Summary: Despite some pitfalls in Dr. Wilkinson’s presentation, the prayer of Jabez is an inspirational and useful tool for believers.
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!" So God granted him what he requested."
-- 1 Chronicles 4:10, NKJV
All of us struggle with prayer. All of us, at least, who pray or who try to pray. We struggle to find time to pray, in the midst of our chaotic and overcommitted lives. We struggle to find a place to pray, somewhere that’s relatively free of interruptions and distractions. That’s important, because it’s difficult to maintain an attitude of prayer when your six-year-old is banging on the door to ask if he can have a cookie. We struggle to concentrate. Sometimes it seems that as soon as we close our eyes and bow our head, the mental floodgates open and we’re inundated with thoughts of all the other things that need to be done. And sometimes, we struggle just to stay awake. [Here’s a theological question for you -- does it count as 20 minutes of prayer if you pray for five minutes, and then fall asleep for fifteen? What if you dream about prayer requests? Does that count as prayer time?] But I think what we struggle with most is simply the question of whether prayer works. Whether it makes a difference. Whether God really hears and answers.
Well, what if I told you I had a solution for all those difficulties? That I had come across a prayer in the Bible that was guaranteed to release the power and blessings of God in your life, if you would just pray it once a day? What if I had hundreds of personal testimonies from people swearing it had done exactly that? And best of all, what if this prayer were only one sentence long, and took less than a minute to repeat? If all those things were true, then my name would be Bruce Wilkinson, and I would be a very rich man. Because his book, "The Prayer of Jabez," has so far sold over eight million copies, and has become a mini-industry all by itself. Maybe you’ve heard of it. There’s a children’s edition, and a teen edition, and a leather-bound gift edition, and an audio version. You can buy a "Prayer of Jabez" daily calendar, a "Prayer of Jabez" journal, or devotional, or Bible study. It’s a publishing phenomenon. All this from a little book that’s only 93 pages long [short pages, with lots of space and big print], really not much more than a pamphlet.
Now, right off the bat I want to say that my purpose this morning is not to tear down this book. I’m not going to take the approach that anything this popular must be bad. The book does have some flaws, because it’s a human work, and all human works are imperfect. But my purpose in pointing them out is not to debunk the book and tell you why you should avoid it. My purpose is to identify the errors to watch out for, so that you can benefit from the rest. And I do think that we can benefit from this book, and more importantly from the Scripture that it’s based on. So let’s deal with the flaws, and then we can go on to the good parts.
First, the book encourages people to say the prayer verbatim every day, as if these specific words, repeated over and over, had some kind of power in themselves. But a prayer is not an incantation or a magic formula. Prayer is communicating with a person, not repeating a mantra. In fact, when Jesus’ disciples asked him how they should pray, He specifically warned them against this practice:
"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." -- Matthew 6:7-8
So use the prayer of Jabez, but use it as an example; use it as a model, not a mantra. And this applies to any prayer, including the Lord’s Prayer or the Catholic rosary. God wants us to speak to Him from the heart, not just read words off a page or recite something we’ve memorized. Prayer is heart-to-heart communication between us and our Father in heaven. Yes, we can use pre-written prayers to guide us and help us formulate our thoughts, but fundamentally the prayer has to come from the heart.
Second, Dr. Wilkinson goes a little overboard in promoting this prayer, using words like "guarantee," and stating that "God always answers" this prayer. According to him, if you pray this prayer, there is no possibility of God not answering. And that’s not true. There is no such thing as a prayer which God must answer, that God has no choice but to answer. Even Jesus Christ, when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that "this cup" might be taken from Him, when He prayed that somehow he might be spared going to the cross, even Jesus in that instance was denied what he sought. And listen to what happened when Paul the apostle prayed that God would relieve his suffering: