In the year 2000, The Prayer of Jabez, based on the brief prayer found in 1 Chronicles 4:10, was published. This book sold millions and made millions simply by dissecting four aspects of this prayer and teaching people to recite Jabez’s words daily. We know that this book found commercial success, but was it successful in showing fidelity to God? God answered Jabez positively in 1 Chronicles 4:10, so isn’t it obvious that something about the prayer must be pleasing?
Not so fast! This notion fails to attend to one basic fact given by 1 Chronicles 4:9, that “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.” This means that Jabez was virtuous of course, but more importantly that he was true to God. Jabez offered a prayer from his heart to a God whom he knew intimately. The secret sauce wasn’t in the prayer, but in the love and faith towards God. The prayer is simply Jabez’s natural response to God and God’s words. In Jabez’s time, God made promises to Israel of blessings for obedience; Jabez knew this, so he simply asked God for what God promised. Today, we also are promised blessings—blessings in Christ. At the same time, we are promised persecution for following our King, Jesus the messiah (Acts 14:22, John 15:20, 1 Peter 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:12).
Many preachers are fond of saying, “Be careful of praying for blessings; God just might give them to you the hard way.” In our day, after Jesus’s death and resurrection, that humorous comment indicates a more responsible way of understanding blessings than simple rote memorization and recitation of Jabez’s famous prayer. Blessings are ours if we seek them. That does not equal land and prosperity in our day, but rather access to the pleasure of God through Jesus Christ in life and in death.