The Prayer of Jabez Revisited

Most of us are familiar with the Prayer of Jabez, not because we stumbled across it in our devotional readings of 1 Chronicles 4, but because of the popularity of the short devotional book written by Bruce Wilkinson back in 2000.  It was an instant best seller.  It topped the New York Times best seller’s list and sold over 9 million copies.  Some critics panned the book saying that it promoted a “prosperity Gospel” mentality, but my take is that Wilkinson never intended for the book to be used that way.  It is my understanding that he wrote it as a way of challenging people to seek the Lord more fully and more completely.  Certainly, he struck a chord with many people.  9 million represents a lot of copies.

Let me remind you of the short, simple prayer that Jabez once offered.  “There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers.  His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful.  He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, ‘Oh that you would bless me and expand my territory!  Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!’ And God granted him his request” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).  It was a simple request and promise of reliance upon God.  God heard Jabez and responded favorably, according to the text.  But today, I am intrigued, not so much by the prayer, but by this man’s name, “Jabez.”  It literally means, “pain,” and was given to him by his mother because of the pain she experienced in childbirth.  Although I can certainly understand the reasons for the name, I wonder, if later in life, when he turned from being a pain to becoming a blessing, if his mother ever regretted the name she had given him.  Did the name ever handicap him in any way?  Did he live with the stigma that he had once been a source of pain to his mother?

Sometimes we imprint characteristics and qualities into the psyche of our children at a very young age.  A little positive feedback and nurturing can go a long way.  Words of affirmation and encouragement seem to propel children into lives of healthy self-esteem and self-worth.  Unfortunately, a little abuse and negativity can also stay with a child for a very long time.  You can’t “un-ring” a bell.  If a child hears a destructive and abusive word, the impact can be long-lasting, maybe permanently damaging.

Years ago, while pastoring a church in central Kentucky, I met a woman who told me some of the hurtful things that had happened to her as a child.  She grew up in a very poor region in Appalachia.  Her parents actually sold her to another family where she was treated very much like a slave.  She was not allowed to attend school.  Her role was to clean the house, do the cooking, and wash the clothes.  There was no safety net for her in the community.  There was no government program to which her story of abuse could have been told.  The term “Human Trafficking” was not yet in existence.  It was an impoverished region where rules of society and culture were a bit different.  It was a very hard life for this young girl.

Whenever her “owners” were displeased, they would make comments like this, “You’re not worth the money we paid to get you!”  You can imagine the pain and abuse that she endured.  She was well into her 70’s when she told me her story.  By the grace of God and the love of Christ, her life had improved.  She had met a wonderful man who removed her from that life.  He literally rescued her from that situation as a teenager.  She raised a family of her own and was a sweet and kind person.  She was somehow able to step out of her abusive past and find a life of hope and joy.  It was truly a miracle of God that she survived and became the person I knew.  She was a faithful member of the church, respected and loved by all.  But even all those years later, when she talked about her childhood, her voice would crack and the tears would flood her eyes.  She continued to carry the abusive memories of her past like some old worn out suitcase that she could never set down for very long, filled with painful stories and destructive words.

So be careful what you say to your children.  Affirm them.  Love them.  Encourage them.  Bless them.  Sacrifice for them.  May the day come when they say of their childhood that they were blessed beyond measure.  As a parent, you will be a part of that narrative.  In fact, you will help to write that story.  Maybe Jabez isn’t the only one who needs to pray fervently each day.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director