“The sons of Judah: Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal. Reaiah the son of Shobal fathered Jahath, and Jahath fathered Ahumai and Lahad. These were the clans of the Zorathites. These were the sons of Etam: Jezreel, Ishma, and Idbash; and the name of their sister was Hazzelelponi, and Penuel fathered Gedor, and Ezer fathered Hushah. These were the sons of Hur, the firstborn of Ephrathah, the father of Bethlehem. Ashhur, the father of Tekoa, had two wives, Helah and Naarah; Naarah bore him Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. These were the sons of Naarah. The sons of Helah: Zereth, Izhar, and Ethnan. Koz fathered Anub, Zobebah, and the clans of Aharhel, the son of Harum. Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ 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” [1 CHRONICLES 4:1-10]. 
Followers of the Saviour struggle to read some portions of the Word. The Book of Numbers is not often named as a favourite book of the Bible. The Chronicles, especially the first nine or so chapters of the Book of First Chronicles is another portion of the Word that does not receive much love from Christians. These portions of the Word consist of long lists of names, many of which are difficult to pronounce and of little interest to modern readers.
These names are a bit like a traffic jam in a big city. We are stuck, slowly negotiating our way through the traffic, enduring the blaring horns and irate commuters while we breathe the exhaust of thousands of vehicles and look at the world through the haze of smog. However, even in the midst of snarled traffic we will occasionally see things that capture our interest, just as we may encounter tidbits of information that are powerful as we work our way through the names that God has caused to be recorded.
As an aside of some significance, some of you who are listening feel stuck in life. You’re here, but you don’t know why you are here. You’re just putting in your time, though you cannot say what you expect of the time you’ve invested. Someone has said that we have about thirty-five years to determine what mark we will make with our life. There may be exceptions, but as is true in all of life, the exceptions prove the rule.
Time rushes past more swiftly than we could ever imagine, and the age of thirty-five arrives too soon for any of us. That is why those teen years and the twenties are so crucial. Teens think that they don’t need to study; they think there is plenty of time tomorrow. However, your study now is preparation for tomorrow; and if you will make anything of your life, you must prepare now. Whatever you hope to accomplish through your life, you must focus sooner rather than later. You need to focus now or be content to spend the remainder of your life just existing. Young men must realise that they are learning to be manly today; they can’t wait until tomorrow. Young women must realise that they are preparing to be wives and mothers today; there will not be time tomorrow. Young couples must invest themselves in one another today, or they will face a rocky future tomorrow.
Our churches are filled with people who thought they could put off serving God. “There’ll be time later,” they thought. Time, however, has a way of rushing on and they are still standing in the same place where they were standing twenty-years ago. Many of those still standing where they once stood have grown bitter. “Life is unfair,” they whine. Well, what is new in that statement? Of course, life is unfair. “I never had a chance,” they whinge. You had the same chance everyone had; you didn’t seize the opportunities when God brought them near.
We all have areas and conditions in which we are most comfortable. My wife likes the temperature to be closer to a tropical environment, whereas I am more comfortable with a temperature best described as arctic. Each of us has different personal spheres with which we are comfortable. Some like to be close, to touch; others want distance between themselves and others. We had a dear friend down in Texas who was decidedly different from me. Connie was a kisser whenever she met a friend; she came from a Louisiana family of kissers. My family thought shaking hands was as intimate as anyone should ever be. For some reason, my wife thought it was funny whenever Connie saw me as she chased me with pursed lips saying, “C’mon, Mike. Stop running. I haven’t said ‘Hello.’”
We need to encourage those who follow the Master to see their lives as having purpose, to see their presence as valuable (both potentially and actually). Each follower of the Master must determine to move out of her comfort zone or out of his comfort zone, to strive to excel. That is the thrust of the message this day, developed through examining the life of a man who, despite a poor start in life, appears to have excelled.
A POOR START IN LIFE — “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain’” [1 CHRONICLES 4:9]. Jabez had a poor start in life. In the first place, his mother named him, which would have been unusual in that ancient society. Usually the father named a child, but we are told that his mother named him. His mother gave him the name “Jabez,” a name that means “Pain,” or perhaps meaning “Misery.” Somehow, his mother saw him as a miserable pain.
We can only speculate as to why she chose this particular name, but it might suggest that Jabez was an unwanted child. Perhaps his birth was the result of a rape, and his mother struggled with the pain of that memory. Was his father a no-account sluggard, and she didn’t want to be reminded of her poor choice in men. Maybe his birth was at an inconvenient time in her life. Whatever her reason, she saw him as a pain, and she named him “Pain.” We can only imagine that his homelife reflected the distaste his mother had for little “Pain.”
I know a little something about a bad start in life; I have credentials in this area of life. My family was poor, though I didn’t know we were poor when I was growing up. It was just the way things were. My dad had been seriously wounded during the war; he was crippled. Despite a crippled leg that required him to wear a shoe with a large lift, he was a blacksmith, hammering out plowshares and filling sickles, repairing farm wagons and shoeing horses and mules. On my first day of school, I awakened to hear my mother say to my dad, “I don’t give a damn about you or about those boys.” After that, my brother and I would only see her when it was convenient for her. I learned very quickly to use my fists to instill manners into the lives of boys who were so crass as to tease me about being a motherless child. Later, I would learn to use my mind and the power of language to destroy anyone foolish enough to attempt to injure me. There was a cost. I’ve heard mothers tell their daughters, “No, you can’t go get a Coke with him; he doesn’t have a mother.” I’ve heard other mothers tell their sons, “No, he can’t play over here; he doesn’t have a mother.” Life could be very cruel in a small town during those days so many years ago.
Well, a bad start doesn’t mean you have to stay where you were. You can live up to your name, or you can live down to your name. The choice is yours. However, know that God can change lives and give those with a bad name a new name. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel; he went from “Deceiver” to “God’s Prince.” God renamed Simon, naming him Peter—the “Rock.” The impetuous, boastful, equivocating fisherman became a fisher of men who would ever after encourage his brothers. Saul of Tarsus would be known as Paul after God gave him a new name. The circumstances of your birth mean nothing—you can be born again. Jabez was more honourable than his brothers; something about this boy was commendable in God’s sight.
Let me say to each one listening today—no child is born that God did not allow to be born. If you are here, your life is not an accident. From the divine perspective, there is no such thing as an accidental birth. God brought you to this time and to this place by His own determinant will. Your life has purpose, your presence before God has purpose, and that purpose dovetails with the will of a sovereign God. Since God wants you here, find your place! Determine that you will find and fill that position that God has prepared you for.
Perhaps some of you will recognise the name, Wilma Rudolph. Talk about a rough start in life. Her father was often absent from the home because he worked as a porter on a railroad and her mother cleaned houses six-days-a-week. Born prematurely, this young child weighed only four-and-one-half pounds at birth. Wilma Rudolph was the twentieth child of twenty-two children. At four-years of age, Wilma contracted polio. She survived the illness, but she lost the use of her left leg. Specialists in Nashville recommended routine massage therapy for her leg, and her mother learned the massage technique, teaching it to some of the older children. Thus, Wilma’s leg was massaged multiple times each day by her own family.
However, because of her poor start in life and no doubt in part because of the poverty of her family, Wilma developed chronic pneumonia and later contracted scarlet fever. Her father’s work as a porter on railroad cars meant he was gone for long periods of time; her mother cleaned houses six days a week. Wilma believed that she might spend a lifetime in leg braces or even be confined to a wheelchair for all the days of her life. However, Wilma had this going for her, she had a devoted mother and a family determined to see that she would not live life as a cripple.
Everything was against Wilma Rudolph. Born prematurely! A black child living in segregation! Poverty! Low birth weight! Polio! Chronic pneumonia! Scarlet fever! But Wilma had a mother determined that her child would not be a cripple and a family devoted to working with the little one. You are not what you were born. After five years of treatment, Wilma one day stunned her doctors when she removed her leg braces and walked by herself. Soon she was joining her brothers and sisters in basketball games in the Rudolph backyard and running street races against other children her age.
Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the track and field competition in the 1960 Summer Olympic games in Rome, Italy. That poor, sickly, crippled little girl blossomed into a world-class athlete, demonstrating that you are not what you were at birth! In both the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash, she finished at least three yards in front of her closest competitor. She tied the world record in the 100-meter and set a new Olympic record in the 200. Rudolph also brought her 400-meter relay team from behind to win the gold. The French called her “La Gazelle.” Without question, Wilma's achievements at the 1960 Olympic Games remain a stand-out performance in the history of Olympic competition. 
There are some people listening who will pout, “You don’t know how hard my life was.” That is true; but those pouting have no idea of how hard my life was, either! The issue is not who can tell the saddest story, the issue is whether God has anything to say to us as individuals. God knows who you are, and He knows where you are. God has allowed you to be born and He has allowed you to be present at this particular time. Either God is the God of all-power, or He is nothing. Either God is able to perform great things through you and with your life, or God is powerless. The God I serve is all-powerful and He is always at work in the world.
I choose to make the Apostle’s statement my own: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” [PHILIPPIANS 4:13]. I will believe that God has been at work in my life even before I had accepted His appointment to serve Him and to labour in His cause. Now, any advance in which I participate is because of God who energises me, because of the Lord Christ who enables me, because of Jesus my Saviour who gives me opportunity to serve.
John the Baptist was the only child of an older couple that shouldn’t have been able to have children, if the usual order of life had prevailed. That elderly couple was well beyond child-bearing age—Zechariah was pushing retirement, and Elizabeth was thought to be well into menopause. Despite all appearances, God had other plans for this couple, just as He had specific plans for the child He was giving them. That child, when he was born, was the product of a miracle. Against all consideration from heritage of the family, Zechariah called him “John.”
John’s ministry wasn’t necessarily approved by the religious elite, but he had a divine purpose. The testimony which John delivered was, “For this purpose I came baptizing with water, that [the Christ] might be revealed to Israel” [JOHN 1:31]. He knew why he was there at that particular time and he was prepared to fulfil the will of God for his life. The same can be said of you regardless of where you are at the moment.
Of Pharaoh, the LORD said, “For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” [EXODUS 9:16]. If even the wicked of this dying world exist in order to ensure that the Name of the Living God is proclaimed throughout all the earth, how much more do the righteous have a purpose! Determine that you will be counted as one of God’s righteous servants, revealing His purpose through your service.
You may be certain that your life has purpose. No child comes into this world without purpose. No person can say, “I am an accident; I was never meant to be.” Maybe your parents say they didn’t plan to have you, but there is a God who knows you and He knows who you are, and He knows why you are here. One of the reasons we Christians are adamant that we must not become cavalier about taking the life of the unborn is that we are convinced that God gives life; we are not in the place of God with power over life or death. We cannot approve of euthanasia because we are not given authority over the death of those who are elderly or infirm. We must not fall into the trap that begins to assign worth to individuals on what they contribute; we know that individuals have worth in their very existence.
We must treat all people with dignity and with understanding that their very presence is evidence of God. I know that there are people who will cry out in their pain, “Why did God permit someone with severe mental or emotional injury to be born?” Let’s be honest about that cry. The one crying out is more often crying out of their own selfishness rather than crying out of pain for the one who was so injured. The caregiver that is wearied with the demands of providing care for the one who requires that care is almost incapable of separating their need for relief from concern for the one who has been injured in their mind. Therefore, the cry is often born out of personal grief rather than grief for whatever discomfort the injured one may experience. We need to see with clearer eyes than we have seen to this point.
God would say to Israel, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” [JEREMIAH 29:11-14]. Likewise, the Living God knows the plans He has for you.
The LORD God spoke, and I must believe that His words were as much for us as they were for Israel, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” [JEREMIAH 33:3].
The Word of God was not given just for those living thousands of years past, it was given for us who are now living. The Eternal God gave His Word, and it was given for all who would look to Him for life. A poor start in life does not invalidate what is written in the Word of God. A poor start in life, or a poor situation now, does not condemn anyone to permanent disappointment. A poor start only means that you must not allow the past to dominate your now!
STEPS TOWARD SUCCESS — “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’” [1 CHRONICLES 4:10a].
Jabez was a son of pain, but he had enough sense to pray. And what a prayer he prayed! Let’s tease apart that prayer. Jabez asked God to bless him. He cried out to God, “Bless me!” The construction of his request might lead us to understand that Jabez was praying, “Bless me, Lord. Really bless me.” That is a prayer worthy of a man of God, worthy of a woman of God, worthy of anyone seeking to honour God. We seek blessing, and we focus on the material.
“Bless me with a nice car.” There are many people who have a nice car, but they can’t drive it because they lost their licence, or they can’t afford the insurance.
“Bless me with a nice house.” However, many people with a nice house cannot sleep at night. They are miserable, their mind running wild with worry and concern.
“Bless me with food.” Throughout our world are multitudes that have plenty to eat, and they can’t enjoy what they have. Their stomach is upset, they have ulcers and are forced to eat baby food, they have allergies and must avoid many foods.
Maybe we need to learn to seek God’s blessing, focusing on something more than the material aspects that we imagine we must have. Maybe we need to learn to seek God’s blessing in giving us the capacity of joy, the ability to rejoice in His goodness and to rejoice in the ability to enjoy the world He has given us.
“God, bless me with the ability to enjoy driving the car that You have given me!”
“God, bless me with the opportunity to serve someone in Your Name today!”
“God, bless me with sound sleep when I lay down each evening!”
“God, bless me with the ability to enjoy the food You have given!”
“God, bless me with discernment!”
“God, bless me with friends!”
“God, bless me with the ability to be a friend!”
“God, bless me with opportunity to serve You!”
“God, bless me with a heart at peace in the midst of the storms of life!”
“God, bless me with confidence as I walk humbly before You!”
“God, bless me with courage to stand with You where You are working!”
“Bless me!” Dear people, I learned long ago that I can’t bless others until the Lord has blessed me. So, I do pray for God to bless me. And I’m not just talking about some fanciful “Name-it-and-claim-it” prayer that focuses on material things meant to gratify my desires.
Then, Jabez prayed, asking God to enlarge his border. He was asking God to expand his influence. He wanted to be a man whose influence would continue even after he was gone. That should be the prayer of each Christian, to have a positive influence on others. Of course, we should influence our families for God, for Christ, for good and not for evil. Our children should look back and remember our presence with thanksgiving, blessing the Name of the Living God because we taught them right from wrong, because we not only told them to trust God, but because we demonstrated how they were to trust God. Our children should thank God because we honoured God and built our spouse.
Every boy needs a daddy who honours his mother by loving her and esteeming her above all others. Every girl needs a daddy who reveals what a man should be. Every boy should have a mother who teaches him to be civil, to be gentle and to hold his strength in check. Every girl needs a mother who teaches her to be chaste and godly in the midst of a world gone mad with unbridled lust. Our children should thank God each time they think of dad or of mom.
I know that some of you, as was true for me, have only part of the family you should ideally have. Bless God that you have a godly mother, even if your dad isn’t all he should be. Bless God that you have a godly dad, even if your mother doesn’t honour God. Give God glory for that parent who stood strong in the face of hard times, determined to honour the Living God. Bless God for what He has given and ask that He make you a woman of character, a righteous man. No saint should ever settle for being like the individuals named in the earlier verses of this chapter—they lived, and they died. Their lives made no lasting impact worth recording. You should pray that God will let your life count for something. “God, expand my influence.” You who are still in school, don’t settle for a “C” when you can make an “A.” Don’t settle for being a secretary when you can be the president. Pray for a life that reveals godly power with others.
Don’t be comfortable doing enough. Strive to excel and pray that God will enable you to do so. Don’t let small people make you small. Don’t hang around people that will pull you down. Stay away from people that have no desire to learn, that have no desire to discover the truth, that are content to play in the dirt rather than soaring in the heavens. Stay away from people who are going nowhere. Don’t allow yourself to be content with mediocrity.
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” [JOHN 14:12]. If you are where you were ten years ago in your Christian walk, you’re not growing. You’re squandering God’s investment in your life; you’re wasting God’s gift that was entrusted to your oversight.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the mallard that flew into a farmer’s yard one year. He found a pretty pleasant existence there. The farmer gave him corn and saw that he had enough water. He could grub in the dirt with the chickens for bugs and for worms. That duck was content to just stay where he was. However, fall came, and he looked up to see great flocks of ducks and geese winging their way south where they would winter. He heard the urgent quacking of the wild ducks as they winged their way southward, and he remembered how he had once soared with them into the heavens. He stretched his wings and flapped a couple of times, but the effort tired him, and he gave up. That mallard settled down again into his dreary routine. The snows came and he went into his warm house until one day the farmer came out with an ax. Christmas was coming, and it would be the last time the mallard would put his head into the bowl that held the corn. Just so, our life can be squandered, consumed on our own comfort.
Notice, also, that Jabez’ prayer asked that God’s hand would be with him. Jabez was seeking divine power to be revealed through his life. He wanted God’s strength to be witnessed through his life. Jabez wanted God to be glorified through the way he lived. Well might we ask, “Where is the man of God whom the world fears because he is godly?” We fear naked power because we are threatened by such power. But we see so little of godly life and boldness in the Lord, that we have no reason to fear those who profess the Name of the Living God.
Where is the woman of God that whatever she puts her hand to is blessed? Where is the man who follows Christ who reveals divine power each day of his life? Where is the one who follows the Master, taking seriously Christ’s promise to those following Him? Jesus promised, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” [JOHN 14:12-14]. Can that person be found among us? Is that one here now?
When Samuel went to anoint David as King over Israel, it is telling to note how the people responded to his presence. “The LORD said to Samuel … ‘Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.’ And Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.’ And the LORD said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.”’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.’” Now, take special note of the FOURTH VERSE. “Samuel did what the LORD commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, ‘Do you come peaceably’” [1 SAMUEL 16:1-4]?
God will always impel His people to live on the edge! It is not that the people of God are seeking thrills, but because they are serving God, they will act with boldness. They will pursue serving Him though the cost may be ever so great. And the boldness they display while pursuing the will of the Living God will disquiet the godless. Why else do those opposed to righteousness in this day fear the voice of the people of God? Why do the godless continue to attempt to silence the faithful? The very presence of a righteous individual is a threat to the unrighteous, though no godly person would never attack the unrighteous. In the passage from First Samuel, the people of Bethlehem were terrified that the man of God had come to their town. Before Samuel ever uttered a word, they were fearful that his presence threatened them.
Luis Pantoja was a beloved colleague during the days I was teaching in Dallas. Later, we both pastored in Vancouver. On one occasion, Luis was challenged by a man who denied that God had power to do anything. That man boasted that there was no God and he was therefore unafraid to blaspheme God. Brother Luis stood, walked over to the man, placed his hand on the man’s head and said, “I’m going to pray that God will strike you dead in front of your wife and children. If there is no God, you need not fear. I know there is a God, so prepare to meet your God.” Dropping to his knees, the man began to beg Luis, “No, please don’t do that. I’m sorry.” We need some of that boldness and a touch of divine power in our lives today. We need the power, not to be brash and reckless, but to be bold for the cause of Christ.
We need the power of God to stand firm in the face of opposition from the world. We need the power of God to instruct our children and our grandchildren in the truths of God. We need the power of God to speak with boldness to those who are lost and on their way to hell. We need the power of God to see lives transformed as God’s Spirit turns people to faith in the Son of God. We need the power of God to live holy, godly lives. We need to discover the truth of the promise delivered by the Apostle: “If God is for us, who can be against us” [ROMANS 8:31b]?
Finally, Jabez asked the LORD to deliver him from harm. To the casual reader, this request might indicate that Jabez feared pain. There’s nothing wrong with fearing pain. In fact, there is something weird, something unnatural if someone should deliberately seek out pain. We are concerned when we hear of young people cutting themselves. Deliberately hurting oneself is a cry of desperation, a plea for help to stand up because life has become crushing. Immature individuals may hurt themselves because they haven’t learned to handle pain, they haven’t heard that life isn’t fair. Similarly, immature Christians are sometimes allowed to come into the Faith with unrealistic expectations of life as a follower of the Master.
We preachers do a disservice if we tell people, “Come to Christ, and all your problems will be over.” No they won’t! They may just be starting. As a follower of the Master, expect opposition. Jesus warned us, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” [MATTHEW 10:16-23].
Listen to the Master as He warns those who follow Him, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” [MATTHEW 10:34-39].
Perhaps you have heard Johnny Cash singing a dirge as he neared the end of his life,
“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.
I focused on the pain, the only thing that’s real.”
The words are haunting precisely because we intuitively recognise that the thought of inflicting self-pain is abnormal. Superficially, we would understand that Jabez didn’t want to be hindered in the task he had set for himself; so, he asked the Lord to spare him from that which would distract Him from fulfilling His purposes.
I suspect there is more in this request than a mere desire to avoid pain. To be certain, Jabez appears to be asking God to circumvent any negative curse that might attend his life because of his name. However, the word translated “harm” in the TENTH VERSE, conveys the idea of evil, or of wickedness. I believe Jabez was asking God to keep him from falling into sin so that he would not face the consequences of such sin. Perhaps we should understand that this was an Old Testament equivalent of the request Jesus taught disciples to make, “Deliver us from evil” [see MATTHEW 6:13b]. Jabez was asking God to enable him keep his passions under control. He was asking God to equip him in his pursuit of holiness, in pursuit of righteousness.
Life as a follower of the Master consists of travel through a series of spiritual minefields. The enemy of the soul has sown danger throughout our lives. One misstep and the child of God can be maimed for life. We need an infallible guide to direct our steps. It is easy to grow discouraged by the constant drain on energies that righteousness demands. It is bad enough when we are injured through some blunder, an indiscretion when we stumbled as we were trying to move forward. What is worse still is the fact that those who should minister to us seize the opportunity of our injury to berate us, to castigate us. This is when we need to learn to pray, “Oh, that You would keep me from harm.”
This is a prayer I have offered many times as I served the Lord. I have been conscious of my own inability to make the right choice when facing challenges. I do not want to dishonour the Lord who saved me. I do not want to mislead any who are watching my life or who attend to what I say. I don’t want to be maimed in the struggle for righteousness. Therefore, I often pray, “Oh, that You would keep me from harm.”
VICTORY OVER LIFE — “God granted what he asked” [1 CHRONICLES 4:10b]. You will no doubt remember that Jesus promised, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” [JOHN 14:13-14]. This promise appears to have been a theme with the Son of God. Soon after making this promise, Jesus again instructed His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” [JOHN 16:23b-24]. Our Lord is delighted to answer the requests of His people; He has given us assurance that He will hear us when we pray provided that we seek the Father’s glory! We cannot expect Him to answer when we seek our own glory!
James shames us as professed believers in the Risen Son of God, confronting our unbelief, unbelief that can only be practical atheism that too often marks our lives. James writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” [JAMES 4:2-3]. Either we fail to ask, we don’t pray, or we ask wrongly, focusing on fulfilling our passions rather than seeking God’s honour and glory.
Let me ask a question that may be disturbing—in fact, I mean for it to be disturbing. Here’s the question: “What was the last prayer which you offered that God definitely answered?” I don’t mean that vapid prayer you flung heavenward asking God to bless your soggy cornflakes or that prayer asking God to keep you safe through the night as you drifted off to sleep. What was the last prayer offered that was answered so definitively that the answer could only have come from the Living God? The text before us today is startling if only because the Chronicler simply notes that “God granted what he asked.”
I am a misfit living in a world that is populated with misfits. The “beautiful people” never have been the majority in our world. The world may attempt to convince you that nothing good can come of your life. Perhaps you had a bad start in life, but a bad start should never determine what you can yet accomplish. I don’t like to return to my childhood home because those living there remember me. Some remember what I was, and some will never get beyond what I once was. I tried desperately to be cool, but I was never part of the “in crowd,” I was always one who lived on the fringes. However, Christ found me and brought me into His Family. He forgave my sin and gave me life through His shed blood. Though I was once on the outside, now I “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” [see EPHESIANS 2:13].
I don’t need to seek significance in the adulation of this dying world; I have found my significance in Christ the Lord Who conquered death and brought life and immortality to light! My great need is to heed the call of the Master, searching out where He is at work. Where He is standing is where I need to stand. He has become my Protector and my Provider. And this is true for you as well. Find where Christ stands and position yourself at His side. See what Christ is doing and join Him in the work He is performing.
Each follower of Christ can testify, “God appointed me to His service.” With the Apostle each Christian can testify, “I am an ambassador for Christ, God making his appeal through [me]” [see 2 CORINTHIANS 5:20b]. With Paul, I testify that “I was appointed a preacher and … a teacher … in faith and truth” [see 1 TIMOTHY 2:7]. The Apostle spoke a great truth when he quoted the Cretan poet Epimenides: “In [God] we live and move and have our being” [see ACTS 17:28].
Are you a follower of the Risen Son of God? Surely you don’t believe that He saved you and then left you to your own devices! Surely you understand that He saved you for His glory! Have your not made the statement of the Apostle your own? “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” [GALATIANS 2:20].
And if you live by faith in the Son of God, then you must know that He is even now moving you out of your comfort zone. Even now He is appointing you to ask great things of Him, appointing you to attempt great things for Him. All who live by faith in the Son of God will have heard His promise, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” [JOHN 14:12-14]. It remains to be seen what will come of your obedience when you have moved out of your comfort zone.
Some who hear me are in peril of their very soul because they are still in their sin. Some listening have never believed the message of life. Your great need is to be born again. Christ the Lord, the Son of God, took your sin on Himself and offered His life as a sacrifice because of your helpless condition. Now, He calls you to receive the gift of life that He offers when you receive Him as Master over life. Believe His promise and receive the forgiveness of your sin. Amen.
[*] A message by Rev. Terry K. Anderson, served as inspiration for this message. The message he preached can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbgXU_AKXWs, accessed 4 May 2018.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Encyclopedia of World Biography, Wilma Rudolph, http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ro-Sc/Rudolph-Wilma.html, accessed 4 May 2018; “Wilma Rudolph,” (art.), Biography, https://www.biography.com/people/wilma-rudolph-9466552, accessed 4 May 2018