Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Prayer of Jabez

Jabez knew the importance of blessing. He cried out for it after years of pain (his name means one who causes pain). Parents are supposed to bless their children. Not Jabez. In the genealogy recorded in 1Chron 4 his father is not even mentioned. It begs the question, "What did he do that was so bad that his name is not recorded in the generations of the different tribes?"

I wonder. It can't be that he just died. Such an omission of a name in scripture is significant. Either she had this little boy out of wedlock or the father of Jabez was so evil that his name is struck out of the genealogy. (In the genealogy of Jesus some of the kings of Judah are omitted because they were evil). Whatever the reason, there is no mention of his dad. Nothing!

We are told that at the birth it was his mother who named him, Jabez. She took all the disappointment and pain of that experience and put it on to her son. In effect she cursed him and he grew up with a label that brought nothing but frustration into his life. The negative effects of his name played out in his life.

Now in the Bible names have great importance. They reflect things like character, destiny and calling. The potential that a person has in life. So when name changes take place these too are very significant. Jacob became Israel; Abram became Abraham; Sarie became Sarah and on it goes. The name change indicated something about the destiny God wanted them to walk in.

The early chapters of first Chronicles are a genealogy; a list of names of all the descendants of the different tribes. Chapter four focuses on Judah. This was the tribe of Praise. That's what the name means. It is also the tribe that would bring forth the Messiah - Jesus, the true son of David and rightful King of Israel. Thus anyone descended from Judah had an inheritance. This was a royal tribe called to show forth the praises of God. That was the inheritance that belonged to Jabez.

The truth of what he experienced in life was far from this wonderful destiny. It was characterised by one word - pain. In a way Jabez situation portrays the gospel. His parents passed on to him something that was negative, less than what God intended. Like Adam who sinned, we too have received a destiny that is not what God intended. His goal for humanity was the tree of life. Instead we inherit death, a curse instead of the blessing.

Right in the middle of this genealogy the writer comes to Jabez. He is arrested by this man and his testimony. It's almost as though to only mention his name is to do a disservice to the quality of his character and prayer. And so he digresses to give us the inspirational story behind the prayer of Jabez. Let's read these amazing verses and see what keys they may hold for us in gaining blessing in life and ministry, 1Chron 4.9-10.

Now Jabez was more honourable 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.

The first thing that is said about Jabez is that he was more honourable than his brothers. Brothers in this context means his fellow tribesmen. Paul uses a similar phrase in Rom 9.1 to speak of his Israelite 'brothers'. Jabez stood above them in honour. An honourable man is true to his word, noble in character and trustworthy. David is described as an honourable man when he was in the house of King Saul, 1Sam 22.14. Samuel too is described as honourable, 1Sam 9.6. Some of David's mighty men also carried this distinction, 2Sam 23.19,23.

The Hebrew word for honour here is Kabad. It is sometimes translated glory or glorious and has the sense of weight. When God's glory appeared people felt the weight of His presence. Often they fell to their knees. Men of honour are noticed both by their presence and by their absence. They add weight to words and deeds and often emerge as leaders. Jabez was such a man.

But despite these personal qualities Jabez grows up with limitation in his life. His life plays out his name. But then something happens. We are not sure. Maybe he was inspired by the blessing he saw on the lives of others. Maybe he just had enough of failure, disappointment and pain. Maybe he looked at the fact that he was descended from the tribe of Judah and reasoned that his life experience did not match his inheritance. What is certain is that he believed a number of things about his situation that have significance for us.

First of all he believed that God could make a difference. He did not accept that because life began with a curse it had to end with a curse. He believed things could change. He saw a different life for himself; a life of blessing - that's faith. He actually believed God could change his world, change him!

Where are you in all this? Do you believe that God can change your life, your circumstances? Is your view of God such that, in your world, He can make a difference. Take inspiration from Jabez. God has made salvation available in Jesus. All the promises of God in Christ are yes and amen. You can begin to claim those promises and see your life change too. "Nothing is impossible with God", Luke 1.37 NIV.

Secondly he was not passive in the process. God could change things but Jabez had to dare to ask. He had to take the initiative. Remember James' exhortation for us to 'Draw near to God and He will draw near to you', James 4.8. God meets us at our point of faith, not our point of need. Where do you need to be more proactive in your life? What things have you accepted as your lot in life that in fact you should be fighting against? Don't develop a 'Que sera sera' attitude. Dig into the promises of God and start to mix faith with them.

Thirdly he was specific about what he wanted. There is nothing vague about his request. He asked that God would bless him indeed and then unpacked what he meant by that. He knew what he wanted and he went for it. He dared to ask big. There is no shyness here. No inferiority complex. No self hate; just the firm belief that he needed more in his life and God could give it to him. It was his inheritance by birth but it needed it to be activated in his life.

What areas of your life need a specific intervention? James tells us we have not because we ask not, James 4.2. Jesus promised, "If you ask for anything in my name I will do it", John 14.14. Daring to ask is such a key to receiving from the Lord. It's a simple conditional promise, "If you ask....I will do it". Not only that Eph 3.20 indicates that the Lord delights to go , "exceeding abundantly above and beyond all that we can ask or think". Wow!

Now let's look at the four things that were part of the blessing Jabez cried out to God for.

1. Enlarge my territory. Jabez felt closed in by life. In Biblical times the family inheritance was always defined in terms of territory or land. The story of Ruth is about a family who nearly lost their inheritance because of the death of Elimelech and his two sons. There was no-one alive to inherit the land. Boaz becomes the 'kinsman redeemer' who enables the inheritance to stay in the family.

Now in those days there were a number of ways to increase your territory. One way was to do what Ruth did, get married. Her marriage to Boaz secured the family inheritance for Naomi's grandchildren. Another way was for a wealthy Israelite to buy territory from a fellow Israelite who had hit hard times. This would last until the year of Jubilee when all lands titles reverted back to the family/tribe they originated from.

This is what made Ahab's possession of Naboth's vineyard so evil, 1King 21. Naboth refused to sell his land to Ahab who clearly wanted it as a permanent possession. The King, under Jezebel's influence, had him killed and took possession. Even the king had no right to do this under the law. So God sent Elijah to speak judgement on the house of Ahab for this evil. The final way to increase territory was through warfare. Many times Israel's borders changed, depending on whether they lost or won a battle.

The text is not specific as to how Jabez increased his territory - but we know that God granted his request. Maybe he married well, maybe he won a battle or maybe he became wealthy and bought land. The point is he expanded his territory. Think about this in terms of your own life. Where in your life do you feel restrained; closed in; limited? To increase your territory is to increase your influence. Where in your life would you like to do that?

Perhaps you are in a job where you believe you deserve a promotion. Dare to ask God to do that for you. I know a young accountant once who was the newest and youngest member of a firm of accountants. They began to interview for a promotion. Others spoke to him that he shouldn't bother to go for the interviews as he was so new. I encouraged him to ignore their counsel and pray. He asked the Lord to increase his territory - to give him the job.

He promised the Lord to sow the first months increase of his salary into missions as a thank offering if he got the job. And he did, to the astonishment of all who worked there. He felt a restriction in his job, like there should be more, despite his age and lack of experience. Remember Joseph? Regardless of where he found himself he was promoted. It was part of his destiny.

2. Jabez asked was that the hand of God would be with him. This is a big ask. Ezra speaks of the hand of the Lord being with him in the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra 7.28. Ezekial, several times, speaks of the hand of the Lord being on him as he experienced divine revelation of God's purposes, Ez 37.1. To have the hand of the Lord with you implies a number of things that are best summarised by the word favour.

Think of the favour that Nehemiah experienced that gave him the following:

a) It allowed him to have special travel documents as he passed through all the countries under the Persian king, Neh 2.7.

b) He had a royal escort that ensured his protection, Neh 2.9

c) He was given letters authorising him to have free timber for the building of the gates, Neh 2.8 .

To have the hand of the Lord with you is to guarantee success in any venture you undertake. That's what Jabez wanted - and he got it.

3. He asked that God would keep him from evil. It almost sounds like the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil", Matt 6.13. He is in effect asking for guidance. He wants to follow a path of righteousness.

David rejoiced in this same truth in Psalm 23. "He leads me in paths of righteousness for His names sake". The valley of the shadow of death is bearable if God is with you. He keeps you from evil. The danger today is not in discerning the evil - that's obvious. It is discerning the evil in the good. The devil can present himself as an angel of light, 2Cor 11.14. Christians often end up doing the wrong thing because they have been deceived. Truth keeps us from evil.

4. Jabez deals with his name; the thing that has plagued him all his life; a label that had more to do with what his mother was going through at the time of his birth, than it had to do with him. In effect she projected her disappointment with life onto him. This wasn't the first time this had happened in the Bible. Rachel did the same thing with her son, calling him Ben-Oni, meaning son of my sorrow (or pain), just before she died, Gen 35.18-19.

But in that case something wonderful happened. His father Jacob stepped in and immediately re-named him. This was brave. Rachel was Jacob's first and great love. His disappointment into marrying Leah was tempered by the marriage to Rachel. The Bible tells us that the seven years he worked for her flew by, he was so in love with her. Yet now at her death he does not allow his loss and her pain to dictate the destiny of this son. Jacob renames him, Ben-Jamin, meaning son of my right hand.

The allusion to Jesus is obvious. He is, humanly speaking, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, Is 53.3. He is the 'son of my sorrow'. But after His death on the cross He rose again, victorious. And now God has 'highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every other name..." Phil 2.9-10. This Jesus is now exalted to the right hand of the Father and is now truly the, 'son of my right hand'.

Think of how different the life of Jabez might have been had his father stepped in the way Jacob did with his son. But the reality is that Jabez's father was not there, for whatever reason. Instead of becoming angry Jabez calls on God. And here is the final part of his request, "That I might not cause pain". In other words he did not want to live in the fulfilment of a negative prophecy. He wanted to live in his Godly inheritance.

The thing about an inheritance is that it must be claimed. Jabez is fighting for what is his birthright. Not with natural weapons, but in prayer before God. And God granted him his request. Unlike other biblical characters we don't read of a name change for this man, but we do read that things were different for him after this encounter with God. And that is the important thing.

I remember my first week of secondary school. We had an assembly for the whole school - about eight hundred teenagers. The deputy head called out my name and two other boys, asking us all to stand. Everyone was looking at us. I had no idea why. Then he announced; "Stay away from these boys, they are all trouble makers". I was so embarrassed. Something in me snapped. I thought to myself, "Well if that's how you see me then I won't disappoint you". And I didn't. For the next three years I was always in trouble.

This label stuck. Then one day a teacher at the school befriended me. He encouraged me. He believed in me. He went to the headmaster on my behalf and I was moved into a higher learning stream. My results improved and so did my behaviour. Looking back I realise that he didn't accept the label that had been put on me. It wasn't long before I wanted to shake it off too. I surprised the other teachers by going on to do A levels and then Civil Engineering at Manchester University.

I wonder what things you believe about yourself that are not rooted in God's evaluation of you? I wonder what you have come to believe about yourself that is rooted in a lie; something someone put on you that came out of their disappointment and bitterness? Jabez reached a point where he said in effect, "Enough is enough". And he called on the God of Israel. The result was that his life changed and dramatically improved.

Let me encourage you to learn from Jabez. He connected with his inheritance that promised blessing. We too have an inheritance in Christ, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, Eph 1.3. Dare to believe that God can make a difference in your life. Dare to approach Him with your request. Dare to be specific about what you want to see changed - and watch what happens!