the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Several years ago, a small book titled The Prayer Of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson took the Christian reading public by storm. The book drew from a passage in 1 Chronicles which says, Jabez called out to the God of Israel: "If only You would bless me, extend my border, let Your hand be with me, and keep me from harm, so that I will not cause any pain." And God granted his request (1 Chronicles 4:10). In a nut shell, Wilkinson's book instructs the reader to should read/pray the “prayer of Jabez” every day, throughout the day, in expectation of blessings from God. Indeed, Wilkinson seems to imply God is bound to pour out his blessings upon the person who prayers this prayer every day without fail. Wilkinson goes so far to say that heaven is bursting with “unclaimed blessings” due to the failure of Christians to daily repeat this specific prayer.
There are a couple problems with this view. In the first place, it assumes prayer is a formula, or worse, an incantation that gets results due to the words a person uses and how they use them. Unfortunately, this is a pagan view of prayer. In heathen thought, prayer is a tool designed to enable the supplicant to manipulate supernatural forces for their own benefit. The power of pagan prayer is in the words themselves. The right words, pronounced properly, repeated in the correct order and in the right way (even the sound and the shape of the letters is important) will compel unseen powers to do the bidding of the petitioner. It has nothing to do with a relationship but is a matter of subduing the potent forces of “other.”
Yet, Jesus warned against this view of prayer: in your prayer do not make use of the same words again and again, as the Gentiles do: for they have the idea that God will give attention to them because of the number of their words (Matthew 6:7, Bible In Basic English).
God does not hear us because we repeat a formula prayer day in and day out. Even the “Lord's Prayer” is not designed to be a “vain repetition” but an outline guiding us in our communication with the Lord – and in our daily walk.
The prayer outline provided by Jesus tells us to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and to relate to him through our representative Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son. The Lord's Prayer reminds us we are beholden to the law of God and that our material and spiritual blessings come from him. The outline also instructs us to cry out to God to guide and protect us - now and in the future.
There is a world of difference between using an outline and simply repeating a prayer. We can read prayers and repeat a set address as a means of participating in the life of the Church at large – that's what a shared liturgy does for us. But that's not the same thing as endlessly repeating a prayer we find in the Bible and claiming a right to personal blessings as a result. God answers prayer because it is offered according to his will, not because it is a repetition of certain words or ideas: Whatever we request we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him (1 John 3:22). Indeed, to daily repeat a prayer in the belief it will obligate God to bless is to ask for something but ...not get it because you ask for it for the wrong reason - for your own pleasure (James 4:3).
Next Week: What Does The Prayer Of Jabez Really Teach Us?