Do you want to be blessed?
by Jack Wald | June 3rd, 2001

I Chronicles 4:1-11

On the front page of the May 9, 2001 International Herald Tribune was an article about the prayer of Jabez. Let me read from this article, titled A Best-Seller Built Around a Prayer and with the sub-title, Book Sparks Revival of Prosperity Gospel.

Buried in what many religion scholars agree is the least read and most boring section of the Bible, among the interminable genealogies where one ancient “begat” another, are 73 words about a mysterious character named Jabez.

Little is said about Jabez except that he was “more honorable than his brothers”. He prayed to God “to bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory,” and, the Bible says, God granted his request.

Now, thanks to a small book – and spin-off coffee mugs, bookmarks and plaques – Jabez’s prayer is being murmured in many parts of America: Business people say it has increased their profits; single women say it has found them boyfriends; and pastors say it has enlarged their congregations.

“The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.” by an Atlanta evangelist, Bruce Wilkerson, has sold 4.1 million copies, most of them in the last three months. It is No. 1 on USA Today’s best-seller list, No. 1 on The New York Times’s list of advice, how-to and miscellaneous best sellers and No. 1 on Publishers Weekly’s list of hardcover nonfiction best sellers.

At the Good News Bookstore in Topsham, Maine, the manager, Terri Demaria said, “We just got 30 more in. We couldn’t keep them on the shelf.”

The slim volume, a little more than a sermon, is one in a large field of religious self-help books. At first glance, the book appears to be spreading the “prosperity gospel” popular in the 1950s and 1960s, which taught that there is no shame in praying to God for a red Cadillac.

With it’s blatant materialism, the prosperity gospel eventually became an embarrassment for evangelicals. But “The Prayer of Jabez” offers a new view of the prosperity gospel. It preaches that it is perfectly fine to ask God for personal success, as long as that success has a godly purpose.

I will confess. I am one of the 4.1 million who bought a copy of the book. Phil List came back from the US in January and encouraged me to read his copy and I then asked my daughter Elizabeth to bring me my own copy on her trip here in March.

I read the book and for about a month or two prayed the prayer every morning. Since then, I have prayed it from time to time.

I will be preaching on these 73 words from II Chronicles 4 today and next Sunday. This morning we will look at what the prayer of Jabez is in its historical context and then I want to look at the first part of the prayer which asks for God’s blessing.

I was going to preach on three things I don’t like about the Prayer of Jabez. It is not the prayer itself with which I have a problem, but the movement built up around the prayer and the sudden popularity of the prayer. But I think I have been wisely spoken to and will refrain from my original idea. I will content myself with talking about blessing this morning.

Who was Jabez? Other than being included in the list of descendants of Judah, there is no other mention of this man in the Bible. There is a town called Jabez that was located somewhere in the vicinity of Bethlehem. But there is not much to go on in trying to know about this man.

His name appears in I Chronicles in a list of descendants starting with Adam and moving up to the Jews at the time this was written. Chronicles is a book written by a man we call “the Chronicler” at a time of celebration in Israel. Israel had been defeated by the Babylonians and carried off into captivity. For seventy years Israel reflected on what had happened and caused them to have been defeated. We will talk more about this in the fall when I begin preaching from the book of Jeremiah who predicted the defeat of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians.

But for seventy years Israel had been living in exile. In those seventy years, Israel had lost touch with it’s heritage. It had forgotten it’s identity as God’s chosen people and the Chronicler wrote to remind the people of Israel who they were and from where they had come. He went through a number of resources, including the books of Samuel and Kings, writing down that history he felt important for people to remember. He also had genealogical lists. And he had the records of Ezra and Nehemiah. From these sources, he wrote what we have in our Bibles as I & II Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah.

He begins making the connection to the past by showing the link of the present day Jews to their ancestors, all the way back to Adam.

This is the context in which we find the Prayer of Jabez. The genealogy focuses particularly on the tribes of Judah and Levi and it is in the list of the descendants of Judah that we come to Jabez.

Reading through this list is certainly one of the most boring parts of the Bible. Name after name after name and every once in a great while there is a little note after the name.
Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on earth.

They were the potters who lived at Netaim and Gederah; they stayed there and worked for the king.

Shimei had sixteen sons and six daughters, but his brothers did not have many children; so their entire clan did not become as numerous as the people of Judah.

As the Chronicler is looking at the records he is condensing into his document, it is almost as if he too is bored by the long list of names and so every once in a while he sees a name and knows something about that name and gives a little extra information.

When he comes to Jabez, he is obviously impressed with this man and records this prayer that was prayed. As far as we can tell, Jabez lived in southern Israel, some time after Israel crossed over the Jordan into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, during the time recorded in the book of Judges.

How did he know the prayer prayed by Jabez? Jabez must have been a wealthy, powerful man to have been remembered for so long.. He was a leader in the tribe of Judah and in the histories the Chronicler was using to make his list, maybe his prayer was recorded. Or perhaps the Chronicler was himself from the tribe of Judah and this ancestor of his was remembered and his prayer passed down from generation to generation. But either through some written history or oral tradition, the Chronicler knew the prayer of Jabez.

There are some things that can be known. Jabez means “one who causes pain”. Children in the Bible were named for the events surrounding them. Last week Kelly preached from the life of Leah, the first wife of Jacob. Do you remember the names for her sons? Leah was not loved by her husband Jacob and sought to please him by bearing him children.

32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” [Reuben sounds like the Hebrew for “he has seen my misery]
33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. [one who hears]
34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. [attached]
35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah. [praise]
17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.  18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar. [reward]
19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son.  20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. [honor]

The name a child had carried meaning through his life. In our church, many of the Nigerians have this tradition and are named Lucky or Smart or Joy. When you meet Lucky or Smart or Joy, there is a positive connection to their name and I find myself hoping the name fits the person, that he is lucky and is smart and is characterized by joy. But what would happen if you met a man named Pain? Wouldn’t you want to know why he was named that?

Did Jabez grow up in a life of pain? Did he cause pain at his birth, perhaps being a breech delivery? Did he cause pain to others in his life? We don’t know, but at one point in his life, he prayed this prayer which has four parts to it.

First he prays for God’s blessing on his life.
Oh, that you would bless me
Secondly, he prays that God will expand his borders, his territory.
Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!
Third, he prays that God’s hand will be upon him.
Let your hand be with me,
And last, he prays that he will be kept from evil.
and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.
And God granted his request.

The words bless, blessed, and blessing are found 306 times in the Old Testament and when you read those verses, as I did this past week, it becomes clear that the Hebrew understanding of blessing was associated with having children, having a lot of cattle and sheep and living a long life. The psalm we read as a call to worship is the psalm that was and is read very often at Jewish weddings. Who does not want to be blessed as Psalm 128 does? Children, a loving spouse, a long life, peace. Psalm 128 speaks about being blessed in the ways this world is able to bless us.

The story of Job starts off by telling us that Job was the greatest man among all the people of the East. How do we know this to be true? Well, he had seven sons and three daughters, he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants.

And then he suffered and all that he had was taken from him. What is the proof at the end of the story that God blessed him for his perseverence?

He had again seven sons and three daughters but his seven thousand sheep doubled to fourteen thousand, his three thousand camels doubled to six thousand camels, his five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys doubled to one thousand yoke of oxen and one thousand donkeys.

How do we know God blessed David and Solomon? Read sometime I Kings 10 which describes the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon and then goes on to list all of Solomon’s wealth. When the Queen of Sheba saw all that Solomon had, she was overwhelmed, the Scripture says. It was pretty clear that this was a king who was blessed by God.

This is the Hebrew understanding of God’s blessing. Health, long life, wealth and prosperity. If someone was sick, they were sick because of sin in their lives. If someone was poor, it was because of laziness. To say that a poor, sick man was blessed by God would have been a ridiculous statement.

The prayer of Jabez stands firmly in this understanding. How did people know God blessed Jabez? He was wealthy. How did people know God answered his prayer? He acquired a lot of land.

But now we move to the New Testament. Bless, blessing and blessed are found 88 times and take a look at the context of blessing in the New Testament.

The Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are the poor in spirit,

Blessed are those who mourn,

Blessed are the meek,

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple as a baby, Simeon blessed them, saying to Mary:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,  35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Again from the Sermon on the Mount
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Paul in Romans
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

James, the brother of Jesus
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Peter in his letter
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

You cannot find the Old Testament concept of material blessing in the New Testament. Blessing in the New Testament is placed firmly in the midst of suffering, persecution, pain, trials and temptations.

Does this mean God no longer wants us to be blessed with good things? Does God no longer care if we have plenty to eat, a comfortable place to live, people to love us, a long and pleasant life?

God delights in blessing us, wants to bless us. This is true through the whole of Scripture. God in the New Testament still wants what is best for us. The difference is that what is best for us as revealed in the New Testament, is what is best for us in light of eternity, not just this material world.

Do you know of anyone who is wealthy, has children and grandchildren and lives a miserable life? I certainly do and several people I know come to my mind as well as people I’ve read about but do not know personally. I’ve read before from Frederick Buechner, a writer who I admire. He came from a well-connected family and although his mother’s side of the family lost their money during the Stock Market crash of 1929, he still grew up in a privileged environment. His father lived in this privileged environment and one day when Buechner was a boy, he went to the garage, shut the door, turned on the car and killed himself. When Buechner was in college at Princeton University, he visited his uncle in New York City who was head of a successful company with a wife and children. His uncle helped him out with some money he needed and a week later killed himself.

Why would someone who had everything the world has to offer kill himself? If being blessed means being wealthy, why are there unhappy people among those who have several houses, yachts, fancy cars and servants?

In the New Testament, it is clear that God understands that what makes a person happy is relatively independent from anything this world has to offer us. The focus on being blessed in the Old Testament is by receiving what this world has to offer. The focus on being blessed in the New Testament is on what the Kingdom of God, our eternal world has to offer.

Being blessed changes from mere wealth, children and health to a faith that grows, to pride and selfish ambition that get demolished, to persevering through difficult times. A person is blessed when he or she sees beyond what this world has to offer to what will last for an eternity.

Listen to these verses

John 1
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
Jesus is the source of the blessing we receive.

Matthew 13
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
Our eyes and ears are blessed because of the eternal truth they have sensed.

Peter’s confession of Christ
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
Spiritual insight made Peter blessed.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
Those on his right are blessed, not because they received the world’s reward, but because they receive heaven’s reward.

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
We are blessed when we live a live of obedience to God.

John 13 washing the feet of the disciples
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
We are blessed when we model ourselves after Jesus and serve others.

Ephesians 1
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.
Old Testament blessing is a material, temporal, this world blessing. New Testament blessing is spiritual blessing. A bumper sticker in the US says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That’s Old Testament blessing. I John 2:17
The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
That’s New Testament blessing.

The problem with the popularity of the Prayer of Jabez is that it is being used by people seeking the Old Testament blessing. Bless me means give me more of what the world has to offer. Why have 4.1 million books been sold? Does this reflect a hunger for God? Or a hunger for more of what the world has to offer?

In Mark 10 James and John come to speak with Jesus.
“Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

The cup Jesus speaks about is called by Paul in I Corinthians 10, the cup of blessing. And Jesus tells them
“You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with,
and this cup of blessing led James to be the first of the disciples to be martyred.

Do you want to be blessed?

This morning during communion, we have the opportunity to come forward and drink from the cup of blessing.

When you come forward to remember what Christ has done for you and to seek his blessing, are you willing to sacrifice your pride and ego for the blessing God wants you to experience? Are you willing to forgive someone who has hurt or annoyed you so that you can receive God’s blessing?

Maybe God has disappointed you because you have been praying for something you have not received, money, health, a spouse, children. Are you willing to put these desires aside for the sake of God’s blessing in your life?

Are you willing to suffer in this world for the sake of what you will receive in God’s eternal heaven? Then come drink from the cup of blessing.

Are you willing to submit to God and seek what he wants for you rather than what you want for yourself? Then come drink from the cup of blessing.

If your attachment is to this material world, beware of praying the Prayer of Jabez. If what you are longing for is a more comfortable life, bigger house, more money, better clothes, a fancier car and more exotic vacations, then don’t pray this prayer.  If you measure God’s love for you by how much you have of what the world offers, don’t pray the Prayer of Jabez.

But if your heart is set on experiencing Christ, growing in his love, seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, then by all means, pray the Prayer of Jabez. If you are willing to sacrifice everything for Christ, then pray the Prayer of Jabez.

Blessed are they who see the world with God’s eyes, appreciating the beauty of this world but reach out for the creator rather than the creation.