It is rare enough that a book about prayer becomes a bestseller, but when Bruce Wilkinson’s little 96-page book, The Prayer of Jabez, sold millions of copies some years ago, it surprised everyone. The book (and the prayer on which it was based) spawned numerous spin-offs, send-ups and sequels. Not to mention controversy.
The book focused on a short prayer tucked away in 1 Chronicles 4:10:
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. (NIV)
Not exactly the Lord’s Prayer, is it? Short—just 29 words in that translation. Yet it appealed to millions, possibly because it works. Not because it’s a magic mantra, some miracle cure, a biblical good luck charm. But for four reasons:
1) It’s daily.
If you haven’t been in the habit of praying daily, then starting that habit will bring about some wonderful changes—whether you pray the prayer of Jabez, the Lord’s Prayer or “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Try it; start praying every day, and watch what happens.
2) It’s simple.
Many people don’t pray because they don’t think they can. They’re shy. They feel self-conscious. They think they have to use “thee” and “thou” and make it sound like the Gettysburg Address. But the prayer of Jabez is simple enough to make many of us—even people like me—believe that prayer is something even we can do.
3) It’s specific.
The prayer of Jabez gives a person something specific to say when they pray. Very often—even when we want to pray—we have trouble expressing our thoughts. The Jabez prayer helps a person do that.
For the same reason, I frequently use a hymn (“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” “I have no claim on grace,” etc.) or other words of Scripture (Psalm 5, for example, or Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Ephesus in Ephesians 3:14-21) to help me express the things I want to say in prayer. I also use lists of Scripture phrases to help me praise God or pray for my children as aids to prayer.
4) It’s a start.
The prayer of Jabez succeeds insofar as it opens the lines of communication between the person praying and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That’s a good thing. And, like most prayer, regularly praying the Jabez prayer is likely to whet a person’s appetite for more prayer.
Sure, some people might pray those 29 words day after day and be done with it. But a good number of people, while they’ve “got God’s attention,” so to speak, might feel encouraged to ask for forgiveness or guidance or healing for a friend. And that’s a good thing. A very good thing.