Sunday, February 23, 2014

"The Prayer of Jabez": Part 1

The other morning I picked up a book that had been collecting dust on our book shelf for nearly a decade and decided to read it: "The Prayer of Jabez" by Bruce Wilkinson.  In an hour's time, I read through it.  I know there has been controversy over this book in the past, as some claim it to be a "feel good" message that can too easily mislead.  The book, in its entirety, is based off of 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (emphasizing verse 10).

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez,[a] saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

The reader is encouraged to pray this prayer over one's life, and Wilkinson breaks it up into four parts:

1)  Oh, that You would bless me indeed
2)  Oh, that You would enlarge my territory
3)  Oh, that Your hand would be with me
4)  Oh, that You would keep me from evil

Today, we will look at the first part of this prayer:  

"Oh, that You would bless me indeed."

Wilkinson touched upon the fact that many believers feel it selfish or greedy to continually go to God asking for blessing.  However, he states that God's nature is to bless and He longs to bless His children with His goodness.  

Wilkinson explains, "To bless in the biblical sense means to ask for or to impart supernatural favor."  He points out that "a radical aspect of Jabez's request for blessing was the fact that he left it entirely up to God to decide what the blessings would be and where, when, and how Jabez would receive them," and "when we seek God's blessings as the ultimate value in life, we are throwing ourselves entirely into the river of His will and power and purposes for us.  All our other needs become secondary to what we really want- which is to be wholly immersed in what God is trying to do in us, through us, and around us for His glory."  

Wilkinson challenges his readers to change the way we think and to take on an expectant faith, expecting God's best for our lives.  However, critics of Wilkinson claim that "there is no hint in this book that that 'best' might sometimes seem less than a blessing to our human eyes."

For those of us who have endured pain, struggle, and sorrow, it's easy to look around and feel as if we've missed the blessings boat.  I like how Spurgeon dug deeper into the concept of blessing, as it isn't always wrapped up neatly with a pretty shiny bow.

Spurgeon writes, "not unfrequently our griefs are more salutary than our joys. The pruning knife is best for some of us," and in the end "this light affliction may work out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," a "blessing indeed."

"To a great extent we find that we must sow in tears before we can reap in joy . …You may expect a blessing in serving God if you are enabled to persevere under many discouragements."

"As he thought about what Jabez might have meant by 'blessing indeed,' Spurgeon reminisced on his own life: 'I have oftentimes looked gratefully back to my sick chamber. I am certain that I never did grow in grace one half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.'  In light of his own experience of growth through suffering, Spurgeon could affirm that pain may bring the greatest possible blessing—eternal fellowship with a loving Christ."
"Sorrow can strengthen faith. Affliction can be, as Spurgeon elsewhere put it, 'the best book in a minister's library.'"

A blessing indeed.

If you find yourself discouraged, take heart...God may be using this season to bless you in the ways you need it most.  Often, it's not until a season of hardship is over, that we can better know and understand the purpose of it and the blessings given in the midst.

I think it's important that we go to God with our needs, dreams, and desires...and to expect and trust that He was good plans for us, and that His ways are better than our own.  That His best is better than any best we could imagine for ourselves.  I also believe we should be seeking Him, His spiritual richness, and more of His glory as the blessings in which we wish to receive above all other earthly things.  And, we are wise to remember that our asking should never trump our thanking and praising.

Heavenly Father, thank You for being a God who longs to bless us.  A God who stores up goodness and chases us with mercy.  Help us to trust that You know what is best for us, and that You determine what, when, and how we shall receive Your blessings.  Strengthen our faith and help us to persevere through our discouragements and hardships, and to seek You and more of Your glory working in, around and through us, as our greatest blessings indeed.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

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