The prayer of Jabez
1 Chronicles 3: Jabez prayed to the God of Israel.
Few people had ever taken note of the “prayer of Jabez” before a little book was written about it and this prayer became well known. Here’s the prayer from The Message: “Bless me, o bless me! Give me land, large tracts of land. And provide your personal protection — don’t let evil hurt me.” Then we’re told: “God gave him what he asked.” When everyone was talking about this prayer, I added it to my prayer journal and spent time meditating on it, finding ways to make it “my” prayer. The “Jabez prayer fad” faded and we don’t hear people talking about it anymore. I doubt that this prayer is intended take the place of the Lord’s Prayer or some of the Psalm prayers. We aren’t told to pray this prayer of Jabez but we are told to pray the Lord’s Prayer and we’re wise to keep that in mind. Also, I’m glad that The Message reminds us that Jabez is praying for more land. He wants to increase his wealth. In other words, the “more territory” he prayed for wasn’t a larger Sunday School class or greater spiritual influence. We’ve spiritualized the prayer but he’s asking for wealth. Before I make this into a model prayer I might want to spend some time with the words of our Lord who told us to seek his Kingdom and trust him with the material things of life. Finally, I think his prayer for protection from evil is right on. The reason I know that is that Jesus taught us to pray the very same thing. So, what do I do with this prayer? For one thing, I think I’m free to use it by filtering it through the teachings of our Lord. Jabez asked for wealth and when I ask for “spiritual wealth” I’m stepping away from Jabez but moving in direction of Lord. Also, I can remember that Jabez prayed out of absolute sincerity and faith and that pleased God. In fact, I’m told that God answered this man’s prayer. I learn here that God loves it when I pray in faith. Finally, before I start asking for “more” I might want to spend some time thinking about what it means for me to take up my cross and follow Jesus.
Take Away: Lord, teach us to pray.
1Kings 10: King Solomon was wiser and richer than all the kings of the earth.
Literally, it’s the golden age. Each day dignitaries arrive at Jerusalem, each bringing valuable gifts for Solomon. They all want to experience Solomon, a human wonder of the earth. Israel is poised to be a world power for generations to come and every national leader willingly bows to Solomon’s wisdom knowing that the overflow of his prosperity is beneficial to them too. This may be the finest picture in the Bible of God’s temporal blessings. The Lord does, indeed, know how to shower worldly blessings on people and in this case, his intention is to establish Israel forever in this land promised their ancestor Abraham hundreds of years earlier. You and I know this isn’t going to last. Before the children of Israel ever set foot in the Promised Land Moses described for them the “blessing and the curse.” If they obey the result is, well, what we see in this chapter. If they disobey…sad to say, to see the results we just have to keep reading. I see here God’s desire and intention. He likes blessing us. For the past 2000 years he’s been preparing a place for us that will make Solomon’s Jerusalem look poor in comparison. I understand that not all of God’s blessings are in the health and wealth category, but this chapter of the Bible gives me a glimpse of what he can do, and what he plans to do, if I’ll just cooperate with him.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his good will, for his grace, and, yes, for his many blessings to us; all undeserved and all humbly appreciated.
Getting stuff from God
Micah 2: I’ll preach sermons that will tell you how to get anything you want from God.
God’s man says that when the people of his nation send out a pastoral search committee that they’re looking for a specific kind of preacher. They aren’t interested in hearing sermons about repentance and judgment, but they’d love to hear sermons that tell them how to get God to do stuff for them. Such a preacher is sure to be hired on the spot. Obviously, this desire isn’t limited to Micah’s day. For many people manipulating God is what religion’s all about. Many years earlier the suffering Job says, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15) Earlier, Job had gotten an enormous amount of stuff from God. Now, it’s all gone and all he has left is a broken life and a stubborn faith. So which approach to God describes me? Am I in it for what I can get? What if everything I hold dear is taken from me and it seems God’s no longer playing Santa Claus? On one hand, we have people who don’t want to hear what God has to say but are very interested in what they can get God to do. On the other hand, we have a man who’s so committed to God that even when most of his theology has crashed he insists on continuing to hope in the Lord. I pray I never have to travel Job’s road but I’m certain I don’t want to follow that of the people of Micah’s day.
Take Away: Do we serve the Lord for what we think we might get from him?
Job 22: Give in to God…and everything will turn out just fine.
As I read Eliphaz’s third speech I see that he’s hardened during the exchanges with Job. Now, to justify his position he’s telling outright lies about Job. According to this latest version of Job’s life, he’s crushed orphans and exploited the homeless. If Job wasn’t in such misery this would be downright silly. Old Eliphaz isn’t above rewriting the facts if it helps him keep his religious views on track. He even goes so far as to suggest that if a person gives their life to God that everything will turn out just fine! How overboard is that! Wait a minute. I’ve heard people say that. Serve God and have faith and you’ll be healthy and wealthy. I know that if I skip over a few pages I’ll find that it turns out okay for Job, although he’ll live with the memory of his departed children the rest of his days. Since the book of Job is about asking big questions we might as well ask the one before us today. If a person “gives in to God” will “everything turn out just fine”? Since I believe in the existence of heaven, I can answer “yes” in the broadest of terms. However, I don’t think that’s what Eliphaz is thinking about. He says that people who give their lives to God will have a better life here and now. Is that always true? When I think of those who’ve been martyred for their faith, those who’ve been imprisoned and tortured, or those who suffered as Job did I know it isn’t necessarily true. Living for the Lord is a wonderful way to live and the benefits are, well, eternal. However, it’s false advertising to tell people that if they give their hearts to the Lord that everything will be fine this side of eternity.
Take Away: We shortchange the power of the gospel if we sell it as some kind of “get rich” scheme.