On his own needs: Jabez' prayer does not reflect our reality.
Bruce Wilkinson's promotion of the prayer of Jabez does not sit well with me. I have a wormlike feeling of unease when I read Wilkinson's booklets, even before I can name what disturbs me.
Jabez appears in the Old Testament. Within a list of genealogies in I Chronicles, he receives special mention as one who "called on the God of Israel ... and God answered his petition."
Jabez made requests: that God would bless him and enlarge his territory and that God's hand would be with him, keeping him from harm and free from pain. Wilkinson recommends that we do the same, repeating Jabez' prayer phrase by phrase, expanding on each request, and claiming various blessings for ourselves daily.
Why would I take exception to this exercise of faith, this call to adopt a prayer recorded in Scripture and honoured by God?
In his prayer, Jabez is entirely focused on his own needs. From time to time, so am I. But shall I do so repeatedly, exclusively, making Jabez' prayer my daily model? I already have a model--the Lord's Prayer--and here the focus is not just on me and what I want. Here Jesus places God's will and God's kingdom before my daily needs. Here also I acknowledge that I belong to a community of sinners to whom I owe forgiveness as I am to be forgiven.
My problem with praying for me first and me only is that I live in a world where images reach me instantly from all parts of the globe. These images haunt me, and invade my prayers: the angular starved bodies from Darfur, African children orphaned by AIDS, terror and grief in Palestine, streaming millions of refugees. What are my needs compared to theirs?
As for territory, the statisticians tell me that living in North America, I belong to that five per cent of the world's population which consumes up to 80 per cent of the world's resources. I have more than my share already. The resources I consume come from far afield: oil from the Middle East, avocadoes from Brazil, mangoes from Mexico, my winter coat and my cell phone from China. Together with my fellow North Americans, my territory is enlarged beyond what the planet is able to bear. Should I be asking for more?
I turn the pages on Jabez' prayer, and find other messages from Scripture that speak more aptly to my circumstances: Be content with such things as you have. A person's life does not consist of the abundance of the things she possesses. Sell what you have and give to the poor.
Jabez prayed out of the needs and limitations of his circumstances: he had no social safety net as I have, no friendly banking system, no pension plan. His best insurance policy was expanded territory, and he turned to God to grant him this.
When I cry out with Jabez to be kept from harm and pain, I do so knowing the measures that surround me to keep me safe, and meet my extreme need. For Jabez there were no hospitals, no fire stations and no police. Because I can draw on these resources, I can add thankfulness to my prayers.
Because I have so much, I am cast more in the role of benefactor than of supplicant. Can I hear the Jabez cries of my global neighbours? Will I be God's answer for them in granting their urgent requests?
What Jabez had was a generous helping of faith, and I can learn from this. It does not mean that I should imitate Jabez' prayer phrase by phrase.
What I learn from Jabez' experience is that God is gracious and will join me wherever I am in my journey; that God is ready and willing to meet my needs, and to give me the desires of my heart; above all, that God honours me when I believe and trust and depend on Him.
How then shall I pray? Beyond Jabez, I learn from Jesus something more, a different perspective in praying: not to use vain repetition, not to keep asking for my personal needs, since my heavenly Father knows that I have need of these things. I do not even have to ask God at all. Instead, I am to seek first God's kingdom and God's righteousness, and I am promised that all these temporal blessings will be added to me.
Jabez prayed according to his circumstances and according to the light he received, and so must I.
Joyce Gladwell lives in Elmira, Ont.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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