Summary: We have learned, thanks to Bruce Wilkinson’s writings, to treasure the prayer of Jabez; but what can we intuit that Jabez’ mother did for him: she honored his uniqueness, she owned her own pain and shared it with her son, and she move him toward faithful prayer.
You know how they say that behind every good man there is a good woman? Well, they used to say that. That is a pre-feminist proverb. Now they say that alongside every good man there is a good woman, like Newton’s Law, equal in force but opposite in direction!
But I certainly find it true that partnership in families is critically important. If I personally have accomplished anything at all, I give credit first to my Lord and second to my true life-partner, to whom, as of this coming Sunday, I will have been yoked forty years. Forty years! I hope that for her it has not been forty years wandering in the wilderness. She has threatened from time to time to ask the Diaconate for the pulpit so that she can tell you who I am at home!
But I will take the old proverb a little farther. Not only are life partnerships important, but will you agree with me that behind any good person there is a good parent? At least one good parent, and we would hope for two. But one parent, as often as not the mother, stands out as the key influence. When most of us look back, we acknowledge that what she did, for good or for ill, shaped us. We were formed in her womb and we were powerfully influenced by her values. Behind every person there is at least one influential parent.
Now let’s drop back yet one more step. Let’s think about that parent. Behind every parent there is a defining experience that drives that parent’s attitudes, and thus also affects the child. In the life of every parent something happened – maybe several things, but some special thing happened that gave shape and direction to that life. Some critical incident that made that person what she or he is, and that critical incident then goes on to influence the children of the next generation. Behind every parent there is a defining experience that drives that parent’s attitudes, and thus also affects the child.
I’ve told you before about my own father. I’ve told you how his life was shaped by several critical incidents. He had one year of college about 1920, but didn’t have any more money, and had to quit. He went to work in the construction business, but that business floundered, and there was still no money for education. He went off to Texas to work in the concrete pipe industry, but he caught malaria and had to come home. He expressed interest in studying for the ministry, but his family would have none of that. He studied music and had an opportunity to sing professionally, but other family responsibilities put a stop to that. Critical experiences. All of those things made my father very careful about his finances, and they also made him value education. I don’t remember our ever having any discussions about whether my brother and I would go to college. Whether we would go was never at issue; it was only about where we would go and how we would pay for it.
Are you surprised, then, that I still take every moment I can get to read something or learn something new? Are you surprised that I am impatient with folks who are ignorant and plan to stay that way? With a background like mine and a parent like mine, of course those are my values! A critical incident in a parent’s life shapes that person in such a way that the children are shaped too.
Oh, by the way, if my son and daughter were here, they would say that that also explains why their father is cheap. I think I’m frugal. They think I’m cheap.
Behind every child there is a parent with a critical incident that has profoundly shaped that parent’s life. And that incident shapes the child’s life too.
There is an odd passage hiding in the otherwise obscure genealogies of the Bible. First Chronicles is a little-used book in the Old Testament. It is burdened down with boring family trees and long-winded descriptions of the construction of the Temple. Who needs that? So we don’t pay much attention to First Chronicles.
But hiding in the fourth chapter is a mini-biography, a short profile. It’s about a man named Jabez, and particularly about the prayer Jabez offered. These two verses interrupt the long, sleepy list of names, and get our attention. In fact, a man named Bruce Wilkinson rediscovered the prayer of Jabez some thirty years ago, and has written about the power in the prayer of Jabez. I want to acknowledge Bruce Wilkinson’s insights about this prayer, but I also want to push back one step from it and think about Jabez’ mother. Remember, behind every child there is a parent with a critical incident that shaped that parent and therefore continues to shape the child.