A best-selling book is introducing millions of Christiazns to an obscure Old
Testament Prayer – but the resulting emphasis is cause for caution among some
Texas Baptist Standard
A best-selling book is introducing millions of Christiazns to an obscure Old
Testament Prayer – but the resulting emphasis is cause for caution among some
Does God intend to give his children certain blessings – but only if they ask?
Does reciting the same prayer to God every day provide power?
Does praying daily for God to bless one and enlarge ones territory violate
dictates of Christian humility and sacrifice?
Has the so-called “health and wealth” theology found a back door
into Baptist congregations?
These are some of the theological questions raised by the breakaway popularity
of Bruce Wilkinsons bestselling book – “The Prayer of Jabez.”
The book has been widely embraced by Baptist ministers and laypeople in recent
In the book, Wilkinson urges readers to “reach for an extraordinary life”
by praying the prayer of Jabez daily.
Wilkinson writes that he has prayed the prayer of Jabez every day for 30 years
– and has found it to produce wonderful results in his life and ministry.
“The Jabez prayer distills Gods powerful will for your future,”
admonishes Wilkinson, founder of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries in Atlanta.
He breaks the 1 Chronicles 4:10 prayer into four parts.
The first is – “that you would bless me indeed.”
“God really does have unclaimed blessings waiting for you, my friend,”
Wilkinson writes, insisting that praying for blessings is not self-centered
but just what God wants to hear.
To “bless” means to “ask for or to impart supernatural favor,”
Wilkinson notes. “When we ask for Gods blessing, were not asking
for more of what we could get for ourselves.”
Although by praying the prayer of Jabez, “your life will become marked
by miracles,” Wilkinson urges readers not to see the prayer as a means
to get specific things. Jabez left it up to God to decide the nature and timing
of blessings, he notes.
However, one still must ask, Wilkinson says. “Even though there is no
limit to Gods goodness, if you didnt ask him for a blessing yesterday,
you didnt get all that you were supposed to have. Thats the catch
– if you dont ask for his blessing, you forfeit those that come to
you only when you ask.”
The second part is – to “enlarge my territory.”
This means to “ask God to enlarge your life so you can make a greater
impact for him,” Wilkinson says. “When you start asking in earnest
– begging – for more influence and responsibility with which to honor
him, God will bring opportunities and people into your path.”
The third part is – “that your hand would be with me.”
This emphasizes the Christians dependence upon God and inability to do
Gods work in human power alone, Wilkinson explains. “The hand of
the Lord is so seldom experienced by even mature Christians that they dont
miss it and dont ask for it. They hardly know it exists.”
The fourth part is – “that you would keep me from evil.”
This is a plea not to face temptation, Wilkinson says. “Most of us face
too many temptations – and therefore sin too often – because we dont
ask God to lead us away from temptation.”
In conclusion, Wilkinson asserts that God does have favorites. “Equal
access to God does not add up to equal reward. Simply put, God favors
those who ask.”
The nature of Wilkinsons message has drawn immediate comparisons among
some to the health-and-wealth gospel. However, advocates of the book say that
is not what it teaches.
“I dont see it as being prosperity theology,” said Ted Elmore,
director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas prayer office. “There
are ample places in the Old and New Testaments where God does indeed want to
bless his people.”
Johnny White acknowledged the book “skates on the edge of health and wealth.”
But that is not the intent, asserts White, pastor at Trinity Baptist Church
in Elmore, Texas.
“Weve tried to focus on the natural human tendency to turn inward,”
White relates. “Weve tried to draw from that passage the outward
focus – bless me that I might reach out.”
Even though he likes and advocates the prayer, it should not be seen as a “quick
fix” or a “magic formula,” added Jeff Williams, pastor at First
Baptist Church of Denton, Texas.
At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Professor
Dan Crawford has taught about the prayer of Jabez for 15 years. He presents
it as “a biblical example of when a man prayed a bold prayer and God said
While he believes God answers all prayers, Crawford said sometimes the answer
is no or to wait. The value of the Jabez model is to urge Christians to pray
boldly, he said, warning it should not be construed as a “hocus-pocus magic
Even so, scores of people are reporting they have discovered life-changing
results by praying the prayer of Jabez.
Elmore said he and other members of his family have found personal blessings
through the prayer of Jabez. Yet, he understands how the prayer and the book
might be misused.
“The danger is not with the prayer of Jabez itself,” Elmore said.
“The danger would be in interpretation.”
One who feels the need to pray the prayer as a formula to achieve Gods
blessing is “a person whos more concerned with prayer than the God
who answers prayer,” he said. “Our confidence is not in prayer; our
confidence is in God.”
White said he also has found the prayer of Jabez beneficial. But it is not
the only thing he prays, he said. “It would be missing the point to think
this becomes the mantra of life.”
Christians should not fall into using the prayer of Jabez as a “ritualistic
prayer,” Crawford added. “Its biblical to see God as wanting
to give us good things. … (But) I dont think its totally dependent
upon us asking for it in some kind of ritualistic prayer. It may depend more
on faithfulness and how the circumstances fit in to Gods overall plan.
“Sometimes, God gives us that which to him is good but to us doesnt
appear as we want it. He works things for his good.”
With more than 4.4 million copies of the book now in circulation and no end
in sight to the sales explosion, Christians who attempt to draw attention to
what they see as potential theological dangers in the book often get a chilly
For instance, Jim Holliday recently gave “The Prayer of Jabez” one
star out of a possible five in a review in the Kentucky Western Recorder newspaper.
Holliday is pastor at Lyndon Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. – and even
members of his own congregation have questioned his judgment.
Yet, he stands by his critique. “The book makes too much out of the prayer
of Jabez,” he asserted. “If I were going to spend every day in a prayer
discipline, I would much rather spend it with the prayer Jesus taught us. Theres
probably more to be mined there in terms of spiritual development than in Jabez.”
Still, the marketing machine behind Christian publishing is working to develop
spin-off Jabez products. Versions geared to women, teenagers and children are
planned, as are Bible study guides and videos. Plaques and cups already are
For his part, Wilkinson has expressed shock at the success of the book. “We
cant claim any credit or brilliance,” he said in a Dallas Morning
News article. “Its just God deciding Jabez prayed this prayer thousands
of years ago, and maybe, now its time to get it answered.” (ABP)
Old Testament prayer is focus of increasing attention
If there is still a “WWJD” bracelet lying around, it just
might be a good time to dust it off for a new application.
“What Would Jabez Do?” is the latest focus of
Christian thought and conversation across the nation, due to the soaring popularity
of a little book called “The Prayer
The book by Bruce Wilkinson, has been on the New York Times bestseller list
for 11 consecutive weeks. It also tops the bestseller list for Publishers
In it, Wilkinson offers the prayer of an obscure Old Testament figure as a
model for modern Christians to follow in seeking Gods blessing on their
lives and ministries. The prayer “distills Gods powerful will for
your future,” he writes.
Due to the books popularity, churches are forming Jabez study groups,
and Christians are reciting the prayer of Jabez daily as they seek to “enlarge
their territory.” Some churches are including the prayer as part of their
The little prayer is tucked away amid a string of genealogy in 1 Chronicles
4:9-10. The roll call of begats stops just long enough to declare that Jabez
was “more honorable than his brothers” and to report on a prayer of
Jabez that God answered.
That prayer states: “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.”
Nothing more is known about Jabez from the Bible.
Yet, millions of Americans today have become fascinated with this Old Testament
figure and are seeking to emulate his simple prayer in hopes of finding Gods
blessing and enlarging their territory.
At First Baptist Church of Denton, Texas, Pastor Jeff Williams often closes
his Sunday morning pastoral prayer with the prayer of Jabez. The text of the
prayer appears weekly on the church newsletter. Many church members have told
the pastor how the prayer has made a difference in their lives.
In homes and offices across the land, individuals touched by the books
message have typed out the words to the prayer and posted them in conspicuous
In churches seemingly everywhere, pastors are preaching sermons based on the
prayer of Jabez – to good response.
Wilkinsons book on Jabez is surprisingly small to be a bestseller. Its
93 pages are not much larger than a postcard, and the entire book easily slips
into a jacket or purse.
So, what is the big deal?
“Its so concise and brief and very easily assimilated,” explained
Johnny White, associate pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas.
“We have this short attention span in the world today. The short and brief
and concise, easy-to-put-a-handle-on messages are symptomatic of our day.”
Also, the book connects with many people at a point of need, said Ted Elmore,
prayer coordinator for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“The bottom line is theres such a hunger in the hearts of people
for the reality of God,” he said. “Theyre tired of religion.
Theyre hungry for God.”
Not everyone is enamored with the craze. Some say that the “bless-me”
nature of the prayer is selfishly motivated and that just because the Bible
says God answered Jabez does not mean he will answer everyone else.
However, even critics acknowledge the books influence.
“It connects with peoples desire and longing to feel like theyre
blessed,” said Jim Holliday, pastor of Lyndon Baptist Church in Louisville,
Ky., and a book reviewer for the Kentucky Western Recorder state newspaper.
“It ties in to peoples desire to be affirmed and to have Gods
stamp of approval on them and on their lives,” the Kentucky Baptist pastor
notes. “People are just hungry for that kind of affirmation and acceptance.”
Some people may be prone to see the prayer as a magic formula, acknowledged
Dan Crawford, professor of prayer and spiritual formation at Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary. However, rightly understood, the basic message of the
book is positive, he added.
“You have people reading about prayer who havent thought about it
in years,” he surmised.
“Thats got to have some positive effect.” (ABP)
C. Lacy Thompson
LBM Associate Editor
Contrary to what many modern Christians may believe,
there is nothing at all new about the so-called “prayer
Since it is found in the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles, the prayer obviously
is centuries old. However, it has not remained hidden all of that time, waiting
for author and minister Bruce Wilkinson to find it.
Jabez always has been there, tucked in nine chapters of genealogy in 1 Chronicles.
About halfway through of begat after begat, he appears.
“Now, Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called
his name Jabez, saying, Because I bore him in pain, ” 1 Chronicles
4:9-10 reads. “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.”
Wilkinson himself was introduced to the two small verses 30 years ago while
at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He embraced them, insisting that
only his prayer of salvation has revolutionized his life and ministry more.
Wilkinson tried to write about his view of the prayer years ago, but the resulting
manuscript was long – almost 300 pages. Last year, however, the manuscript
had been whittled down to a mere 93 undersized pages.
It now has become a publishing phenomenon, topping all sorts of lists and exceeding
4 million copies in sales.
It is on the verge of becoming a product phenomenon as well, with countless
spinoff items expected. (Think cups and calendars and bracelets and plaques
It also has become a religious phenomenon, capturing the imagination of Christians
across denominational lines. A Web site – www.prayerofjabez.com –
devotes much of its space to testimonies from Christians about the impact of
the prayer of Jabez in their lives.
Could anything be wrong with such a picture? Not if one listens to the effusive
praise from advocates of the prayer, who insist it has turned around their lives
However, others offer more sober assessments, warning even that the whole prayer
of Jabez movement is anti-biblical and just another manifestation of the health-and-wealth,
So, which is it?
A look at the book itself offers evidence for both views.
To begin with, there is much to be praised in Wilkinsons brief treatise.
For his part, Wilkinson seeks to distance his approach from the health-and-wealth
view. Indeed, any stated concerns should not be seen as a questioning of his
“Notice a radical aspect of Jabezs request: He left it entirely
up to God to decide what the blessings would be and where, when and how Jabez
would receive them,” Wilkinson writes, with the italics his. This kind
of radical trust in Gods good intentions toward us has nothing in common
with the popular gospel that you should ask God for a Cadillac, a six-figure
income or some other materials sign that you have found a way to cash in on
your connection with him. Instead, the Jabez blessing focuses like a laser on
our wanting for ourselves nothing more and nothing less than what God wants
The distinction is pronounced in Wilkinsons book – that one prays
with the goal of entering the will of God and increasing in influence for the
sake of Gods work.
“You do not become great; you become dependent on the strong hand of God”
Wilkinson points out in one passage. “You surrendered needs turns into
his unlimited opportunity. And he becomes great through you.”
Wilkinson also is on target with his suggestion that too many Christians fail
to make full commitments to God – and thus fail to experience him fully
in their lives.
In a concluding passage, he also points out the danger of sin in closing one
off from “the flow of Gods power.”
So far, so good.
Still, there are concerns that must be addressed if the prayer of Jabez movement
is not to be co-opted.
For one thing, there is the danger of sliding into formula religion. Wilkinson
himself seems to hear this in his preface, which proclaims – “I want
to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers.”
Throughout the book he makes his view clear – God has unclaimed blessings
for his children, and he is simply waiting for them to ask in order to respond.
And in the concluding chapter, Wilkinson offers a six-step, 30-day plan for
incorporating the prayer into ones life, beginning with praying it every
morning. He only offers one qualification – that mere repetition and such
is not the answer.
“Its only what you believe will happen and therefore do next that
will release Gods power for you and bring about a life change,” Wilkinson
It is counsel that is too close to forumla religion for some.
In addition, some voice concerns that the book is terribly short on the idea
of sacrifice and suffering, key elements in the Christian faith. Indeed, Jesus
himself offered considerable warning about the outlook for faithful Christians.
One never gets a sense of that from Wilkinson. Everything is up, up, up and
more, more, more. One has to wonder if “The Prayer of Jabez” could
have been written anywhere other than the United States, with its open emphasis
How would it sell in those areas where Christians are under fire for their
faith? How would it sell in those areas where Christians are starving and dying
like all the others?
Is God refusing to bless them simply because they have not asked him to do
so – or asked in the right way?
Third, there is a tendency to selfishness, no matter how hard Wilkinson works
to counter it. One only has to consider the differences in the tone and direction
of the prayer of Jabez and the Lords Prayer of the New Testament to realize
A look at the www.prayerofjabez Web site also offers a clue. While a number
of testimonies do not speak of material matters, some do, telling how the prayer
of Jabez has blessed them personally. One even offers the fact that he had gotten
a speeding fine reduced as evidence of blessing.
As always has been the case with Christianity – there are those who approach
it the wrong way, who simply try to use it for their own benefit. For many,
the prayer of Jabez opens the door a little too wide to that approach.
Finally, there is the concern that the current prayer of Jabez movement represents
a limitation of God.
Yes, Wilkinson makes clear that God is the source of all blessings and power
and strength. That emphasis is good.
At the same time, some worry that the formula religion approach is too much
of a danger, limiting God to a high-in-the-sky-prayer-answerer. The question
then becomes – can it be called radical trust when one knows that God is
bound to answer a prayer in a beneficial way of blessing?
The Apostle Paul – who suffered terribly for his faith – might be
hestiant to use the term in that way. The God he served promised only one thing
– to be with him through it all.
So, what is the bottom line?
Is “The Prayer of Jabez” good or bad?
As far as the book and subsequent movement draw persons to the Bible –
the whole Bible – and to deeper prayer and to more daring devotion to the
work of faith, it is good.
Such emphases desperately are needed.
But one must guard against the dangers – especially the danger of limiting
or reducing God by adopting a formula for faith. The scope of the Bible makes
it clear that God is beyond all anyone can imagine or contain or control. He
loves his children – but he operates by rules that he never fully discloses.
He is both gracious and dangerous – and that is why faith is such a risk.
Does one dare this trust in such a God? Does one stake all on the belief that
beyond all else, God is love?
There is a reason why the Old Testament refers to God as “The Fear”
in some passages.
Losing that sense of the unknown nature of God loses too much. Limiting him
by the structure of a prayer violates something sacred – and vital –
to the Christian faith.
So, read “The Prayer of Jabez” – if one chooses.
And pray to God – absolutely!
But pray knowing it is impossible to hide motive or intent from him, and he
will answer as he – and only he – wills.
Perhaps it will be the same answer Jabez received.Perhaps not.