May 21 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“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 free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” ~1 Chronicles 4:10

In the middle of the Chroniclers recounting of Israel’s roots is a most unusual sidebar. One man, Jabez, stands out thanks to the extra attention given to his life, but he is neither a king nor prophet. He is not even head of his family. What he is is a man who prayed in faith. Jabez’s birth was so traumatic that his mother gave him a name that sounds very much like the word for pain. However, the kid borne through agony turned out to be a man who experienced unprecedented blessing. His story isn’t long. Jabez cries out to God for blessing, protection, and freedom from pain, and we are told in nondescript language that God granted his request (1 Chron. 4:10). That’s why “The Pain” is listed as a person of greatness in the genealogy.

Jabez’s story captured the attention of millions of modern Christians in 2001 when Bruce Wilkinson published his little book, The Prayer of Jabez. In it, he told of his own experience with Jabez’s prayer and encouraged other Christians to pray it too. His book sold 9 million copies and became a New York Times bestseller. However, a number of leading pastors criticized Wilkinson for promoting health-and-wealth- theology (the idea that if you pray and believe, God will make you rich). But that isn’t the point of Jabez’s prayer at all. In fact, one can point quite a few scriptural passages that seem to teach that God delights in blessing His people. For example, in Numbers 6:22-27, the priest is encouraged to pray for God’s blessing on the worshipping community! Moreover, in Deuteronomy 26:15, the people themselves are told to pray for God’s continued blessing as they give their tithes and offerings.

I believe that it is good theology to pray for blessing and to encourage others to do the same. But, just as with any passage of Scripture, the verses promoting this habit can be abused. People can pray with bad motives, such as a desire to be blessed so they can waste and ruin their lives (Jas. 4:1-4). People can pray with demanding hearts, actually attempting to boss God around as though they are entitled to more than they have been given. In fact, they are entitled to nothing, not even God’s grace (Luke 18:10-14). People can buy into the bad theology that godliness always results in a life of uninterrupted blessing, which is refuted throughout the Bible (for an example, see Job 1). But these cautions aside, the principle remains. In this case, good theology acts like the warning label on prescription medication: Don’t take this to excess! But do take it, and do pray it.

Lectio Divina is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.