A few years ago there was an astonishingly popular book that attracted national attention and helped thousands of people to return to or expand a life of prayer. That’s a good thing. This book is almost identical text in its theme, but uses teenaged illustrations and stories to make its point.
At one level I see the prayer of Jabez – the actual words found in Scripture – to be helpful and even powerful. Certainly the words of James agree with some of the sentiment expanded by Wilkinson that sometimes we don’t believe God for big things.
However, I find the spiritual and even theological implications of Wilkinson’s writing to be troublesome… at best. To make the Jabez prayer a starting and ending place for the ways we interact with God is at best… shortsighted and at worst… tending toward selfishness.
Did Jabez really pray these things? Do they really mean that basically I need to ask God to give me more of everything so that I can serve him more effectively? Yes and no.
Jabez is an obscure OT figure who is only mentioned by name in this one verse (1 Chronicles 4:9). Hardly a wise idea for building one’s understanding of prayer around! We don’t know enough about Jabez to draw the conclusions that Wilkinson does. It is unfair (and even dishonest) to say definitively that Jabez’ blessing came as a direct result of his carefully-worded prayer. I think it is that single fact that frustrated me so as I heard good people become so enamored with the Jabez phenomenon.
Does God answer prayer? Absolutely. Does God desire to bless us? Absolutely. Should we be wrapped up in praying prescripted self-focused prayers as a starting and/or ending point for our communion with God? Absolutely not. And that is my problem with the Jabez focus… it seems that we are attributing some magical element to the speaking of these words. That God will bless us if we pray these words.
Perhaps praying in this way will lead us to accomplish great things in God’s name. Maybe He will even open doors for us… say… in Africa. But what then if He calls us home? Did we stop praying? Did the prayer lose its power? Understand the true nature of prayer. It is not human prescription… rather, it is Divine intervention.