Prayer should be the Christian’s natural breath. In prayer we glorify God as we express our faith in Him. So we are to pray ceaselessly.
Amongst the Bible’s encouragements to pray is the assurance of being heard and being blessed. There are many examples of God answering individual’s prayers.
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” (James 5:16-18)
However, of recent times some people have sadly misused one such example of God answering prayer. They have almost turned it into a mantra by which to manipulate God. They teach that when we pray this prayer God must bless us – even with miracles.
The example of God’s kindness in answering prayer is that of Jabez. It is recorded in the midst of a genealogy of the descendants of Judah in 1 Chronicles.
Jabez was more honourable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)
This is a Hebrew pun. The name Jabez sounds like the Hebrew word for “pain”. Having been born in pain his mother named him Payne. He then prayed that God would spare him from pain. And God granted him his request.
Jabez was an honourable man, at least more honourable than his brothers. As such he called upon God in prayer. The requests he made were to enjoy the privileges of a true Israelite living in the Promised Land. And to our encouragement we read: “God granted what he asked.”
In recent years people have been encouraged to pray “The Jabez Prayer”. Not to pray like Jabez in their situation. Not be encouraged by the way that God answered Jabez prayer. But to repeatedly, even daily, pray this particular set of words.
Great promises have been falsely made to those who would pray “The Jabez Prayer”. They are falsely assured that God will (must) give what they pray for. They are promised the certainty of miracles if they would pray this prayer – not praying for what they want so much as reciting the words of this particular prayer. This prayer is said to be a key to a life of extraordinary favour with God. As a result, it is claimed that millions of people are now reciting this prayer daily.
However, there is no promise in scripture attached to this prayer. It is a wonderful example of how God did hear the prayer of one of his people. In the context of the Bible’s promises that God will hear our prayers, it is encourages us to pray. But it is not the basis, model or pattern of Christian prayer. It certainly is not the promise of God that he will “enlarge the borders” of our lives, or that we will not have to endure pain.
Jabez was an example of citizenship in the Promised Land. We too are citizens of the Promised Land, though our citizenship is in heaven – not Palestine. At present we are to live in this fallen world of pain and suffering, persecution and frustration. So, for now we Christians will have to endure pain and sorrow. For we are called to suffer with Christ, bearing our cross as we wait in hope for the redemption of our bodies in the age to come.
Certainly, we can pray like John:
“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul”. (3 John 2)
And in our prayers, we can be encouraged by the examples of Elijah and Jabez that God may, in his merciful kindness, give us the very thing that we ask. But we have no promise that God will do so in this lifetime.
It is impious to think that we can force the hand of God. It is superstition, not prayer, to recite the words of a prayer as a means of assuring ourselves of God’s favour or working miracles or discovering the power of God.