Unopened blessings
by Jack Wald | June 10th, 2001

I Chronicles 4:9-10

If you have ever tried to read the Bible in a year, reading three to four chapters each day, you have to eventually read the opening chapters of I Chronicles. And when you read through this list of name after hard-to-pronounce name after incomprehensible name tracing the lineage of post-exilic Jews back to Adam, reading the prayer of Jabez is like finding a cool cup of water in the middle of the desert.

For me it is kind of like reading an article in French and then coming upon a sentence in English. Finally! Something I can understand!

An Atlanta evangelist, Bruce Wilkinson, has developed a ministry based on this prayer and the little book he wrote about the prayer has sold 4.1 million copies, most of them in just a few months. By this time, a month later, that number is certainly much higher.

For those of you not familiar with the prayer, Jabez was a wealthy man who lived in southern Israel during the time recorded in the book of Judges, some time after Israel crossed the Jordan into Canaan and before Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon. In the listing of the descendants of Judah, his name is mentioned and a prayer that he had prayed is recorded.

The prayer he prayed is broken up into four parts:

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 will sustain him.
Let your hand be with me,
And last, he prays that he will be kept from evil.
Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.
And God granted his request.

Last week I spoke about the first part of the prayer, blessing. This morning I want to take a look at the last three parts of the prayer and tell you what I like about praying this prayer on a daily basis.

Last Sunday I talked about the theological context for Jabez’ prayer. Jabez prayed this prayer in expectation of receiving material blessing and an increase in the land he owned. What Bruce Wilkenson has done is to translate this prayer into a New Testament context.

He encourages us to ask God for his blessing in our lives, without being specific about how we want to be blessed and without expecting a material blessing. He encourages us to ask God for his blessing, whatever it is, whatever God decides we need. This part of the prayer is a request for God not to restrain himself in any way but to give us all, completely, without holding back, all that he wants to give us. It is a prayer in which we declare that we are open and ready to receive all God has for us. It is not a prayer for material blessing, but primarily spiritual blessing – although God does bless us materially as well.

The second part of the prayer of Jabez is that God would give him more land..
Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!

Wilkenson interprets this part of the prayer as a request to have more responsibility, more opportunity to do something for God. Just as we open ourselves to ask God to bless us in whatever way he wants to bless us, when we pray the prayer of Jabez, we open ourselves to being used by God in whatever way he wants to use us.

God is at work in the world. When Jesus came he was very clear that he had come to do the work begun by the Father.

In John 4 Jesus speaks to the woman at the well and then when his disciples come to him he has this conversation with them.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

Again in John 5 Jesus said:
“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

Jesus was clear that he wanted the disciples to be part of this work. In John 9 Jesus says:
As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.

It is our calling, as Christians, to do the work of Christ in the world. We are to be his hands and his voice in the world. It is our privilege to be a part of what God wants to see done in the lives of people around us.

What is your job? Let’s say you are a teacher. You have to get up in the morning, collect the papers you need for the day and go to school. You greet the students, teach your classes, collect homework, hand out exams to be graded, say goodby to the students, do the administrative things that need to be done, go home, check over the homework, grade the exams, prepare the lesson plan for the next day and go to bed. (Now that I write this, it seems that being a teacher is quite a demanding job.)

It is possible to be a teacher and do nothing more than that. But to restrict yourself to those tasks is to miss out on what God wants to do with you each day. Praying that God would bless you and enlarge your territory might mean that you meet someone on the way to work and have the opportunity to encourage them. During the day there will be teachers as well as students who come to you or who you go to because you sense something wrong and then you have an opportunity to care for them in the name of Jesus.

This part of the prayer needs to be prayed more than once a day. “Lord, how do you want to use me now in this place, in this time?” When you are leaving for a party, going to a concert, traveling by bus, train, plane or even a grand taxi, pray this prayer and see what opportunities God brings to you.

If you are opening yourself to being blessed by God and seeking out opportunities to make a mark for God, you will undoubtedly be exhausted because of the increased activity in your life. If this was all there was to the prayer, you would probably have to quit because of mental and physical exhaustion. But there is a third part to the prayer:

Let your hand be with me,

This is a prayer for God’s sustaining help. Wilkinson talks about reaching this point of exhaustion and going to seek the counsel of an older man he trusted, Dr. Mitchell. Wilkinson was telling him about his crisis when he broke in.

“Son,” he said, “that feeling you are running from is called dependence. It means you’re walking with the Lord Jesus.” He paused to let me take in his words, then continued. “Actually, the second you’re not feeling dependent is the second you’ve backed away from truly living by faith.”

I didn’t like what I heard. “You’re saying, Dr. Mitchell, that feeling that I just can’t do it is what I’m supposed to be feeling?”

Why certainly, young man!” he said, beaming. “That’s the one all right.”

Being open to God’s blessing and open to opportunities God brings you to be his arms and his voice to people brings you more and more to the point of dependence on God. It becomes quickly evident that you are not capable of taking on the opportunities God presents to you. It simply becomes too much. But God will not give you more than he and you together are able to handle.

When you have opened yourself to the blessings God wants to give you and to the opportunities God gives you to be his arms and voice to others and you are able to be sustained under all the increased demands upon your life that result, you are then in danger because you have become an increased threat to God’s enemy, the devil.

So the fourth part of the prayer is a prayer for protection:
Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.

In the spiritual conflict that is taking place, the devil seeks any opportunity to thwart God’s purposes. If you live an inconsequential Christian life, you are no threat to the devil and may well be ignored. But, on the other hand, if you begin to be a nuisance to the devil by becoming an active participant in the work of God, you can expect attack.

When the conflict is between you and the devil, you will always lose. Popular mythology is full of stories of men standing up to the devil and outwitting him. But that is fantasy, not reality. The devil is more powerful than you are. You alone have no chance against him.

But the good news is this, from I John 4
the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

The devil is more powerful than you or I, or you and I, but God who has entered into a relationship with us when we become Christians is more powerful than the devil – who is only after all another created being. Praying for protection to God who is the only one able to protect you is a prudent part of any prayer.

That, in brief, is the Prayer of Jabez. Let me tell you why I like this prayer.

Do you think it is possible that you are missing out on ways that God wants to bless you? Is it possible to go through life without experiencing all God wants for us to have? Let’s take a simple example. Let’s say God calls you to go to Morocco and you refuse to leave your home country. That means all the blessings God wants you to experience in Morocco will be lost because or your unwillingness to obey his call.

Or perhaps you take a train ride and sit next to a person. For whatever reason you bury your head in a book and never talk with that person. If God has a blessing in store for you when you talk to that person and you don’t talk, you have missed out on the blessing.

If you take the bus trip to work at Ain Leuh in March or May and keep the window shade down the whole way, you will miss out on the fields of red and yellow and orange and white that cut across the landscape because of all the flowers growing. You will miss out on the gorgeous views looking out on the Middle Atlas Mountains. You will miss out on seeing the colorful dress of the Berber women and the stork’s nests.

It should be obvious that we are capable of keeping the window shade down as we go through life, preoccupied with our own little world and missing out on all that God wants us to experience.

That’s the first thing I like about this prayer. It is a prayer that each day declares to God that you want him to bring on all the blessings he wants for you to experience. When you pray a prayer like this at the beginning of the day, you enter the day with a sense of expectation. You look for the opportunities God brings you. They don’t have to hit you over the head to get your attention.

When you pray this prayer you get on the train wondering who God is going to bring to you. You walk through your day at work looking at people as people who might that day be specially blessed by God through you. A phone call comes and is transformed from an interruption to an opportunity.

Do you know the Tolstoy story of the cobbler who receives a message that Jesus will visit him the next day. He works the next day with heightened expectations. He views every event as if this might be the time for Jesus to visit him.

When we pray the prayer of Jabez, we enter the day with an expectation to see God at work through us.

Paul who wrote many of the letters of the Christian Testament seemed to have this sense of expectation. We read from his letter to the Philippians already this morning.

Philippians 3
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

Paul’s life was one that pressed on and sought everything God had for him. I doubt that Paul prayed the prayer of Jabez, but he certainly prayed in such a way that he entered each day looking to God who blessed him and privileged him by being part of his work.

Why would someone not pray the prayer of Jabez each day?

Maybe you just don’t like the prayer. Perhaps you don’t like the historical and theological context of the prayer of Jabez. Maybe it is too simplistic for you. Well then, for you, there is in the bulletin a Trinitarian Prayer John Stott has prayed most mornings for the past thirty years. There is also a prayer I wrote that can be prayed as an alternative to the prayer of Jabez. You can make up your own prayer.

Trinitarian Prayer prayed by John Stott
Good morning, heavenly Father;
good morning, Lord Jesus;
good morning, Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I worship you
as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you,
Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you,
Sanctifier of the people of God.
Glory to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever.
Amen

Heavenly Father, I pray that I
may live this day in your presence
and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may
take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day
you will fill me with yourself
and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:
love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control.
Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity,
three persons in one God,
have mercy upon me.
Amen Alternative to Jabez Prayer

I greet you my Father this morning with a joyful heart. Thank you for giving me this day and the grace to enjoy it fully. I open myself to you and ask that you enable me to receive all that you want to give.
I step out into this new day seeking all the opportunities you will bring me to be your arms and your voice to those around me.
I know you love me and so I trust you that you will not give me more than I can handle. In my weakness, you will make me strong.
Protect me today from the evil one. Help me to fix my eyes on Jesus, and resist the distractions and temptations put before me.
Give me a servant’s heart and a humble mind and fill me with the Holy Spirit so I may do your will.
Amen

There is nothing magical about the words of the prayer of Jabez or the two alternative prayers printed in the bulletin. The prayers are only a means to the end and the end of these prayers is for us to open ourselves without reservation to what God wants to give us and how he wants to use us. The advantage of praying the same prayer is that you don’t have to make up something new each morning. A prayer you pray each morning, as long as it is a good prayer, helps you to maintain focus on what is good.

You don’t want to begin to pray without meaning. Racing through the prayer without thinking about what you are saying is not helpful. But praying the prayer with your mind and heart is a good thing to do.

Other people might not want to pray the prayer of Jabez or one of the alternatives because they are content with things the way they are and don’t really want any adventure.

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a book called The Hobbit followed by a trilogy called Lord of the Rings. There has just been released a movie based on this book which was written in 1937. It is a wonderful book which I have read many times, including once to my daughters when they were younger.

Hobbits are comfortable creatures who love their comfort and one day, a particular hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, is visited by a wizard named Gandalf. Bilbo is sitting outside his home, smoking his pipe and blowing beautiful smoke rings when Gandalf appears.

“Very pretty!” said Gandalf. “But I have no time to blow smoke rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

“I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,” said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring.

But Bilbo Baggins does go on this adventure and at the end of the story it is clear that he has been able to taste a more glorious slice of life than any of his neighbors who remained behind in their comfort.

Who is God? Is he the creator and sustainer of this universe and whatever else exists outside of this universe? Is he the one who holds all things in his hands?

As a child, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve who would come in the front door with his sack of presents over his shoulder. If we eagerly await the presents Santa brings, why not eagerly seek out God who has far better presents to give than what Santa carries over his shoulder?

Yes, you can go through life with your window shade down, focusing on the little bit of what is around you. You can do this and not lose your salvation. But you will miss out on the glories of what God wants you to experience.

Bruce Wilkinson tells the story of a man who gets to heaven and is getting a tour. He sees a large building and wants to know what is inside. His guide tells him he doesn’t want to know but the man insists. He goes inside and sees large packages with names on them. He finds the package with his name on it and opens it only to find, with great disappointment, that the package is full of God’s blessings he had never received.

You can go through life without receiving all of God’s blessings, but oh what a loss. Pray the prayer of Jabez or one of the alternatives. Don’t cheat yourself of the rich gifts God has for you.

A third reason you might not pray the prayer of Jabez or one of the alternative prayers is that you are already feeling overwhelmed and don’t think you can handle any more relationships, any more responsibilities.

When I began praying this prayer, I immediately began to be busier. I enjoyed the opportunities that came my way, but I began to be overwhelmed. There were mornings when I prayed the prayer of Jabez and I would pray for God’s blessings and then stop. I’d say to God, “Ok, I’ll pray the next part (expand my territory) but only if I can pray immediately the third part (let your hand be upon me). I’m feeling overwhelmed and can’t do it without you.”

I think it comes down to a matter of trust. Does God love me? Will God give me more than I can handle? If I am doing all I can and God is giving me all he wants to give me and I pray for him to expand my territory, give me more responsibility, do you think God will say. “Ok, if that’s what he wants. I know he can’t handle more but I’ll give him more anyway,”?

Praying a prayer like the prayer of Jabez is opening ourselves to all God wants us to have but God knows our limit. God loves us and will not give us more than we, with his help, can handle.

If you are afraid to pray the prayer of Jabez because you are feeling overwhelmed, put yourself in God’s hands and take the step. You will have the ride of your life.

I would like to challenge you as I challenge myself, to pray the prayer of Jabez or one of the alternative prayers each day starting tomorrow morning through the summer. Begin this adventure with God and open yourself without restraint to all God wants you to experience and to do.

In September we will have a service in which we will have the opportunity to share with each other what God did in our lives as we prayed our prayer.

At the end of the first book by Tolkien, The Hobbit, Gandalf and Bilbo return from their adventure and as they look out over the land that Bilbo had left so long ago, Bilbo breaks out in a poem after which Gandalf says to him, “My dear Bilbo! Something is the matter with you. You are not the hobbit that you were.”

I expect that if you pray the prayer of Jabez or one of the alternative prayers each day this summer, that in the fall when we gather, neither you nor I nor RPF will be what we were. Join me on this adventure.