Wrestling with Jabez
June 1 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Wrestling with Jabez | Friday, June 1, 2001

Friday, June 1, 2001

Wrestling with Jabez

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor The recent and phenomenal popularity of an obscure biblical character named Jabez has the religious marketing world all abuzz. As reported in the May 26 Biblical Recorder, a book called "The Prayer of Jabez" (Multnomah, 2000) is setting the publishing woods on fire, having reached number one on the best-seller list for non-fiction books. The book is so popular, in fact, and has meant so much to so many, that it seems almost sacrilegious to offer anything less than a glowing endorsement of Bruce Wilkinson's devotional/motivational interpretation of Jabez's prayer.

Nevertheless, I confess to not getting any particular glow when I read it. In fact, I have wondered at great length why the little book should be so popular, because the author's exegesis and theological presuppositions appear to be suspect at several points. There is little or no contextual study offered for Jabez's situation in life, for example, or for the two proof-texts cited to support Wilkinson's central premise that God has heavenly warehouses filled with blessings that remain under lock and key if Christians don't ask for them. Anyone who reads Hebrew must also be aware that the translation Wilkinson accepts uncritically is problematic, especially with regard to the last phrase, where an optional (and I think, better) translation suggests that Jabez was probably more concerned with avoiding pain than with causing it in others.

I readily admit to a deep-seated bias in this regard. My professional training and personal inclinations lean toward exegesis that includes careful contextual and language studies, and is hesitant to go beyond the text.

Nevertheless, most readers are less concerned with matters of biblical scholarship than with whether a book makes sense to them, moves them, changes them.

And there is no question that The Prayer of Jabez has moved and changed thousands of Christians whose spiritual life has gotten a jump-start from reading the book and praying the prayer of Jabez as Wilkinson presents it.

Some may be attracted to the book initially because it endorses the idea of praying for personal blessings. To his credit, the author insists he is not promoting a "name-it-and-claim-it" prosperity gospel, despite Jabez's obvious desire for more physical property. Wilkinson spiritualizes Jabez's post-conquest request for more territory into a prayer for expanded ministry opportunities that result from blessings in other areas of life.

Asking God for more and bigger opportunities for ministry is certainly a worthy prayer, and many readers have indeed increased the impact of their witness by praying the prayer. I suspect, however, that the difference is not so much in the prayer as in the one who prays: God has put us in a world where daily we are surrounded with needs and open doors for ministry. Those who look for ministry opportunities will inevitably find them. Praying for God to send us people in need of ministry makes us more attentive to countless opportunities to "expand our territories" as individuals, churches or even as a convention.

The best line in Wilkinson's book is a paragraph in which he likens prayer to "throwing ourselves in the river of God's will and power and purposes for us" (p. 24). That description of prayer is much more in keeping with the Lord's Prayer than the prayer of Jabez, and reminds readers that we are to seek god's kingdom growth above our own.

For increasing numbers of readers, the prayer of Jabez has provided a new handle to make their personal prayer life more meaningful. This has led more people to pray, to be attentive to ministry needs and to share their faith in Christ. For this we can be truly thankful - not just to Jabez, who might not recognize his namesake prayer or the way in which it is being prayed - but to the One who has always been ready to hear from (and speak to) those who are willing to pray.

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6/1/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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