Summary: Bold praying like Jabez --not praying Jabez’s prayer--will lead us closer to the center of God’s will for our lives.
The Prayer of Jabez
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Have you read the little book The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson? If you haven’t, you are one of the few who hasn’t. Dr. Bruce Wilkinson’s book has made Christian publishing history with nearly eight million copies sold. On September 15, The Prayer of Jabez was number 3 on the American Booksellers Association nonfiction list; number 1 on Publisher’s Weekly’s list; and the number 8 seller in the category on the internet bookstore Amazon.com. World Magazine’s combined rankings of all the major nonfiction best-seller lists gave The Prayer of Jabez an overall position of number 3 behind Stephen Ambrose’s WWII saga The Wild Blue and David McCulough’s biography of John Adams.
This is amazing because never before has a religious book even come close to these achievements. Even more startling is the content of Wilkinson’s book. The brief ninety-two page book is an exposition and application of a relatively obscure passage from the Old Testament. The underlying theme is prayer and God’s willingness to answer our prayers and bless our lives. Wilkinson, the director of Walk Through the Bible Ministries, claims that he has been praying this prayer for over thirty years and as a result has seen God do some amazing things. Moreover, he insists that anyone who prays this prayer can expect the supernatural.
Tonight I want to examine both the book and the scripture behind it. The book has drawn mixed reviews. Secular reviewers don’t know what to do with it. They are often befuddled by its popularity. Some Bible scholars have struggled to take it seriously. They observe rightly that it is very brief and in a sense, very “superficial.” It is clearly not the best thing every written on prayer. It is probably not even the best book on the market right now on the topic. But it has caught the attention of our society. And this before the 911 tragedy!
The book seems to have caught a wave of interest in the spiritual in our society. But even millions of unbelievers are buying it. George Barna’s polling organization reports that even one out of five self-described atheists and agnostics claim to pray to God. One can only wonder who they think they are praying to and what they expect to happen. It makes me wonder how different the praying of atheists is from that of church attenders and professing Christians. Many in the media find the Jabez phenomena curious. They can’t ignore it, but they don’t get it.
The theme of the book is very close to something that I have said often in our studies of prayer on Sunday evenings—God is far more willing to answer our prayers than we often realize. He wants to bless us. The reluctance is ours, not God’s.
To this end, one of the key sections in the book is the story Wilkinson calls “Mr. Jones Goes to Heaven.” Mr. Jones dies, goes to heaven, and is greeted by St. Peter as always happens in stories like this. As he is shown around heaven—angels, choirs, gold streets and the like, Mr. Jones notices a large warehouse building and asks to see it. St. Peter suggests that it might be better if he didn’t see it, but Mr. Jones insists.
Finally, St. Peter relents. Peter opens the door. Mr. Jones sees a huge warehouse filled with row after row of shelves packed full of white boxes with bows. Each box has a name on it. Mr. Jones asks if any has his name on it. They go to the J aisle and find one with his name. Mr. Jones opens it. As he looks inside, Jones has a moment of instant recognition and then lets out a deep sigh like the ones Peter had heard so many times before.
Inside the white box were all of the blessings that God had wanted to give to him while he was on earth but hadn’t because Jones had never asked. Wilkinson concludes the section with these true words, “Even though there is no limit to God’s goodness, if you didn’t ask Him for a blessing yesterday, you didn’t get all that you were supposed to have” (p. 27).
There is another side to the book, however. Wilkinson is a very respected evangelical leader. There is no question about his love for Jesus and devotion to the Bible. Yet some evangelical writers have waved a big yellow flag about certain aspects of the book. I too share that concern. So for those of you who have read the book and those who may, I share this observation. The book is very good. I recommend that you read it. However, there is this one problem. I am not sure what Wilkinson intends, but part of his book can leave the impression that prayer is primarily a matter of finding the right magic words. If you repeat those magic words over and over you will eventually get what you want or at least be blessed. Let me read the opening lines of the last chapter of the book (pp. 86-87). Wilkinson closes his discussion with this: