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In Defense of Jabez
First Things ^ | 10/01 | Phillip Zaleski

Posted on 10/29/2001 6:59:00 AM PST by Aquinasfan

In Defense of Jabez

Philip Zaleski


“Read not the times, read the eternities,” said Henry David Thoreau. It isn’t often that the two realms intersect, but they have this year—and not only in the New York Times, but in news media across America—with the runaway success of Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Multnomah, 2000). The Prayer of Jabez, as almost everyone knows by now, proclaims the blessings that derive from reciting an obscure prayer buried in a genealogical litany of, well, biblical proportions in the driest book in scripture, 1 Chronicles. The pertinent text, in the New King James Version favored by Wilkinson, reads:

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 (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).

Wilkinson first recited the prayer as a young seminary student uncertain about his future. The results, he writes, “revolutionized my life,” launching him on a thirty-year career as a minister and writer. They have also spawned a mini-industry of audiotapes, gift items, spin-off books (The Prayer of Jabez Journal, The Prayer of Jabez for Teens, etc.), and a website,, packed with accounts of “miracles” by those rescued or revitalized by saying the prayer. One correspondent writes of the prayer’s role in foiling a plane hijacking, another of using the prayer to comfort a child scared by a mouse.

The Prayer of Jabez is, if nothing else, an astute blend of literary archaeology, evangelical cheerleading, and attractive packaging. That Wilkinson brought the Jabez prayer to public attention is admirable enough; like Poe’s purloined letter, it has been in plain sight for thousands of years, translated into hundreds of languages as a portion of the most widely read book in the world, and yet it has remained utterly invisible. Even the Church Fathers, exegetical Argonauts who explored the vast seas of the Old Testament inch-by-inch, overlooked it; I found not a single mention of it in the standard thirty-eight-volume Edinburgh edition of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers.

Wilkinson has no interest in scholarly analysis; he uses each of the prayer’s four petitions as a springboard for an affable, upbeat sermon whose key message is that God wishes to “release His miraculous power in your life now. And for all eternity, He will lavish on you His honor and delight.” As the 7.4 million copies sold to date indicate, the public has rushed to accept this divine outpouring with opened arms and wallets.

The success of The Prayer of Jabez is the major publishing story of the year, testimony to our intense hunger for a fruitful relationship with God. But of equal interest, I believe, is the extensive (but by no means universal) condemnation of the book by the news media, the intelligentsia, and the professional theological community. Most of the objections take one of four basic forms:

Discomfort with evangelical religion. This is easy enough to spot. One sees it, for example, in the opening sentence of many of the news reports. Thus the Washington Post begins its story in mock-preacher style, asking readers to “Please bow your heads.” The New York Times Book Review’s essay starts in similar fashion: “Our text today is The Prayer of Jabez.” Such openings, blending condescension and wit, put the reader on notice: what follows should be read with one eyebrow arched. That the national media have a hard time with evangelical stories is scarcely a revelation, but it should be borne in mind when analyzing the widespread opposition to Wilkinson’s book.

Discomfort with Wilkinson’s style. Only those with a tin ear can defend Wilkinson’s way with words; his prose is the stuff of billboards (“Friend, have you ever seen the Holy Spirit break through emotional and spiritual barriers right before your eyes?”), as pushy and gawky as a down-on-his-luck Bible salesman. But this is a sin against style, not against God; it says nothing about the efficacy of the Jabez prayer or the fundamental integrity of Wilkinson’s message.

Discomfort with petitionary prayer. Here lies the heart of most assaults on The Prayer of Jabez. A number of liberal theologians object to the very notion of petitionary prayer, considering it to be a “low” form of prayer and contending that God, who is not given to caprice, has better things to do than cater to our transient whims. Moreover, the argument goes, petitionary prayer is redundant, as God already knows our most intimate needs and desires. The answer to these objections, of course, is that no less an authority than Jesus of Nazareth, when asked by his disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray,” responded with a paradigmatic set of petitions, at least some of which (“give us this day our daily bread”; “deliver us from evil”) bear comparison with the Jabez prayer. It’s worth noting, too, that prayers of petition appear prominently in every religion (even nontheistic forms of Buddhism), for every religious community instinctively senses that such prayers have a legitimate place in worship and that they (sometimes) work.

Many critics, however, point their fingers not at petition in general, but squarely at the second clause of the Jabez prayer: “enlarge my territory.” This request, especially in light of Wilkinson’s rather ham-handed declaration that “if Jabez had worked on Wall Street, he might have prayed, ‘Lord, increase the value of my investment portfolios,’” has raised the specter of Reverend Ike and his ilk; thus the London Times headline of May 10, “Please Lord, make me rich.” Here theologians go for the knockout, declaring the Jabez prayer and its disciples to be crude, self-serving, and narcissistic.

But these punches miss the mark. Wilkinson emphasizes throughout his book that while praying the Jabez prayer we must want “nothing more and nothing less than what God wants for us.” That is: “not my will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). In the book and on the website, the vast majority of answered prayers have nothing to do with personal aggrandizement and everything to do with bringing peace and goodwill to others, usually by spreading the gospel. We hear testimony, for example, from a worried mother who discovers that “enlarge my territory” means that her kids will accompany her to Sunday School. This entails, of course, a more-than-literal interpretation of “territory,” which brings to mind those Church Fathers mentioned above. Surely, if they had noticed the prayer of Jabez, they would have offered allegorical, analogical, and symbolic interpretations in addition to a literal reading; they too might have argued that “enlarge my territory,” especially when voiced by an “honorable” man such as Jabez, meant “enlarge the glory of God.”

As for those few who recite the Jabez prayer, or any prayer, out of selfish motives, one trusts that if the prayer is unworthy, God will not answer it. One also prays that those who ask blessings for themselves will do the same for their neighbors. It should be noted, however, that the impulse to ask God for help—for success on a school test, a marriage proposal, a commercial venture—is natural, healthy, and hardly limited to our reportedly narcissistic culture. Consider, for example, this prayer for success in gathering seaweed, collected in the nineteenth century on a remote Scottish isle by the peripatetic anthropologist Alexander Carmichael and included in his Carmina Gadelica:

The people watch and hope and pray for the coming of seaweed, and are anxious at the prospect of impending famine. When the seaweed comes they rejoice and sing hymns of praise to the gracious God of the sea who has heard their prayers:

Seaweed being cast on shore,
Bestow, Thou Being of bestowal;
Produce being brought to wealth,
O Christ, grant me my share!

Discomfort with the promised results of the prayer. Few commentators have addressed this issue, and yet I believe it is the only serious objection to The Prayer of Jabez. “God really does have unclaimed blessings waiting for you,” writes Wilkinson, and few who believe in God and His love for mankind will disagree. But what sort of blessings? Christianity teaches that our final destiny is holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This perfection is not won without suffering and sacrifice, as the testimony of two thousand years of saintly attainment bears witness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it succinctly: “There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.”

The Prayer of Jabez hints at the mysterious value of suffering, for instance in Wilkinson’s warnings against spiritual pride, but the message is never spelled out. The abiding assumption seems to be that “blessings” means worldly wealth and happiness, albeit in the service of God. But who would hogtie the Almighty in this way? Every spring the Church celebrates the feast day of Justin Martyr, whose very name proclaims the redemptive suffering bestowed by God. Blessings, it seems, can come in many forms. The Bible doesn’t tell us if Jabez had undergone a similar trial of suffering and self-sacrifice, but curiously enough, his name, like Justin’s, strongly suggests it. A number of scholars have pointed out that Jabez (y‘btz) is a play on b‘tzb, the Hebrew word for pain. As Sara Japhet unpacks the prayer in her I & II Chronicles: A Commentary (1993), the boy’s given name was actually Jazeb, which his mother distorted in “an intentional mispronunciation . . . as an urgent plea to God to avert the name’s inherent dangers.”

Thus Jabez, a man whose adopted name constitutes in itself a petitionary prayer and who, despite the affliction of his accursed birth-name, grows “more honorable than his brothers”—that is to say, closer to holiness. By what means could Jabez’s virtue have grown, if not by the inevitable path of the saints? God has blessed Jabez and granted him his prayer, but this blessing must have entailed genuine metanoia, with its concomitant suffering. As Kierkegaard reminds us, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” So, too, I suspect, the Jabez prayer may change us all, in ways easy or hard to swallow, but always to the greater glory of God.


Philip Zaleski is currently writing, with his wife Carol Zaleski, The Language of Paradise: Prayer in Human Life and Culture, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2003.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
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To: Aquinasfan
Agreed, Dan is ageless. It is not "seventies music" as some try to portray it. It is proto-Acid Jazz, it is poetry, it is Big Band, it's fully clever in all respects.

I'm listening to "Pretzel Logic" right now, and it's as fresh today as it was back when I was a high schooler. Can't say that about too many bands that have come and gone (and come again).

41 posted on 10/30/2001 7:19:20 AM PST by Illbay
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To: Aquinasfan
The only testimony I have about "The Prayer of Jabez" is my own. Back in late August, of this year, I bought the book and began to pray the "Prayer of Jabez." The very first day God, quite literally, enlarged my territory! It was definitely cool and an encouragement to continue praying this specific prayer - along with other prayers said in my day. There is a point, I think, being missed here - Wilkinson advocates that this prayer enlarges one's territory for the "Glory of God" not man. Is it not a testimony unto God's greatness that those who worship Him are blessed? Especially in a way that "non-believers" can visibly see? Many Blessings, Lightworker
42 posted on 10/30/2001 5:52:07 PM PST by Lightworker
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To: Aquinasfan
LET US JOIN TOGETHER IN PRAYER EVERY DAY AT NOON* LET US DEMONSTRATE OUR FAITH IN GOD'S WILL DAILY BY PRAYING THE LORD'S PRAYER EVERY DAY AT NOON* Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallow by thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth As it is in heaven. Give us this day, Our daily bread And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those that trespass against us And lead us not into temptation But deliver us from evil For Yours is the kingdom, The power And the glory forever. Amen Please think about the words we are saying and what they really mean. *Noon -- is the time where ever you are -- what ever time zone. We are starting a Prayer Wave! Please pass this to everyone you can think of -- and commit to sending this prayer out every week for one month and let's watch God work!
43 posted on 10/30/2001 5:55:08 PM PST by Lightworker
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To: zeaal
You expressed my thoughts beautifully.
44 posted on 10/30/2001 6:10:23 PM PST by resistance
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To: Lightworker
Hey, newbie. Your posts are very nice.

But you're still a newbie : - )

But seriously, welcome to Free Republic!

Here's a link to one of my favorite posts: Proud Night to be a Father

45 posted on 10/30/2001 7:16:12 PM PST by WillaJohns
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To: Lightworker
The very first day God, quite literally, enlarged my territory!


46 posted on 10/31/2001 5:50:06 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: Aquinasfan
Fascinating thread.I kinda like the book. Of course, its not as deep as Spurgeon, but for the post modern world you have to reach people where they are, and I feel if this book can begin some peoples faith journey, so be it.God uses many venues to reach people and He can even use a best seller.Come to think about it, his BIG BOOK has been a best seller for centuries.
47 posted on 10/31/2001 6:33:55 AM PST by lexington minuteman 1775
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To: Aquinasfan
I think the critics of this book are misunderstanding it. No, its not about trying to get money or material things out of God, or what we want. At least that's not what its supposed to be about.

The requests in Jabez's prayer are asked in accordance to God's will. About the second one - "enlarge my territory".... IMO, what the author tried to get across was that it means asking God to use you to further His Kingdom. To reach other people and "live large" for God.

The other criticism I keep hearing is that the author teaches to recite this prayer by rote, like a chant, and not a heartfelt prayer. Of course this is what pagans do, and it goes against what Jesus said about how to pray. I can't speak for the author, but I don't think that is what he meant. He just stated that he prays the Jabez prayer everyday, and that he has been incredibly blessed in his life.

I liked the book, and despite the controversy, I think its bringing a lot of people to God.... the fact that a Christian book is on top of the best sellers list is a great thing, don't you think?

48 posted on 01/03/2002 12:12:59 AM PST by incindiary
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To: spycatcher
Went to the site (Problems With the Prayer of Jabez --Berit Kjos) and read the put down and then searched for other writings on site. This site has no problem of telling you to pray daily to put on the armor of God from Eph. I have been praying Jabez's prayer using it as an outline and adding to as the Lord leads. I have a feeling that many who do pray this prayer are doing the same. IMHO.
49 posted on 01/03/2002 1:02:12 AM PST by kansas_goat_roper
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To: kansas_goat_roper
Paul's New Testament letter to the church at Ephesus was inspired as a directive on strengthening the very core of Christianity: Love first of all, truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Holy Spirit/God's Word. These are the bedrock of the Christian faith, and as Jesus showed before Paul we are in a spiritual battle not one of flesh and blood.

On the other hand, Jabez' prayer for God to bless him is just that. But through the miracle of book deals and modern marketing it is now the way, the truth, and the life for many people. That's unfortunate. God could have chosen to answer Jabez no matter what he prayed, even if he was misguided in his prayer. And he may have been misguided, or else specifically guided by his spirit for that time in his personal life. And God can answer the many sincere but misguided "Jabez prayers" today as well, even if they aren't what God would want for a person at the time.

That's why it's best to be guided by the spirit in every situation we face. In prayer, follow the outline of commands to Christians in the New Testament and go from there. But Jabez' prayer was never before and shouldn't now be elevated to the pattern given to the Church by Jesus or a Pauline Epistle, just because Bruce Wilkinson wants to rake in the cash with a new fad.

50 posted on 01/03/2002 8:02:54 AM PST by spycatcher
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To: Aquinasfan
51 posted on 01/03/2002 8:17:11 AM PST by Free the USA
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To: EagleNebula
52 posted on 01/03/2002 8:34:42 AM PST by EternalVigilance
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To: spycatcher
The point of my post was that the site that you recommended talked about vain repetitions of prayer. My point was how many Christians are taught to daily put on the armor of God and visualize and go through the motions, of actually doing it. Any prayer can become vain any daily activity can become vain and repetitions. At the end of my post I stated that I use the prayer as a guide and add to it as the Spirit leads. I believe another person had done a book on the Lords prayer and turned it into a 60 minute outline call Can you not tarry one hour? Did they vainly say to pray repetitiously? No they used it as an outline for a deeper prayer life.
53 posted on 01/03/2002 10:59:50 AM PST by kansas_goat_roper
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To: kansas_goat_roper
Any repetitive formula is a bad idea. And yes, even the Lord's prayer could become that. And so could putting on the armor of God before going into spiritual "battle."

But the problem I see with the Jabez book is that it doesn't even start with a good foundation, and deviate off the path. It's all magic formula pulled from the hat of Bible history. I could just as easily see how you once prayed for an increase in your herd, and it increased, and write a book on the specific words you used and how saying your prayer phrase non-stop is the key to all blessings.

It sets people up for failure because sometimes God may not materially bless a holy man who says it making him wonder about what's wrong with him -- because of course the prayer is perfect and works for everyone else.

54 posted on 01/03/2002 11:39:44 AM PST by spycatcher
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To: Sans-Culotte
I agree, Sans-Culotte. People are reading more into this than is there.... enlarging ones territory is meant to enlarge ones sphere of influence. I have seen this happen! There are people being brought across my path to minister to, people being brought into our lives to be influenced by us.

Spycatcher, As far as chanting???? Where does it say that? I don't recall reading that in the book. It says to pray it me that means you pray it once, that day....not hundreds of times. Where on earth did that come from ???

There is nothing wrong with petitioning the Lord for something daily, or frequently. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" Phil. 4:6. Luke 18 Christ speaks in a parable and addresses the issue of persistance.

I think that it also needs to be taken into account that any prayer that goes up without faith, is just that. If someone is going to recite lines of anything, are not a child of God, and do not have the faith and belief it will come to pass.....then nothing will happen. I think it is sad for some people here to pick this book apart, and say it is bad because it will damage someone's faithlife, or christian walk. I have had many struggles and trials myself in the past year-and-a-half. This book and this prayer have not caused my faith to waver!

I am thankful to the Lord that this book was written. I have heard of many unexpected blessings received by many from these prayers. Myself, I have seen our borders expanded! The expectation and anticipation and joy are marvelous!!

55 posted on 01/03/2002 9:01:54 PM PST by ~EagleNebula~
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To: Fifth Business
56 posted on 01/03/2002 9:07:04 PM PST by ~EagleNebula~
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To: spycatcher
re post #50....I don't think Bruce W. wrote the book expecting it to be elevated to the level it is. Nor do I, IMHO, think that all the hype is on his account. Having read the book, I don't believe he sounds like that type of character.

I agree with the first paragraph.

57 posted on 01/03/2002 9:20:55 PM PST by ~EagleNebula~
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To: incindiary

I think anytime a book is on a list of favorite books that is cataloged by the unsaved world, that is a reason to doubt the book really contains great spiritual uplifting. God's word and the Gospel is an offense to the unsaved. Only the seeking heart will ever get anything of any long term benefit out of a genuinely spiritual book.

What I thought about this article, was it did make the case for a "name-it-and-claim-it" theology, and more than half-way through the article's author calls it almost that, but in the end, she repeats the claim that the man who recites it continues to 'receive blessing'. I cannot deny that a person may receive blessing from prayer, but from a repititious prayer like you yourself pointed out was a pagan practice?

Something doesn't seem right here. Christ's admonition for prayer is clear in the LORD'S PRAYER, the style we are to pray in, what we are to pray for. ALso, in the Sermon on the Mount, we are told to SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, and THEN will we get material blessings. There is no mention of a 'magic prayer' like this seems to be, or a chain mail prayer almost, "Just say this prayer and watch your life change/get money/attract friends"...That sounds more like spell casting or some kind of wizardry, make the magic incantation and God will make your dreams come true.

That is the stuff of Genies, not a Holy, Sovereign God. Besides, Solomon asked for just wisdom in how he should judge Israel, not riches or long life, and due to the right heart, God gave him all three. In fact, if Solomon asked for just riches or long life,

the verse in 1 KINGS 3:5 In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.
6 And Solomon said, Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.
7 And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.
8 And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.
9 Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?
10 And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.
11 And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment;
12 Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.
13 And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.
14 And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.

If there ever were times for someone to ask for material things, this sounds like one of them. And, with Solomon's youth, his request for riches or wealth or safety from enemies would be normal for someone who isn't mature enough to think about what to ask God for. I would say he only got riches and honor because he asked for the right thing first and ONLY.

Matthew 6:29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

If we do ask for things that Honor God first, we can expect that prayer to be answered, so Jabez's request had to have more meaning than material goods like you were saying, I am just concerned with those who dont realize that.

58 posted on 01/10/2002 7:41:35 AM PST by RaceBannon
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