One of the only verses really well known in the book of Chronicles (it is one book in its original form) is that of 1 Chronicles 4:10…
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.
In fact, this verse is known to the extent that you can buy “Prayer of Jabez” shirts, coffee mugs, Bibles, ect… but have we missed the point of what God is doing here in Chronicles? I believe that we may have.
The prayer of Jabez stands in the greater narrative of the people of Israel. When the tribes of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they were told that God would give them the land. At the outset of the entrance into the land, we see the people of Israel taking on extreme faith the fact that God would give them the land at all and evict the incredibly evil, yet militarily competent, inhabitants that were already there. In the narrative of Chronicles chapter four and five we find an interesting contrast, not in the fact of faith, but rather in its execution. In 1 Chronicles 4:38-41 we are told that the tribe of Simeon needed land for their growing flocks and herds, so they go to war with the Amalekites and win the land. In 1 Chronicles 5:18-22 we see the tribes of Rueben have the same problem and so they go to war. In the midst of the war, and at the risk of defeat, they cry out to God and He miraculously gives them victory and everything they need is provided for them. Then we have Jabez. He needs the same thing, land, and rather than go to war and suffer the deaths of his people, He simply asks God.
We have in these three groups, three separate responses to need. We have people who rely on themselves, people who rely on themselves and then need to be rescued by God, and people who rely completely on God. While all these responses end in the same result, Jabez not only suffers no loss of life for his people, but he is also called More Honorable” than his brothers (ie tribe of Simeon and tribe of Reuben), because of the approach of faith that he has. The story of Jabez is absent an explanation. How did God give him land and expand his boarders? We aren't told this, because that isn't the point. The point is that he trusted God to do it at all, this is why Jabez finds himself in the genealogy of faith which traces through the Old Testament to the birth of Christ.
The prayer of Jabez was not some magical confection of words that we are to imitate. It was simple faith in God to provide that God honored in Jabez. In our lives we must understand that God knows our needs. While all of us have options available to us to meet those needs, how often do we respond to those needs with faith first? A dear Christian brother of mine named Njenga who is from Kenya told me one time that he is amazed that believers in United States of America live their lives without trusting in God. In asking him what he meant by that he explained to me that as believers in this nation, when we get sick, we go to the doctor, we take medicine, and if nothing else works then we pray. He said that in the context of poverty and a lack of resources in his neighborhood, prayer is their only option. I am not suggesting that Christians should never go to the doctor or take medicine. I am suggesting that we often believe that faith is an unnecessary part of our daily lives. Do we have faith in God to know and meet our needs, or would we rather do it ourselves, or try and cry out to Him when we fail? Like Jabez, those who learn to have faith and trust in God first will find their place in the genealogy of faith.
Oh father, that we would learn to trust in you each day. Teach us to run to you. Help us to learn to trust you and rely on you. Give us new opportunities to trust in you, that when your sons comes back He will find faith among us. Amen.