in a recent post on facebook on the reb's bible bytes & bits, there was a question posed by a reader, martin, on one of the prayers mentioned, i.e., the prayer of jabez.
Cannot remember all those long prayers! But the Jabez prayer seems to be always on the top list other than the Lord's prayer! Why such a short one but yet we were taught to say this Jabez's prayer in every church, what is the significance of it?
here's is the reb's answer.:
1] the prayer of jabez is one of many prayers recorded in the bible. it was made popular/famous by dr bruce wilkinson who wrote a book on it in 2000. if it wasn't for the book, many christians would probably not take notice of this prayer.
2] not surprisingly, charles spurgeon had something to say about this prayer. see http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/augustweb-only/8-19-53.0.html
3] the prayer is short and unremarkable as there are many other prayers in the bible more worthwhile to study. see john white's book daring to draw near: people in prayer. there are 10 chapters on 10 selected prayers like abraham's intercession for sodom and gomorrah or jesus' high priestly prayer.
4] of course, critics would argue that if the prayer of jabez wasn't important, why would the author of 1 chronicles even mention it in a list of genealogies? chapter 4 is about the genealogy of judah. why would the author insert in the prayer by jabez as the insertion of the short narrative and prayer in vv. 9-10 spoil the flow of the genealogy list?
5] one possible answer is in the meaning of the name 'jabez' ('sorrowful or sorrow-maker'). in the OT as well as the NT, people often gave meaningful names to their children with the hope/wish that when their children grow up, they can live up to their given names. One can think of a man like Zacchaeus (which means 'pure'). His parents probably wished he would grow up pure and righteous but he ended up as a chief tax collector which often meant he was involved in dubious means in tax collection.
6] jabez was given this name because his mother had a painful childbirth. like 'jacob' or 'supplanter/cheater', jacob's name was a reminder of his act of grappling his twin brother's heel at birth as jacob wanted to be no. 1 son! jabez lived with his name perhaps facing taunt and mocking from his own brothers - 'you almost cause mum to die giving birth to you!' yet, jabez grew up more honourable than his brothers (v. 9). why tell us this fact? perhaps, like joseph facing the resentment and hostility from his 10 older brothers, jabez's brothers didn't like him or held him accountable for the sorrow he brought upon his mother...
7] thus, in the light of the context on his name and difficult childbirth and his difficult growing up, jabez prayed his prayer recorded in v. 10. a look at his prayer offers some clues: 'keep me from harm' suggests the possibility of ill and taunt from his own brothers. 'so that it might not bring me pain' suggests his growing up was indeed painful. so his prayer was for God to bless him, to enlarge his border, and for God's hand to stay with him. it was a prayer molded by his situation and context. his prayer reflected his struggles. his prayer mirrored what he was going through. he was honest about it. God chose to answer his prayer like many other prayers prayed by tormented souls like hannah and her barrenness or manoah's wife and old age.
8] so, what's the big deal about the prayer of jabez? nothing much really!!! the reb says it is over-hyped from wilkinson's book. he made too much out of an ordinary prayer. and many christians just responded overboard. due to undue influence from prosperity gospel, this prayer of jabez often become "The Prayer" to pray to get God's blessings and promises! to martin's query, churches don't have to or must teach it in their churches as if it is the only magical prayer that brings blessings and promises. there are many other prayers more meaningful, many other prayers more worthwhile to study in-depth, many other prayers more wonderful than this prayer. like nehemiah's 'arrow prayer" (neh 2:4b), we are not told what he prayed but that he just prayed. isn't that itself a prayer worth studying?