Summary: What does it mean to ask that God "enlarge our territory"?
This morning, we continue our study of the prayer of Jabez, found in 1 Chronicles 4:10:
"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
This prayer has become quite well known, due to a best-selling book by Bruce Wilkinson. You can now purchase copies of this prayer on plaques, and prints, and posters, as well as various editions of the book itself -- a child’s version, for example, or a teen version. And so presumably, there are now millions of people across the country who are praying this prayer on a regular basis.
Now, I’m all for prayer. In fact, a commitment to prayer is one of the core values of this church. I’m all for using prayers from the Bible, such as the Psalms, or the Lord’s Prayer, or the prayers found in Paul’s letters. I’m even in favor of praying the prayer of Jabez; in fact, I do so myself. And I encourage you to read the book, because it’s a very inspiring little volume. It’ll make you want to pray, and that’s all for the good. But as we saw last week, there are some pitfalls to avoid. Remember that this is not a magic formula to be repeated word-for-word, as if the words themselves had some mystical power. It’s not a mantra, to be repeated over and over. The important thing isn’t getting the words right, or saying the prayer every day. The important thing is that this prayer expresses what’s in your heart; that it helps you to communicate with your heavenly Father. Because that’s what prayer is. It’s not just reading words off a page, or reciting some verse you’ve memorized. It’s heart-to-heart communication between you and God. So use the prayer, but use it as a model, not a mantra.
Second, remember that God offers no absolute guarantees for this prayer or any other prayer -- except the assurance that He will hear us, and He will answer according to His perfect wisdom, and knowledge, and power. His response to our prayers is always loving, and right and good. But God is sovereign, and He answers as He judges best, not necessarily as we desire. We can’t force His hand, we can’t insist that He grant our requests. And so in the words of the great philosopher Mick Jagger, "we can’t always get what we want". No matter how carefully, or how often, we repeat these words. But that’s OK, because we know that He knows best. Deep down, we really wouldn’t want it any other way. And so we’re content to bring to Him all our needs and desires, our fears and pains and sorrows, our hopes and dreams -- we are content to come to God in prayer bringing everything that’s in our hearts, confident that He will do what’s best, whether or not we understand or agree. That’s called faith. And faith doesn’t demand. Faith asks, and trusts and believes.
So last week, we looked at the first phrase of the prayer, "Oh, that you would bless me indeed". We saw that it is perfectly appropriate for us to ask God for good things, to ask Him for a blessing. Because God enjoys nothing more than giving good gifts to his children.
"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" -- Matthew 7:9-11
Not only that, but God encourages us to ask Him for great things, to ask that He bless us "indeed". Listen to this word from the prophet Jeremiah:
"Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it, the LORD is His name, ’Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’" -- Jeremiah 33:2-3
God wants to bless us in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet. He desires to enter into our lives and do wonderful, and powerful, and incredible things. If we will only ask, and trust, and obey.
Now today we turn to the second phrase of the prayer, "and enlarge my territory". What does that mean? Well, to Jabez it meant literally, "please give me more land, more acreage". "Please increase the number of square miles that I and my people have dominion over". But how do we apply this to ourselves? Do we ask for land? Personally, I wouldn’t mind if God blessed me with some of the undeveloped real estate around here, at the current market value of eighty to a hundred thousand an acre. I’d be quite happy with as little as ten or twenty acres. I’m not greedy. But I really don’t think that’s the proper application.