Like a rich vein of gold lying in the isolated mountains of Central Idaho, one of the most remarkable prayers can be found buried in one of the least read portions of the Bible.
It is thought the books of First and Second Chronicles were written to the Jewish exiles who had returned to their homeland after 70 years in Babylon. Because much of their national and personal archives had been lost when Jerusalem was destroyed, it is thought the scribe Ezra recorded some of the ancient family genealogies. So the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles contained the lineage of the Jewish people so these exiles could reclaim their legal family properties. Lists of names filled that record.
Forty-four names into the monotony of listing the heads of families in the tribe of Judah, the chronicler deliberately stopped at verses 9-10 to make a comment about a man named “Jabez.” We know nothing about this man except the brief notice contained in these verses. It was almost as if the historian knew that if he did not comment on this man, no one else would.
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There was something quite remarkable about Jabez that set him apart from his contemporaries, for he “was more honorable than his brothers.” He made a difference in his generation and that was why he was called out for special mention. Apparently, he was known for three things: he was a man of honor; he was given a shameful name; and he was known for praying a one-sentence prayer that God honored.
Interestingly, the chronicler made note of the meaning of this man’s name, as if that played a significant part in his motivation. “Jabez” literally meant, “He will cause pain.” The meaning of a person’s name was important in that day, often describing one’s character, like Jacob (deceiver) or some physical characteristic like Esau (hairy). Jabez’ name must have cast a shadow over his life because at the end of his prayer, he pleaded, “... that I might not cause pain!” He wanted his life to be different from his mother’s prediction in giving him this negative name.
This gold nugget of a prayer hidden in the chronicles of Israel simply asked: “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory (boundaries, limits), that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!”
Jabez was not asking God to bless him with more real estate, but that divine favor would rest upon him so his life would exceed the limitations he or his family might have placed upon him. There was something indescribable within him that wanted plenty of room to grow as a person, and expand the horizons of his possibilities. He was asking God to take him where he could not go without divine help. Destiny beckoned, and he wanted to follow higher goals. He asked God to keep him from evil, so he would not be a cause of someone’s pain. He knew his natural tendencies, and he wanted to rise above them to live an honorable life that blessed other people.
There are some prayers God will not answer, such as when people try to pray around unrepented sin, praying instead of reconciling with someone else, mindless repetition or praying for show. But there are prayers God loves to hear, such as the cry for mercy by a confessing sinner, and the kind of petition Jabez was known to pray. The chronicler noted that “God granted him what he requested.”
Let us hike into the “barren hills” of Scripture where we might be enriched by one of the noblest prayers of history by a largely unknown man who buried his fortune there. When we unearth this treasure, we will learn a very valuable lesson: If we would pray better prayers, we would get better answers.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.