Lessons from the Prayer of Jabez

By Gene Lawley


A few years ago when I discovered that obscure and isolated prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, I was caught up with wonder as to why the Holy Spirit would have directed the recording of that little bit of seemingly unrelated “blurp” of personal information about an unconnected man in the midst of a sea of “begots”. The information we have is strangely placed there with no reference to whom he belongs and who are his brothers.

Here is the passage (in NKJV):  “Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ 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.

Right off we see that Jabez was out front with God, ahead of his brothers, for he was more honorable than they were.  What does that mean? Solomon says, in Proverbs 15:33, “The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility.” It looks like Jabez was captured early on with the fear of God and humility, which indicates great reverence and a submissive spirit were strong character traits in him. I say “early on” he developed these traits because of the name his mother gave him—Jabez, “Because I bore him in pain”.   

Imagine growing up with some brothers and other kids who liked to tease and “badger” him about that name—“look out guys, here comes Ole’ Painful”; or “yonder goes that ‘pain-in-the-neck’”; or, “don’t choose him, he’s nothing but a pain”.  Talk about turning a lemon into lemonade—Jabez turned that problem into a promotion of favor with God.  

Three of his four specific requests in the prayer have to do with his relationship with God.  He wanted God’s specific and certain blessing; he wanted God’s “hand to be with him”, a desire for God’s strength and protection to surround him; and then, “keep me from evil that I may not cause pain”. This last one is also found in the model prayer that Jesus gave is in Matthew 6, and again, Jesus prayed that for His believers in His prayer  in John 17. It points to a recognition of spiritual inadequacy on the part of humankind and a plea for God’s help to resist the clamors of the flesh, the world and the devil to surrender to their demands.

When I began to ponder this unique portrayal of an obscure person whom God chose to bless with a yes answer to his prayer, it seemed to me that God’s message to those who would see what He did and quickly abandon any restrictions and reluctances to calling on the Lord at the first possible moment.  “So God granted him what he   

requested.” The lessons of Scripture seem to bear out the truth that getting positive answers to prayer is not a matter of over-coming God’s reluctance but is to connect with His extreme  willingness.

The one request in the prayer that seems to have been a stumbling block for a few people is his desire that God “enlarge his territory”.  That does it; all he wanted was more land; just a selfish person would ask that! Is that your reaction, too?

That passage in James 4:2-3 hangs over us like a dark and unrelenting threat of judgment if we dare to ask God for anything, lest it be con-sidered selfish and immoral.  So what does it say?:  “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (My emphasis.) Looks like the only result of asking amiss is that you get “no” for the answer.  If you don’t ask at all, you get the same answer, so why bother, right? Yet God continually calls out for us to ask of Him for our needs, our desires, our concerns. Now Jabez was an honorable man in God’s eyes, not one to want something that was contrary to the righteousness of God.  Perhaps God had blessed him with so many cattle that he needed more land to take care of what God had charged to him!

It comes to me that much of the reason why believers have a hard time making the connection with God’s benevolence is not, as we want to think, a matter of overcoming His reluctance but is the quality of our relationship with the God who declares, “For all the promises of God in Him [Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.  That last tag, “through us”, speaks volumes about what I am trying to say—to the reader, and also to this writer!  How often do we quote Ephesians 3:20, in part, leaving off that last tag, as in the above verse: “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” [Underscoring mine.]   

In His graciousness God does not give a believer more than he can handle at his particular level of faith and understanding of the ways of God.  He does not put “new wine in old wineskins”, thus He tells us “to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Someone has said, “Don’t expect God to do for you what He can only do with and through you.”  It looks like the Scriptures bear that out, and it appears Jabez, that obscure and yet honorable person, was not overlooked as God scanned the landscape for someone He could bless and through whom He could bring glory to Himself. It reminds me of that very thing which God does, even today: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 6:9). Is there any-one who is up to it?