Bible Laying Open on a Table
Learning from the Characters in Scripture

Finding Life's Best

Author: Ray C. Stedman

Nothing comes to us in life more arresting to any thoughtful person than the question, What am I living for? or its near kin, How can I get the most out of life? I find that question has power to set us thinking no matter in what part of life or age we are. I find that the young people are thinking about it a great deal these days. I’m much encouraged by the thoughtful expression I’ve had of late from high school and even junior high school young people about their part in life and what life is about and what we are here for. A yearning and hunger expressed to find the answers in this respect. I’ll never forget the insightful remark of a high school young boy with whom I was talking about fear and he said to me, The thing that I am most afraid of is that I will waste my life. I think a lot of young people feel that way. Just this last month we had a party for our high school graduates, and Mr. John Landrith read part of an address by a 17 year old high school person who spoke at his graduation night on the subject, Why do I want God at my graduation? I was thrilled by that address and want to share just a paragraph of it with you this morning to show you how young people are coming to grips with this important question in life. This young man said:

Why do I want God at my graduation? Because I don’t understand myself. Every year of my young life, sincere and dedicated men and women have sought to pound knowledge into my stubborn skull. I have grasped sufficient of this to be here tonight. But what do I know of myself? Why can I behold the signature of God sprawled across the sunset while my blind companion cannot? Why can I hear a Beethoven sonata while another who would have understood it better will never be able to behold the glory of sound? How can I think of God? How can a being so incomprehensible fit himself into the tiny chambers of my mind? Why has He made me, me? Why has He given me what He has? What plans has He for the future which is His? It is for these reasons, that I do not comprehend this world, the fact that I do not comprehend my fellow human beings and the fact that I really do not understand myself, that I want God at my graduation.

Encouraging to hear words like that isn’t it, from a 17 year old boy. But not only are the young people asking this question and thinking about it, I think we who have shall I say, drifted into middle age, feel somewhat the same way. Middle age is that time of life when there is just as much middle as there is age! And it’s sometimes arresting to stop in middle age and say to yourself, What’s it all about, anyway? Why this rat race? Why this continual routine of activities, for what purpose am I living? And even the old face the same question as they look back on life, more than for the future and say, My life as I look back upon the years, has it really meant anything? Or will God say as I review my life as I stand before Him, It was a most remarkable performance, but somewhere you missed the point. What is the point in life anyway?

That’s really the question we are facing this morning, and for an answer I’d like you to turn to 1 Chronicles 4 for a look at one of these obscure Bible characters tucked away in a forgotten corner of scripture. After all, can anything good come out of 1 Chronicles? Well let’s see. In the fourth chapter of 1 Chronicles we have what looks like another one of those Bible deserts of names. You know how the New Testament begins, with a long series of names, and I think it’s sometimes discouraging for those who begin their Bible reading at the opening of Matthew. Abraham begot Isaac; and Isaac begot Jacob; and Jacob begot Joseph and his brethren. As a dear old Scottish preacher said as he was reading that passage, They kept on begetting each other all the way down through this page and on to the other page, and thus he summarized it for us.

I think we tend to hurry over these passages of names as though they were meaningless to us. And here is a chapter that begins that way, The sons of Judah, Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur and Shobal. And Reaiah, the son of Shobal was the father of Jahath, and Jahath was the father of Ahumai and Lahad, and so on--these unpronounceable Hebrew names--and it goes on through to verse eight, and suddenly there is a break. It suddenly focuses on one man. We read,

Jabez is more honorable than his brothers and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, because I bore him in pain. Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh, that thou would bless me and enlarge my border that thy hand might be with me and that thou would keep me from harm that it might not hurt me. And God granted what he asked. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

Then the roll of names takes right up again and goes down all the way through the chapter. It is as though you were watching a home movie, and it’s rather boring looking at all the faces of all the family. But suddenly the operator stops the film and focuses on an interesting personality and you look at him for a moment and then the boring roll takes up again. Not that these names are boring; there is great instruction in these passages if we know how to look for it. But I would like to focus this morning on this spotlight in the midst of this roll of names that the Holy Spirit suddenly focuses on for our instruction. There’s much that is hidden here. I have never forgotten that passage I read years ago in the Proverbs that says, It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; it is the glory of kings to search it out. What a challenge to be the royalty in scripture now, to search out these things that God has hidden in His Word.

Well there are many truths in this spotlight on Jabez and I’d like to consider a number of them with you this morning. Consider first the problems that Jabez faced here. Evidently this man was born under a cloud, for his name, Jabez, means sorrow or pain. The mother said when he was born; she called him Jabez saying, because I bore him in pain. Now every mother knows that every child is born in pain; it is not unusual of course. But evidently there is more involved here than just birth pains. This mother names this little lad Jabez because her life is embittered; she bore him in deep sorrow, more than just pain.

When we ask ourselves, what was the sorrow that embittered her life, we discover certain clues are given to us here. There’s nothing quite so important in reading the scripture than to approach it in the style of Perry Mason, and nothing quite so exciting! I hope you have learned to read your Bible as if you were Perry Mason, searching out a mystery. Well here’s the mystery: Why did this mother name her baby sorrow? And the first clue is that evidently there is some disgrace in the family here. In this list of names, you’ll notice that the names of the fathers are invariably given, but when it comes to Jabez there is no mention of his father’s name. Now that’s very important because these were temple records.

The Book of 1 Chronicles is really the official records of the kingdom kept by the priests in the temple and 1 and 2 Chronicles are official records, much like the courthouse records them in our day. In these records it was necessary to keep a close account of genealogy of the families of Israel, and the father’s name was always given because that was the system of keeping account. If a man’s name was omitted from the record it was a sign that he had been disgraced. They only left out names because of some shameful occurrence connected with that name. This omission immediately indicates that part of the sorrow that hung like a heavy cloud over this dear mother’s heart when her baby was born was that her family name had passed under the shadow of disgrace. And this is confirmed by the statement made of Jabez in the ninth verse where it says, Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. The record of this man’s life indicated that he’d come out from under the shadow of the bad family name to some degree. He was more honorable than his brethren who had suffered from this bad name.

Now that’s part of the picture, but that’s not all. It is also indicated in these two short verses, that this family lived in deep and distressing poverty, but there’s no mention of the place or the home where they lived. In the other names from this list the place from which they come is recorded. Evidently here is a family that had no place; they had lost their homestead. This is most important in Israel for you remember the land was divided among the tribes and each family was allotted a certain portion within the tribal section. They never lost the right to that except under the most unusual circumstances, but here was a family who lost their patrimony; they had lost their homestead. Evidently the loss was connected to the disgrace the father had undergone so that this boy, Jabez, as he grew up was exposed to distressing poverty. This is confirmed for us in his prayer in verse 10 when he cries to God, Oh God, enlarge my border. That is literally, enlarge my property, give me more possessions, for he had been deprived of that which was his inheritance in Israel.

Now as you look back with me into the life of this man, Jabez, we can only guess at what this must have meant to this boy growing up in terms of sensitivity and inferiority, and social ostracism, and the cloud of family disgrace under which they lived. Here was a boy whose heredity and environment is raw. A juvenile delinquent, if you like, at least bordering on that here in the pages of the Old Testament, a boy with two strikes against him in life, his family disgraced, his environment difficult. All of this unquestionably had an effect on Jabez growing up, the disgrace of a bad name, the memory of a father’s shame and the painful sight of his mother’s sorrow as they are growing up and he and his brother are living under the distressing cloud that’s given here. And yet remember that this little account breaks upon us with announcement that Jabez was more honorable than his brethren, so that it’s necessary that we not only consider the problems he faced but we also consider the principle he discovered first hand.

Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou would bless me and enlarge my borders, and that thy hand might be with me and that thou would keep me from harm so that it might not hurt me. Somewhere, somehow Jabez learned that the key to life does not lie in the visible things of man, but in the invisible reality of God. What a tremendous lesson! The fact that so many today have failed to grasp that most significant thing is I think the explanation for the tremendous neurosis of emptiness which grips so many hearts these days. They’ve never understood this simple thing that Jabez discovered.

Not long ago a man was telling me about a discussion a woman had with her daughter. The woman was a church member, raised at least in a religious atmosphere and committed to the moral and religious precepts of her family and her family life, but her daughter in her early twenties was one of these modern, shallow, ruthless pagans, who had thrown over all the traces and cast aside all of the restrictions as she saw them, the limitations of her mother’s faith, and was simply living in the groping, almost painful rootlessness of modern life. Her mother said to her, about a particular matter they were discussing, Oh dear, she said, I wish you wouldn’t do these things. You know God wants you to do things right. And the daughter said, Oh mother, why do you keep talking to me about God all the time? That’s a lot of nonsense. She said, I don’t give a snap of my fingers about God! It’s just enough if I do the decent thing. Her mother said a very wonderful, insightful thing in reply. She said, My dear, why is decency the decent thing, if there is no God?

Now that’s what Jabez discovered somewhere, that lack of morality, lack of decency, lack of all of the things that make life bearable or even possible in human relationships is the mighty fact of God, and this young man, recognizing it, began to pray. As we read his prayer, it seems rather selfish at first; it’s all centered on him. Oh that thou would bless me and enlarge my borders, and that thy hand might be with me and that thou would keep me from harm so that it might not hurt me. There’s a great deal of ‘me’ in there, isn’t there? But if we look closer at this, especially in light of the background that has been revealed, I think we can see that this is not a self centered prayer; it’s an agonizing plea for help because of the deep consciousness of his own inadequacy. I need help, he’s saying. What he is praying is in other words something to this effect, Oh God amid all this sorry tale of shame and sin and Godlessness that is my background, Lord, do something for me. Take me out of this, remove me from this situation, help me in it, deliver me.

It’s obvious that as Jabez prays there’s first of all his awareness of his need for provision. Bless me he says, enlarge me, be with me. Here’s a young man that has grasped the fact that prosperity comes only from God; that things in themselves are of no value unless God gives them to us; that if we attempt to get them apart from Him they become a curse to us. And he prays, Lord in everything in my life enter into in and bless it, and make it not a cursing but a blessing to me, and enlarge me and be with me for thou are the key to life.

Not only is there an awareness for his need for provision, but an awareness of his need for protection. For what he says here is very significant for the last part, Oh that thou would keep me from harm, literally from the evil, and that it might not hurt me. And when he singles out some specific evil he has in mind, he is evidently again referring back to that blight on the family character, some hereditary weakness perhaps that plagued him and threatened him as it threatens his brethren. The evil, whatever it was, he says, Lord I recognize my fear in the face of this thing. How can I escape this debilitating power in my life that threatens to degenerate and disintegrate my personality as it did in my father and in my brethren?

He’s praying for protection against this thing, and I don’t think there could be a greater lesson learned than the fact that the world in which we live is so silken in its subtlety that we all are exposed in the weakness of our heredity to these disintegrating forces which will certainly seize upon us unless we rest in the protecting grace of God. Here’s a young man that discovered that. And when he prays that it might not hurt me, there’s an interesting formation here in the Hebrew, for this is a play on his own name. What he’s really praying here is that it might not be to my Jabez, to my sorrow, to my pain. Lord, keep me from this that it be not to my own sorrow. He’s playing on his own name; there’s fear now of slipping back from that which he has been delivered. He’s asking to be kept now in the midst of pressure.

This is not a prayer of cowardice or evasion, it’s the same thing you see in the New Testament, you remember, in 1 Corinthians 10:13: There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able, but will with the temptation make a way of escape — a way of escape, not a cowardly running away from a problem. I have this week been counseling with a man, a prominent Christian leader, whose whole life is disintegrating, falling apart at the seams, primarily because he has been running away from his problems all his life. But this isn’t that kind of escape. If we think of it that way we’ve missed the point. The escape of that promise is that God will lift us to a higher plane of reality in the midst of our problems.

That’s what Jabez prayed for. Lord, that right here in the midst of this family situation surrounded as I am by the disgrace of my father’s name and my brethren which have gone the way of all flesh, oh God grant unto me that this thing shall not destroy my life, but in the midst of it I will find a way of escape with the fellowship of thee that can preserve me in the midst of pressure. This is what he prayed. Now you’ll notice that this is a principle that is not intended just for the moment but for the whole of life. Jabez did not pray this only once, he prayed it again and again and again. This is the principle on which he lived.

This brings us then to the last consideration here, not only the problems that he faced and the principles that he discovered but also the promise that was fulfilled in his life. Look at the last phrase of verse 10: And God granted what he asked. God heard him and answered. This is always the key to life. This morning in the adult class we were discussing this burning issue of our day, this radical sweeping revolution in morals that has invaded especially the campuses of our country and is threatening the moral deterioration of our young people. We were trying to come to grips as to what was the cause of this thing and as we discussed this pro and con the analysis was that it lay ultimately in the failure to see that man cannot live his life on this level alone. That there must be, there must be this vertical relationship, this contact with the Living God, this awareness of God’s place in human affairs. This is the great promise, you remember, of the Old Testament. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy path. And I have discovered that most of the problems that arise on the matter of guidance in our life, come right back to that simple basic principle. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and the promise is that He will direct thy path.

The trouble is that we feel that there are areas of our lives that we are self sufficient. We step across the threshold of our office door and all of our Christian principles forsake us, and we think, Here at last, I’m capable of operating on my own. I know how to run this business if anybody does. I know how to make my way through the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog competition of business life and be as sharp and keen as the rest of them. I can undercut and I can deal and haggle and change my position just as freely as the rest! Because in our ways we do not acknowledge Him, there is no guidance in this area, and we wonder why we end up confused and perplexed in these things. You see, this is the promise: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thy own understanding.

Interestingly enough, the name of Jabez appeared once more in Chronicles, another little spotlight on this man. We read in another series of names, long genealogies, in verse 55 of the second chapter, the families also of the scribes that dwelt with Jabez, the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites, and that’s all. Now here it’s not the name of the man as the name of the place. But interestingly enough, it is evidently a place that was rather named for the man we are talking about. We know how we do that even today. We name cities for various persons. San Francisco was named for St. Francis, for instance, and here’s a place named Jabez, a place where this man lived who made a name for himself and a city was named for him! It was a rather special kind of city; it was a place where the scribes dwelt. And if you are familiar with the Old Testament pattern of life you know that the scribes were the theologians, the religious teachers. This city then was devoted to religious training.

Now tie that to the story of Jabez’ struggle as we’ve been tracing it this morning. There’s a lad who began on the wrong side of the tracks, but he found his answer in God. He proved Him again and again throughout his life and God enlarged his border and was obviously with him and met his needs and protected him from the deteriorating influences of his life. He was a man that learned day by day the grace of God, of a living grace, of a loving God. He yearned to pass it on to other young men who like himself did not have all the privileges of life, and he established a seminary, a place where young men could train and learn what God is like.

This last week as many of you know, I have been at a Mt. Hermon conference, sharing a platform with Mr. John Hunter from England, who spoke to us so wonderfully last Sunday morning. And during the week on a noon time luncheon, Mr. Hunter took the opportunity to tell us about the work with which he’s connected, The Capernwray Missionary Fellowship, and especially about the founding of that work by Major Ian Thomas. Many of you remember when he was with us here. I have known Major Thomas for four years or more and I tried on several occasions to try to get him to tell me the story of his own work but I never could get him to divulge it. I’d have to extract little pieces of information. I don’t know if it was British reserve or what, but I couldn’t get through. I was grateful then for Mr. Hunter’s recital of the story of that work. He told us there how Ian Thomas became a Christian when he was about 12 years of age, and with all the earnestness of his young heart he set about to try to serve God. In growing up trying to determine what he ought to do he felt that he could best serve God as a medical missionary, and go to Africa.

He entered medical school and was two years on the way in his medical training when one day God spoke to his heart and he felt he was confronted with a choice. God was saying to him, Look, you can go on now and complete your medical training if you like and go to West Africa and be a missionary for me, but you’ll go on your own strength if you do. Or you can drop out of medical training and walk with me one step at a time in a way that I will take you which I’ll never tell you, never outline for you in advance. But you’ll go in the strength and in the power of the risen life of the Lord Jesus and I’ll lead you out into a ministry that will be a glory to my name. Young Ian Thomas faced that choice and it was a great struggle, but at last he said to himself, I know what it is like to walk in my own strength, to do things on my own. What a miserable experience that is. Though it’s against the advice of all my friends and though is may cost me much I am determined to find and to live on the basis of this glorious secret, the life of Jesus Christ which dwells in me, and he launched out.

At first it was very difficult; he had just been discharged from the army as a Major in the British Army. And it was at a time when England, right following World War II was in tumult, nothing was settled. The whole country was torn up. But he said God laid on his heart that he should pray and ask Him to give him a second hand castle. Now I don’t know if any of you have ever been led to ask for a second hand castle, but this man did. God gave him a second hand castle up in the north of England which had been a training ground for some of the military units in the British Army, and they opened a conference ground. They had six people come to the first conference. But God led in a most wonderful way to open up a door into the continent and the British Government asked him to bring young German youths over from Germany and train them, and just expose them to English life, to a western democracy and at the same time be perfectly free to speak to them and teach them from the scriptures.

This began and the ministry has grown in scope and power until now young people from all over the world come to Capernwray Missionary Fellowship in the north of England, and especially from the continent of Europe, and it has branched out so they have study groups like this and house party centers in various countries. And recently a lady gave them another huge castle in Germany, complete with moats and dungeons and all the other things, as a center for youth work there in Germany.

You see this is the principle, the key of life. Life is utterly meaningless if we do not discover that God is the secret to its meaningfulness; that your life may be suddenly altered in its course, its direction suddenly changed. You are not committed to do what you are doing or to be what you are; you are committed to following God wherever He leads. What an exciting program that is. Now it may not be a change at all. God may say to you, I want you right where you are. I want you right back in the thing you are doing, but I want you to do ordinary things in an extraordinary way. That’s the secret to the fulfillment and the enrichment of life, and the lesson that Jabez is here for us. It’s never too late, even as Caleb you know, back in the Old Testament, when he was eighty years of age, he said to God, Oh God, give me this mountain, I want this mountain. He said, My strength is as when I was 40 when I was in the desert, I have not grown feeble at all. He moved out and laid hold of God. Life begins whenever you begin with God in a practical genuine way.


Father, what refreshing glimpses this has been into the secrets of life, into the life of this young man back in Old Testament days who found this to be true. What an up-to-date story this is. Lord we pray for the many young people among us this morning who are seeking answers to the question, What shall I do with my life? Help them to see the greatest adventure of all is to forsake all and follow Christ wherever He leads, trusting Him to open the doors and lead the way. And for we who are in middle life and older, help us to see that it is still the greatest adventure. Whenever we say right in the midst of my circumstances, in the midst of where I live, Lord God, through the Lord Jesus I seek to manifest thy life. My business is to do thy business. We ask that thou would make this clear, in Christ’s name, Amen.