Summary: In 2000 a little book by Bruce Wilkinson called, "The Prayer of Jabez" was published. It sold over nine million copies and received multiple awards. It was a good read and it drew attention to this otherwise overlooked prayer.
THE PRAYER OF JABEZ
1st Chronicles 4:9-10
In the year 2000 a little book by Bruce Wilkinson called, "The Prayer of Jabez" was published. It sold over nine million copies and received multiple awards. It spawned a number of other books as well as a line of merchandise. It's popularity started a movement that drew much criticism.
Wikipedia states that the prayer of Jabez became very popular to where some were using it in a repetitive manner. (Matthew 6:7-8, "vain repetitions"). Some took it to excess, using the prayer in an almost superstitious way, believing it to be a sign of health, wealth and prosperity.
The author didn't seem to help the matter by stating in the book, "I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you'll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit." I don't believe God intended the prayer of Jabez to be used quite this way.
But despite the criticisms and negative attention the book generated, overall I thought it was a good read. And it did draw attention to this otherwise overlooked prayer. Because when you see where this prayer is in the bible it's almost as if it were meant to be hidden. It's tucked within the pages of the not-so-popular book of 1st Chronicles and hidden within the confines of an even more unpopular list of names.
So it's no surprise that many people had never heard of Jabez or his prayer before the book came out. The first nine chapters of 1st Chronicles are mainly a genealogy and historical account of Judah. But when you get to chapter four, in this unexciting list of names we find a golden nugget. When the writer gets to Jabez he pauses to provide more than just his name. Let's look at the prayer of Jabez.
1) Jabez made a name for himself (9).
1st Chron. 4:9, "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez sounds like the Hebrew for pain. The word in Hebrew means to grieve. How about carrying that name around with you? "Your name symbolizes what? Pain and grief? Oh, how nice!"
I'm not sure what the pain was that his mother bore him in-physical pain as in a difficult labor or perhaps he was born in a painful period of time. It was supposed that Judah had ongoing battles with the Canaanites so that could be it. So perhaps mom felt bad that she was bringing a child into the world during such troublesome times.
Naming a child based on personal associations was somewhat common. When the angel announced to Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child in their old age Sarah laughed. When the baby was born she named him Isaac which means, he laughs.
Names carried a lot of meaning in biblical times. Sometimes a name could even be prophetic. When Rebekah gave birth to her twins she named one of them Jacob, which means he deceives. A number of years later he tricked his brother Esau into giving him his birthright and he deceived his Father Isaac into giving him the inheritance of the firstborn. Esau got upset and said, "isn't he rightly named, Jacob?"
So perhaps Jabez thought since his name meant pain and grief he was doomed to live a life of suffering and hardship. But then he had an idea. Despite what my name means, despite what the circumstances in my life are I'm going to seek to do something about it. I'm not going to just write myself off as doomed to live a life of sorrow; I'm going to do what I can to change it.
And we see proof of this in the first sentence, "He was more honorable than his brothers". If his brothers were quite dishonorable then it might not take very much to be more honorable than your brothers. But it's probably safe to say, given the honorable mention, that Jabez was an above normal person of honor. I think this shows the tenacity of Jabez. He wasn't going to be bitter, he wasn't going to despise his mother for giving him this name, he was going to become motivated to be everything his name wasn't.
Maybe his brothers teased him about his name; maybe they pretended to be in pain whenever he walked into the room. Maybe they called out to him, "Hey Jabez, you're a real pain, you know that?" Maybe at one time Jabez wondered if God had rejected him. Did his name signify his status with God? Was God telling him he was doomed to a life of pain so get used to it?