Praying Jabez’s Prayer: Turning an Obscure Biblical Narrative into a Miracle-Working Mantra A Review Article -- By: Richard Schultz
TrinJ 24:1 (Spring 03) p. 113
Praying Jabez’s Prayer:
Turning an Obscure Biblical Narrative
into a Miracle-Working Mantra
A Review Article
Richard Schultz is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
A recent best-selling evangelical book claims that a single biblical sentence can revolutionize the life of every believer who prays it daily. According to Multnomah Press, which published The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life by Bruce Wilkinson in 2000, sales of the book have now topped nine million with more than thirteen million copies in print, making it the fastest selling book of all time. The prayer boasts its own web-page where scores of satisfied “pray-ers” give glowing testimony to their most recent “Jabez blessings” or “Jabez appointments.” In addition, a wide range of accompanying publications and Jabez kitsch is available at Christian bookstores to help spread the message (e.g., a Jabez journal, a version for pre-schoolers, and a leather-bound edition, as well as coins, fake rocks, and wooden crosses inscribed with “the Prayer,” and reportedly even Jabez coffee mugs, bath gel, and neckties, though a proposal for Jabez candy bars was rejected).
For many Christians, the amazing success of Wilkinson’s book is sufficient evidence that God’s blessing is behind it. And they are understandably thrilled to see a ninety-four-page book concerning an obscure OT text displayed so prominently in local secular bookstores and becoming the subject of talk show interviews. But is such a response warranted when the book’s interpretation, application, and implementation of this passage are deeply flawed? Is successful marketing more important to us than biblical accuracy?
Before setting forth my concerns regarding the Jabez phenomenon, let me briefly summarize the book’s message and claims. According to Wilkinson’s preface, the prayer recorded in 1 Chr 4:9–10 “contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God” (p. 7). Named Jabez (meaning “Pain,” according to Wilkinson) by his mother, this enterprising individual sought to counter the precarious future that such a name “defined” (p. 21). This led him to pray “the biggest, most improbable request imaginable” (p. 22).
TrinJ 24:1 (Spring 03) p. 114
In Wilkinson’s interpretation, the four clauses of Jabez’s prayer form a sequence of four distinct requests: (1) Oh, that You would bless me indeed. .. , i.e., God, impart your supernatural favor, your power to accomplish great things, on me this day but do so in whatever way you desire; (2) .. . and enlarge my territory. .. , ...
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