1 Chronicles 4.9-10 (NKJV)A lot of you, when you hear "the prayer of Jabez," think about the best-selling Christian book The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life by Bruce Wilkinson. The Prayer of Jabez took the evangelical world by storm in 2000 when it was first published. But it also drew a fair amount of criticism.
Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”
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!”
So God granted him what he requested.
Specifically, some felt that Wilkinson took the phrase in the prayer "Bless me, and enlarge my territory" in a prosperity gospel direction. You pray the "prayer of Jabez" so that God might bring you success and good things in life--the expansion of your "territory."
But that's not how the men in the prison study heard the prayer of Jabez. They heard something quite different.
The men didn't focus at all on the "expand my territory" line. Rather, they were drawn to the fact that Jabez means pain (or sounds like pain in Hebrew).
A child named pain.
Apparently named so because of the pain he caused his mother in childbirth: "His mother called his name Jabez, saying, 'Because I bore him in pain.'"
Given the life histories of the men in the study, they could identify with a child named pain.
And the child named pain grows up to pray a prayer about pain. A prayer that he might be protected from pain or that he might not be the cause of any more pain.
There appears to be some interpretive ambiguity on this point. Most translations have the prayer being a request for protection from pain and harm:
NRSV:That seems to be the consensus view, that the one named pain requests to be protected from pain.
that you would keep me from hurt and harm
that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain
keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain
But for some reason, the New King James Version goes against the flow and gives a different meaning:
NKJV:That might be a bad translation, but most of the guys in the study carry the NKJV so that was the line that most of them read in the prayer of Jabez. And that was the line that most affected them. Most profoundly affected them.
that I may not cause pain
A prayer that I might not cause any more pain.
These men have caused a lot of pain. A lot of pain. A pain that goes on and on. In the lives of their victims. In the lives of their loved ones and families. In their own lives.
More, it's a daily struggle not to cause more pain. To not add pain upon pain.
Such a great, sad, awful, soul-crushing weight of pain.
These men, their name could be Jabez. Their name is Jabez.
And the prayer of Jabez that night in the prison was not "expand my territory." The prayer of Jabez was something different. Something full of sadness, loss, shame, regret, guilt and sorrow.
I pray, Dear God, that I might not cause any more pain.
This was the prayer of the children of pain.
This was the prayer of Jabez.