowed.”
Just one thing to mention before we leave this text. Jabez prayed, “Let Your hand be with me.”
It’s those hands that we also want to always be with us--hands that once touched lepers, that raised cripples and sent them walking, that smeared mud onto a blind man’s eyes, and that blessed little children. It’s the hands that took bread and wine one Maundy Thursday night, that blessed them and gave them. It’s the hands that once were nailed to wood, but were raised, three days later, in glory. It’s the hands He once showed to Thomas. “See My hands,” He said, “and touch My side. Stop doubting and believe.” And it’s the hands that we too pray will always be with us.
And wonder of wonders, what does it say at the end of the prayer of Jabez? It says: “And God granted his request” (I Chronicles 4:10).
Our prayer, dear Father, is a simple prayer. Bless us, as You see fit. Guide us. Protect us. Make us holy. And help us to be the people You have called us to be, that You may have the glory. This we ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen