The Prayer of Jabez Revisited
The Prayer of Jabez

Do you remember hearing about the prayer of Jabez?

When Bruce Wilkinson’s book, The Prayer of Jabez, was published almost 20 years ago, it took the Christian community by storm. Quickly propelled to the bestseller lists, it encouraged Christians to daily pray the prayer of an obscure man found in I Chronicles 4:9-10. In fact, that’s the only place in the Bible where this man—or his prayer—is mentioned:

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked” (ESV).

I had been praying my personalized version of this prayer daily since I first learned of it. But I’ve recently revised how I pray this for two reasons:

  • I realized I was asking for things God was already doing
  • I was ignoring the importance of my own obedience for each request

So these days my prayer is revised to reflect those two concerns. Here’s the original post with the updates in bold italics:

Heavenly Father, I ask for today:

Your blessing as You define it…

Some Christians today limit focus their definition of blessing on material provisions. I hear Christians say things such as:

Of course, God is not against wealth. But nowhere in the Bible is material wealth His priority for His children. If anything, material comforts often get in the way of His process to conform us to the image of Christ. God is more concerned with wealth that will last for eternity. Spiritual growth. The fruit of the Spirit. And of course, the most valuable provision He has already given me is the gift of salvation—a restored relationship with Him.

So when it comes to asking for blessing, I’d rather leave the definition to Him.

Now I’m asking for the ability to recognize those blessings as God defines them. To take the blinders off and to stop being influenced by what I want rather than what I need. And to call them blessings even if they don’t initially appear that way.

Your use as You decide it…

Jabez prayed for victory to expand his territory. I don’t know what territory God has for me. Is it to be a greater influence in my family, church, or social circles? Is it to teach His Word? To publish books?

While I have hopes and dreams regarding how God might use me in the future, I never want those desires to prevent me from recognizing how God wants to use me today. Whatever He decides is fine by me!

Now I’m specifically asking for a spirit of contentment with what God has decided. To be content if God doesn’t use me in accordance with my own agenda. For contentment if He has chosen a new direction for me.

Your leading as You provide it…

Over the years, I’ve watched many Christian leaders shipwreck themselves on the rocks of their own grand plans for larger ministries and media empires. God’s plan for them might have been to toil in obscurity, but that wasn’t their plan for themselves.

I can strategize and I can plan. But without the Lord’s leading, my ideas may not be His plans for me. I need to trust Him to direct me onto a straight path (Proverbs 3:6). The Bible often speaks of our “walk” with God. Walking with someone requires that we move in the same direction and at the same pace. I don’t ever want to run ahead of God or lag behind Him!

Now I’m specifically praying for immediate obedience to His leading. Because I know delayed obedience is ultimately disobedience!

And that You would keep me from both giving and receiving pain.

Jabez prayed for protection from harm and pain. Some scholars believe that verse can also be translated to mean that he was asking to be kept from giving pain to others.

I know, from experience, the pain caused by other people. Betrayal. Insensitivity. Negligence. Temptation. But I also know I’ve caused pain, too. How can I pray for protection from pain if I’m not willing to pray that God would keep me from causing it?

Now I’m asking for increased sensitivity to how I might be causing pain for others. It’s a cop out for me to excuse my behavior as “this is who I am.” I need to ask the Holy Spirit to take who I am and make me more like Christ. But for that to happen, I need to surrender to the Holy Spirit, not just day by day, but minute by minute!

So, my personalized prayer of Jabez is:

Heavenly Father, I ask for today:

  • To recognize Your blessing as You define it,
  • To be content with Your use as You decide it,
  • To obey Your leading as You provide it,
  • And to be sensitive to how I might be giving pain, harm, and temptation to others even as I ask for God’s protection from those things for myself.

The change in the way I pray has had a significant impact on the way I approach the events of each day.

How about you? What are your thoughts about the prayer of Jabez?


 
Is Forgiving Yourself Biblical?
I can't forgive myself.

“I know God forgave me. I just can’t forgive myself.”

Perhaps you’ve said those words. Maybe you heard someone else say them. But is forgiving yourself a biblical concept?

Christians know faith in Christ as Savior and Lord provides freedom from the eternal penalty of sin at the end of our earthly life, as well as freedom from the power of sin now. We understand we are no longer slaves to sin, as Romans 6:17 tells us. We have the power to say no to temptation.

But that doesn’t mean we always make right choices. While we don’t have to give in to sin, there are times we do it anyway. If not in actions, then in words or thoughts. There’s truth in the adage, “Old habits die hard.”

When that happens, the Bible tells us to confess our sin, knowing God is faithful to forgive and cleanse us (I John 1:9). And because we have been much forgiven by God, we are to extend the same forgiveness to others. Jesus included this truth in the pattern of prayer He taught His disciples: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

We ask forgiveness from God because our sin if first and foremost against Him. King David understood this when he wrote in Psalm 51:4, “Against You and You only have I sinned.” When David committed adultery and then compounded it with murder, he wasn’t saying he didn’t offend or harm other people. He was saying the primary offense was against God, because sin is ultimately rebellion against God Himself.

So when we sin, whose forgiveness should we seek?

First, we turn from our wrongdoing and ask God’s forgiveness. God promises this forgiveness for every Christian who trusts Jesus because of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for us. And, as we’ve already noted, God promises to forgive.

We also ask for the forgiveness of the person we have wronged (Matthew 5:23-24). Unfortunately, while the Bible calls us to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13), this doesn’t always happen. A recent Barna study revealed that almost “one in four practicing Christians (23%) has a person in their life who “they just can’t forgive.” While we cannot force someone to forgive us, we can live in a way that shows them the authenticity of our request.

But what about forgiving ourselves? Where does the Bible say we are to forgive ourselves? It actually doesn’t. And that’s where Christians can take a wrong turn.

The issue is not whether we forgive ourselves. The issue is whether we truly believe God has forgiven us. Do we take Him at His Word? Because if we did, the matter would be settled. We become presumptuous when we think forgiving ourselves is also required.

So why do we struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness? I can think of several reasons, including:

  • We simply don’t believe God does what He said He will do. Do you really believe there’s no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1)? We would never call God a liar, yet our supposed inability to forgive ourselves is actually unbelief—a failure to take God at His word.
  • We’re stuck in a performance perspective – we think we have to earn God’s forgiveness, much as we often expect others to earn our forgiveness. But by definition, God’s grace is unearned and undeserved.
  • We beat up ourselves for failing. Somewhere along the line, we’ve established an expectation of perfection. And in the process, we refuse to accept God’s offer of forgiveness because we’ve failed our own standard. But this isn’t an issue of forgiving ourselves, it’s about understanding the reality of our relationship to God in Christ. He knows we will fail, but He forgives us anyway (Psalm 103:11-14).
  • We’ve failed to train our thought life. The Bible tells us to “take our thoughts captive” (II Corinthians 10:5). Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on thinking about things that are noble, right, pure, and lovely, but the first item in that verse is to think about things that are true. So if we don’t feel forgiven, we’re dwelling on an untruth. But to take control of our thoughts requires help—and there’s no better Helper than the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
  • Finally, by not acting as though God’s forgiveness is enough, we’re voluntarily placing ourselves back under the enemy’s kingdom, even though the Bible tells us God rescued us from the domain of Satan and placed us in the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).

So the next time you’re struggling to forgive yourself for something God has already forgiven, ask yourself why. You just might discover your forgiveness is irrelevant…and unbiblical.


 
Does God Ever Forget?
Does God forget sin?

Anyone other than me find themselves becoming a little more forgetful as they get older?

It happens, doesn’t it? The same weakness we saw in our parents and grandparents (and chuckled at!) is now showing up in us. And if you haven’t experienced this yet, no worries…it will happen!

Forgetfulness. It’s a human foible. But is it one God shares with us?

Some people say yes. They say God forgets our sin because of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. They cite verses such as:

  • “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” ~ Isaiah 43:25
  • “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” ~ Hebrews 8:12
  • “Then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” ~ Hebrews 10:17

But is not remembering the same as forgetting? Maybe for people, but not for God. God is not like a doddering old grandfather with a faulty memory.

Whenever the Bible refers to God remembering, it has nothing to do with a poor memory. He is perfect and omniscient—He knows everything.

When the Bible says God remembers, it means God is ready to act.

Consider these examples of verses that talk about God remembering:

  • “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” ~ Genesis 8:1
  • “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.” ~ Genesis 30:22
  • “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” ~ Exodus 2:24

So when God “forgets” our sin, it means He will not act on them. He will not hold them against us. He will not pour His wrath on us. And He will not judge and condemn us.

Why? Because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so we would not have to.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” ~ Romans 5:8-9

When God “blots out our sins” He covers them with His Son’s blood, sacrificed for us. He doesn’t forget our sin. How could He? If He “forgot” our sin, then He’d have to forget the reason for Jesus’s sacrificial death.

An infinite, perfect, omniscient God forgets nothing.

A holy, righteous, just God requires payment for sin.

And a merciful, compassionate, and gracious God provides that payment.

The result is that there is now no sin for Him to act on—to “remember”—because everything that needed to be done was done at the Cross.

Those who put their full faith and trust in Christ are clean in God’s sight…as clean as His Son, Jesus.

That’s why King David could say with confidence in Psalm 18:20-24:

“The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
    and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from my guilt.
So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.”

Despite all his sin, David knew, in God’s sight, he was righteous. And Christians can say the same thing.

It’s all about amazing grace. Intentional grace. Grace that provides a right standing before God even though we don’t deserve it. Grace that enables us to say with David, I’m righteous in His sight.

Not forgetfulness. Grace.

May we never confuse them.

*All verses are quoted from the English Standard Version (ESV).


 
My Favorite Bible Verse…or Not
trust the light to our path

The world around us is becoming increasingly challenging.

  • Challenging to live out our Christian faith in a morally relativistic culture.
  • Challenging to share the joy of our faith in a world that is not only uninterested, but hostile to a biblical world view.
  • And challenging as we face the uncertainty of a future that seems perilously out of control.

What do you do when you feel challenged?

Where do you go for answers?

How do you decide on the right course of action?

If I’m being smart, I go to the Bible for direction and answers. Sometimes I like what I read. Other times I’m stretched by what I read, knowing the answer does not line up with my natural inclinations.

For example, one of my favorite—and least favorite—verses is the same verse.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 ESV).

This one verse answers several questions, including the source for answers and the kind of help God provides for guidance.

At face value, this verse sounds like everything we would want, including light and leading. Of course, I’m grateful for the direction this verse promises God’s children.

But (true confession) there’s one particular thing I don’t like about this verse. If I’m being honest, I don’t want a lamp to my feet. A lamp only lights the way a few feet in front of me. It lights the path step by step.

I don’t want a lamp for the next few steps. I want a floodlight that lights the way for a mile down the road. I don’t want direction just for today. I want to know what the next year (or two or three) holds.

But God gives me what I need, not necessarily what I want.

What I need is to learn dependence on God. Sadly, it’s easier for me to trust Him for my eternal salvation in Christ—my eternal destiny—than it is to trust Him in the physical trials of life.

According to Psalm 119:105, God gives just enough direction to move forward with dependence on Him. And coincidentally, that’s what prompts trust, which just happens to be my “one word” for the year.

Conversations with friends have shown me I’m not alone in wanting to know what lies around the bend next month…next year…next decade. And actually, isn’t that the reason people flock to fortune tellers, read horoscopes, and visit palm readers?

We’re under the illusion that if we know what’s coming, somehow we can control it. As if a certain level of control will solve all our problems. But the biggest problem is that control is, itself, an illusion. We can’t control the weather, the culture, or how other people respond to us.

And to make matters worse, most of us aren’t even successful controlling ourselves!

Ever lost your temper? Said something you wish you could take back? Or maybe not said something you wish you had?

Control may be what we want, but dependence is what we need. Dependence on the One who created us and sustains us if we run to Him. Trusting that if God has given us all we need in Christ for our eternal relationship to be restored, surely He can be trusted for the here and now.

The Father has restored us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, and the Son has left us His Spirit, equipping us to grow in our intimacy with Him and to live a life pleasing to Him.

In short, He has already given us everything we need. So why does that not seem to be enough?

Perhaps it’s because, deep down, we’re afraid to trust. Afraid God doesn’t define good the way we do. Let’s face it, we define good as what we want: people and possessions. But God defines good as the people and processes He uses to make us more like Him.

Part of that process is cultivating trust. And trust is cultivated with just enough light for one step at a time.

Like I said…my favorite—and least favorite—verse!

What is your favorite or least favorite Bible verse? Why?


 
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