The prayer of Jabez is an unusual prayer because Jabez asks for a blessing for himself. The act of blessing is usually associated with somebody (or God himself) blessing somebody else. (For example, Moses blessing the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 33:1 or Jesus blessing the children in Mark 10:13-16.)
The prayer has become more widely known in recent years by the writings of Bruce Wilkinson, with the international bestselling book "The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life". The book has also caused a degree of controversy in the church, with some groups criticising the way that these writings have been used to validate prosperity theology.
Jabez was from the tribe of Judah (Judah meaning "praise") and his mother had a difficult labour, naming him Jabez, which is Hebrew for "distress" or "pain".
We know nothing else about Jabez because there is only one mention of him in the whole of the scriptures and it is here in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10.
The four petitions of Jabez
"Oh, that you would bless me"
Jabez asks for a big blessing. The heart of God is to give good gifts to His children, and Christ encourages us to ask the Father for these gifts:-
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11, (NIV)
"Enlarge my territory"
Jabez had a big goal. Out of all the other ancestors (1 Chronicles 4 v.4-8) he noted for his prayer, and God honouring his requests.
This prayer could apply to many areas of the believers life - not just physical territory (as this seems to be in the case of Jabez). Examples could include:-
• On a personal level. For instance, the overcoming of fears or mindsets. E.g. that I might "take more ground" in godly thinking about myself, and that the ground that poor self esteem has in my life would diminish.
• On a giving level. E.g. the charity that I work for expands it's reach and impact in society.
• On a work level. E.g. there are new opportunities at work for career development.
"Let your hand be with me"
The third thing that Jabez asks for is God's hand to be with him. Jabez is dependant on God in this process of stretching and development. He looks to God for his strength, presence and guidance.
Here we can compare the prayer of Jabez with the Lord's Prayer "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13).
Jabez understands that his prayer carries risks - as his portion is increased there is also the risk of falling into sins such as pride and the love of power.
Jabez asks that he would not be a pain! Jabez was born in pain (1 Chronicles 4:9) and his name means "sorrow-maker". However, as Jabez asks for blessing and expansion he does not want to cause sorrow to himself or anybody else. This shows us that his motivations come from a genuine heart for the good of all and not just his own well-being.
"And God granted his request"
God honoured Jabez with his request. God desires to give us the longings of our hearts:-
Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Matthew 7:7-8, (NLT)
Perhaps the most controversial element in this prayer is that Jabez is praying for himself, for his own development. It is easier to pray a blessing on somebody else e.g. "God bless them" feels more comfortable and less self-seeking than "God bless me". However, this is not the only instance of a character from the bible asking blessing for oneself (compare the prayer of Jabez with that of Solomon's request for an understanding mind in 1 Kings 3:9.
The key take-away is this. In the prayer of Jabez, we learn that God blesses an individual after a direct request for "more" from God. This does not mean that God will answer every specific request for "more". Somebody may be seeking something for selfish gain. What they want may actually be harmful to them (or other people).
However, what this prayer does reveal is that Jabez sets a precedent in pray. When there are good motivations (not to cause harm, and a dependency on God's hand for strength and protection) then God is eager to answer prayers like this.
• Discuss the four requests of Jabez. Has anyone in your group prayed in the past for their own success, and if so, did God answer that prayer?
• How can we ensure that the prayers we pray for our own self-development are godly ones?
• Think of one area that you would like to see success in. This could be in any area e.g. personal (this might be overcoming a fear), family (e.g. finding a partner, having children), giving (e.g. serving the church or community in some way) or work (e.g. business, career development or aspirations etc.) These are just some ideas - feel free to think of others!
• Share these thoughts with the group, then pray together and ask God to meet you in them.