Jabez cried out to the God of Israel,Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.And God granted his request.1 Chronicles 4:10
At first glance that looks like a self-centered prayer. It sounds like the man who prayed,
Bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife, us four and no more. But Jabez is really not being selfish. He is praying for something God wanted him to have. That is the difference between being personal and being selfish. Selfish prayers are prayers which ask God for something he does not want us to have, at least not then, demanding prayers that are interested only in our own immediate welfare, for our own satisfaction. But God promises great and mighty things to us personally that we may lay hold of, so to pray in this way is not selfish, but personal.
Look more closely at these four requests. First he asks,
Oh, that you would bless me. What do you mean when you pray to be blessed? This is a request for an inner sense of relationship with God.
Blessing is drawing near to God, finding him, knowing him personally. He is praying,
Lord, first, above all else, let there be this consciousness that you are my God, that I belong to you and you belong to me.
Second, Jabez prays,
Enlarge my territory. This is a prayer for opportunity, for the restoration, in his case, of his lost inheritance, for a place to stand in the midst of the culture of his day in which he might gain some sense of status and respect. For us it means to find a way to break out of whatever may be limiting us, hemming us in and enslaving us. You may feel that you are in a situation in which you have no opportunity to grow, to advance, to be fulfilled and satisfied. If that is the case, this is the proper kind of prayer to pray,
Lord, give me that opportunity.
Third, he asks,
Let your hand be with me. This is a prayer that comes naturally to his lips as he thinks of the uncertainty of the future he faces. All of us feel this way at times. We do not know what sudden, unexpected changes may occur in our lives in the future. What we often want to ask for is a glimpse ahead. What we really need is not knowledge, but a guide. This is what Jabez is praying for:
Lord, be with me. Go into the future with me. Guide me that I may know that each step of the way I can trust the fact that you are with me.
The last request was,
Keep me from the harm so that I will be free from pain. Here is a deep awareness of a tainted heredity in this young man's life. He senses a weakness in himself within that frightens him. I see this in many people. It may be a tendency towards a hot temper, which destroys many opportunities that could be used for advantage. Maybe it is avarice, some desire for the acquisition of material gain so that you will be safe and secure, have abundance, and do what you want. Whatever it was, he knows that God is able to handle it.
I do not think he prayed this prayer just once. It is the kind of prayer that comes repeatedly to human lips if you really are concerned about where you are, and you recognize how impossible, how difficult the situation looks from the human standpoint. This is the time to lay hold of the formula which Jabez found and which God used to bring him out of his circumstances.
Thank you, Lord, for this look at this young man's life. I rejoice now in the promises that surround me, the love that upholds me, and the grace that leads me along.
What are the four aspects in Jabez' prayer we can wisely use as guidelines in our personal petitions? Do we ask with bold expectation for God to open and close doors, so that we may glorify him by fulfilling his purpose for our lives?