Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shooting Prayers...

This morning, I got a little giggle while I was reading from the 1 Samuel text. It mentions war between Israel and the Philistines, again, and that some of the Israelites had been hiding in the hill country around the Philistine camp. When the Israelites that had been hiding heard that the Philistines were on the run, they ran out and joined in hot pursuit. It reminded me of the last battle scene in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where the governor has been hiding in the captain's quarters during the whole battle but when he realizes it's over, comes out and gets all up in the pirates' faces. It made me laugh, but maybe I'll save that for another day.

What really hit me this morning was actually no surprise. I knew I was getting close to it but hadn't taken the time to look up actual chapter and verse before I got to it. It's in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 and it's another one of those places where there is an absolute gem tucked inside a whole bunch of really good night time reading. Right there, in the middle of this list of the clans of Judah, (which has already gone on longer than my adult ADD will allow me to remain interested,) is 2 verses that stick out from the rest.

"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 and said, "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." That's it. That's all we get about Jabez.

I wish we had more on Jabez, but if he's mentioned anywhere else in scripture, I haven't found it yet. Just two verses, but these two verses focus on the prayer that he prayed. You may have even heard it called "the prayer of Jabez" and might even have it on a little plaque somewhere in the house. It's simple, short, and to the point.

There are at least two ways to read this prayer. The first would be through the eyes of those proclaiming the prosperity gospel. (Yes, Joel Osteen, I'm talking to you). It could be said that Jabez is asking God to bless him through material means, and I don't know that I could argue that from a surface reading, but I'm sorry, prosperity gospel is from the pits of hell and smells like smoke.

Jabez's prayer was multi-faceted. Enlarged territory was certainly part of that, and the chronicler must have seen that as important to the people of Israel, or it wouldn't have been included. Perhaps it was included to give them some glimmer of hope that God would once again restore the nation of Israel to their homeland. The other part of his prayer was a prayer for protection from pain.

His mother gave him the name Jabez, which can mean "God inflicts pain" because she gave birth to him in great pain. This name would have stayed with him all of his life and folks would have known what it meant. His mother set him up from birth to be a loser.

Now, coming from one that was usually the last one picked at any playground sports event in elementary school, feeling like a loser sucks. I can respect the prayer of Jabez and his desire to be protected from the pain that would have been associated with his name. But God heard him and answered his prayer.

It shows us that it's ok to go to God in times of crisis, when we feel like it's us against the world, and that God will hear the prayers sent up in those times. Sure, we need to also spend time in prayer when everything is going well. But I have been guilty of saying that some folks only resort to prayer when all other options are gone, and for that, I would now like to apologize. The prayer of Jabez reminds us that it's ok.

So, when it's you against the world and life seems so bad that your very name seems cursed, hit your knees, cry out, ask God for what you need, and don't be afraid. I'm not guaranteeing anything, but God answered the prayer of Jabez, so who knows?


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