Prayer That Makes a Difference

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request. 1 Chronicles 4:9, 10 (NIV).

The first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles are devoted to genealogies. In chapter 4, the author inserts a statement about a man called Jabez. We don't know much about Jabez. He is described as being more honorable than his brothers. Why he is described as being more honorable than his brothers, we don't know for certain. Tradition says that he distinguished himself as a Jewish scholar and that later a city of learning was named after him. Some biblical exegetes believe that he was pious as evident in his famous prayer. Another opinion is that he distinguished himself for some great service or patriotic act.

He was given the name Jabez, which can be translated as "pain" or as, "he will cause pain". His mother obviously had a painful birth. In biblical times, children were sometimes named after difficult situations. In any case, Jabez did not live up to his name but chose to become an honorable person. There are a few principles that we can learn from this brief passage of Scripture. We are going to look at three points: the who of prayer, the what of prayer, and the why of prayer.

The Who of Prayer
When we are looking at the who of prayer, we are considering two persons. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are the ones who have the right to pray. In our text, Jabez was an honorable man. Believers need to be people of integrity. God isn't just interested in our prayer; He is interested in our character. Sin or wrongdoing is an obstacle to answered prayer. People who have genuine integrity or are honorable will be people of prayer. They understand that they cannot successfully live their lives without depending on God.

In our text, we also learn that Jabez was called pain. His birth was a source of pain, and we have no idea of knowing if as a result he experienced a difficult childhood. In life, we often have encountered negative circumstances. Some of us have experienced rejection. We may have been rejected by a parent, by a sibling, by a lover. Rejection can impact us in negative ways. For example, it can leave us feeling worthless and unimportant. Perhaps, you know what it is to be neglected or abused. Abuse can be physical, emotional, verbal and sexual. Personal failure can leave persons feeling discouraged; they may feel that they can't do anything right.

One of the most difficult things to deal with is broken relationships. God has designed us to be relational. Even the most introverted person needs other people in order to survive. Strained relationships, separation, divorce all can take a toll on believers. Some people know the pain of having an abortion. There is also pain from the things that people have done to us. They may have gossiped about us, told lies on us, insulted us directly or indirectly or hurt us emotionally and/or physically.

However, negative circumstances don't have to define us; they don't have to determine our future. Some people react in negative ways to the pressures of life. They wallow in self-pity; they feel sorry for themselves and they want others to feel sorry for them. They become depressed, experiencing deep feelings of sadness and disappointment. This may be accompanied with the notion that life is not worth living. Others become anxious and fearful. They succumb to a spirit of worry and become loaded down by the cares of life. People become angry, bitter and unforgiving; they become harsh and critical and alienate others with antisocial behavior. Some people are stuck blaming others and circumstances; to them people are unfair and are the source of their problems; life is not fair.

Jabez was not going to allow his past to affect his future; he determined to overcome his past. Too many believers fail to step into their potential because they are still battling with the demons of the past. The past is gone but the future can be created and that future can be created using prayer. Someone has said that our future is as bright as the promises of God. God does not dwell in the past; time does not go backwards. Even as time moves forward, we also need to be moving forward.

It is obvious that Jabez was a person of faith. We too must be people of faith. The Bible makes it clear that without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is the necessary key to appropriating the promises of God. Without faith, prayer cannot be effective. Faith is developed by spending time in the Word. God's Word is truth and it challenges us to develop right thoughts about God and about life. We see the world from God's perspective and we pray in conformity to His will.

Faith can also come from praying consistently; the more we develop the habit of prayer, the more our faith grows, particularly as we see answers to prayer. Our faith can grow from being around people of faith. Our faith is stimulated when we see people step out in faith and receive breakthroughs and blessings from God. We come to realize that if God can do it for them, He can do it for us. Hanging around people without faith does the opposite; it drains our faith and fills us with doubt. Even Jesus could not and did not do many miracles around people without faith. Our faith can grow by remembering what God has already done for us. Some people keep a prayer journal, and their faith is stirred up when they realize how faithful God has been in answering prayer. In the Old Testament, God would often remind His people of their deliverance from Egypt (the exodus) and the parting of the Red Sea.

The Who of Prayer also involves the God to Whom we pray. Jabez prayed to the God of Israel. It is important to note some of the qualities of God. He is omnipotent. God is all powerful; He can do the impossible. His creation of the universe is a clear indication of His power. This God that created such a vast universe is able to intervene in our lives in spectacular ways, but the real issue is whether we believe and expect that. God is omniscient. He is all knowing. He knows the details of the situations in our lives. We don't always know how to pray, what details to include, how to properly assess the situations in our lives. But, we don't have to worry because God knows. God is also all wise. He knows how best to answer prayer. God is omnipresent. He is able to act anywhere in the world. Our prayers can touch parts of the earth that our physical feet will never touch.

Further, God is faithful. He is faithful to His people and therefore we can trust Him. God doesn't simply say that He is faithful; He demonstrates it in various ways. Fulfilled prophecy in Scripture testifies to the faithfulness of God. Answered prayer testifies to the faithfulness of God. Only God has the perfect capacity to be faithful. He already knows all things and He is all powerful.

God also loves us. He blesses us because He loves us. If God cared nothing for us then we really could expect nothing from Him. God is a personal and intimate God. We are special to Him. The Bible tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

In praying, we need to remember that God is a covenant keeping God. In the Old Testament, He revealed His covenant keeping name as Jehovah. He is Jehovah Sabaoth - the Lord of hosts. He is the Lord who fights for and vindicates His people. He is Jehovah Shammah - the Lord who is there. He is always there, always available. He walks with us through the trials of life. He is Jehovah Shalom - the Lord our peace. He heals our broken emotions and He gives us peace in difficult times. He is Jehovah Rapha - the Lord who heals. He heals us of sicknesses and diseases. He is Jehovah Jireh - the Lord who provides. God can meet all of our needs. All of these are covenant benefits that we can appropriate when we pray.

The What of Prayer
Having looked at the who of prayer, now let's look at the what of prayer. Jabez prayed for four things. He prayed that God would bless him. In the Hebrew text, the word bless is used twice. We could say then that Jabez prayed for abundant blessing. Likewise, we are to pray for God's abundant blessings. We can pray for spiritual blessings. These could include intimacy with God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, understanding and righteous character. We can pray for financial and material blessings. God is not opposed to prospering His people providing that we don't succumb to the spirit of materialism.

We should also pray for physical blessings of health and healing. God is a healing God. The ministry of Jesus included several miracles of healing. In fact, Jesus did not refuse anyone that needed healing. We can pray for relational blessings. It is right to pray that God will bless our marriage, our relationship with our children and our friendships. We ought to pray for vocational blessings. We should pray for our jobs, believing God for promotions, salary increases, favor and good work relationships. We can even pray for intellectual blessings. We should pray for the capacity and ability to understand and to study. Through prayer we can tap into God's omniscience.

Jabez prayed that God would enlarge his territory. Jabez may have lived in the time when the Israelites were still conquering the Canaanites in claiming the Promised Land. God had promised the Israelites the land of Canaan, but in order to claim the land, the Israelites had to drive out the Canaanites. Although each tribe was allocated a part of the land, the extent of the portion for each individual family depended on how much of the land they were willing to claim.

In order to claim his territory Jabez had to defeat his enemies. The devil is holding on to some things that belong to the people of God. The devil is defeated, but we have to enforce his defeat by faith so that we can claim what rightfully belongs to us. We need to let God determine the extent of our boundary. We must not superficially and artificially set it ourselves. Small thinking will achieve small results. Large thinking will achieve large results. Faith is the ability to conceive the thoughts of God.

Jabez prayed that God's hand be with him. He wanted the presence of God in his life. Believers are to carry the presence of God. We are the ark of God. We are the holy of holies. Scripture indicates that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). We need the glory of God to saturate our lives. We need God to go before us and to guide us. We need power and strength. We need the anointing of God to be effective in our ministry. Jesus was anointed by and accomplished His ministry in the Holy Spirit. Where two or three believers are gathered, the Lord is there. The church comes alive when the presence of God is there: worship becomes energized, gifts of the Holy Spirit are released, the love of God flows liberally, sinners are convicted, the Word is delivered with power and authority, the supernatural happens.

Finally, Jabez prayed that God would keep him from harm so that he will be free of pain. The Lord's Prayer includes a request for protection from the evil one or from evil. The devil wants to kill, steal and destroy; he wants to frustrate the purpose of God in our lives. He wants to undermine the call of God in our lives so that we become unproductive and waste our time. We need God to keep us from evil - the temptation to do what is wrong. Adam and Eve gave into temptation and forfeited paradise; their sin also impacted all of their descendants. Sin caused Cain to kill his brother Abel out of jealous rage. Because of sin, Noah got drunk and was humiliated by his son. When we give into temptation we can hurt and confuse others. We don't live in a vacuum; what we do affects others. The fall of a leader has a negative impact on followers. God calls us to holiness and we need His help to recognize what is sinful and to have the will power to avoid it.

The Why of Prayer
Having looked at the who of prayer and the what of prayer we can now look at the why of prayer. There are various reasons why we should pray. We should pray in order to glorify God. The life of the believer is really about the glory of God. Our prayers are not for self-gratification. Any time we lose sight of the glory of God our prayers have become selfish and self-centered. Also, we pray to accomplish the kingdom and the will of God. The Lord's Prayer tells us that we are to pray for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven. When we look around our world, is this happening? Does God want a world dominated by false religions, sin, poverty, corruption and crime?

We pray because we need something from God. This is typically the primary reason why we pray. Scripture encourages us to present our petitions and requests to God. Jesus told us that we will receive what we ask for if we pray in His name and ask in faith. We pray because others need something from God. This is the ministry of intercession. We often are motivated to pray for a family member, a friend, or even a stranger who requests prayer. In essence, we pray to accomplish a particular result. Jabez prayed and God answered His prayer. What's the sense of praying if there are no positive results?

All believers are to pray and to know the God to whom they pray. We must pray strategically and purposefully as Jabez did. Finally, we must expect God to answer prayer.

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