And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested. 1 Chronicles 4:10 (NKJV)
Even the most devoted Biblical scholar might miss this obscure verse, surrounded as it is on both sides with chapter after chapter of genealogical lists. But in 2000, Bruce Wilkinson wrote his best-selling book The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life and the prayer of Jabez experienced its 15 minutes of fame. Our pastor preached a four-week sermon series on the prayer, and our church offered copies of the book at a bargain price and gave each of us a half-dollar-sized medallion with the prayer etched on it. In the book, Wilkinson encouraged readers to prayer this prayer of blessing for themselves on a daily basis for the next thirty days and see what happened. I took the challenge and, in fact, prayed the prayer regularly for at least a year.
There was considerable backlash to the Jabez movement. Detractors said it was a “prosperity gospel,” and some versions of the Bible support that idea. The Message renders the second phrase as “Give me land, large tracts of land.” My pastor, however, had a different perspective. He taught that our territory is our sphere of influence, the people we touch with our lives. That was the interpretation I chose when I prayed for enlargement, and since God looks on the inside instead of the outside, that’s how God answered my prayer. By the end of the year I was not only participating in the F.A.I.T.H. outreach ministry in our church, but I was also a team leader; I had helped start an ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry; and I had learned to ride a motorcycle and was a patch-wearing member of Bikers for Christ.
After a while, I stopped praying the prayer. I don’t remember if it was a conscious decision or if it was the human inclination to stop doing what works, but whatever the reason, it slowly disappeared from my devotional times. There’s always some new fad or trend even in Christian circles, so I didn’t think much about the absence until a few months ago. Maybe it was the peace and quiet of the country life, or maybe it was the absence of the stress of hands-on caregiving, but I began to feel a little restless. I stay busy writing and building my social media network; I enjoy socializing with the new friends we’ve made; I love worshipping and serving with our church family; but something was missing.
Then I saw it; the prayer of Jabez. During my earlier enthusiasm, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a framed version of the scripture. In the intervening years, it had become simply a decorative piece that hangs in a grouping over my couch with some angels and a cross. When it caught my eye, I stood in front of it for a few minutes, reading the words and wondering. Was this what was missing? Was it time to expand my territories?
I haven’t embraced the prayer regimen with the fervor I did ten years ago, but I have opened my mind and my heart to new possibilities. Instead of an aggressive Jabez-style prayer, it’s been more of a Samuel-style prayer, Yes, Lord, I’m listening, and things have started to happen. I submitted an article to Red Letter Christians, a new outlet for me with a larger and more varied readership. My article was accepted, but in order to continue to submit articles to them, I’m having to step out of my comfort zone and expand the subjects about which I write. I’ve also been asked to teach a four-week women’s study at church, and today I was asked to consider chairing a women’s conference our church is hosting in January. Sounds like territorial expansion to me.
I don’t believe there is anything magical in the words of a prayer that was spoken thousands of years ago. I also don’t believe God needs my help to accomplish what He’s doing around me. I do believe that He recognizes my willingness to make myself available, and He opens my eyes to opportunities. I’m not a very brave person, and territorial expansion scares me, so I think I’ll switch my focus to the second phrase for a while: that Your hand would be with me.