Over the last three weeks you’ve been examining different stages in something called the “Prayer of Jabez” found in I Chronicles 4:
- Oh that you would bless me -
- And enlarge my territory -
- That your hand would be with me -
You Knew What I Was When You Picked Me Up
You may know the story of the Indian youth and the snake. At an appointed time every male Indian youth was required to pass a test to prove he was ready to accept the mantle of adulthood. These young men would go to the mountains and fast and pray. It was a test to see what they had learned from the elders of the tribe.
One such youth battled the elements of nature and reached the top of the great mountain. His head and heart swelled with pride with this achievement. Suddenly, he heard a rustle at his moccasins. He looked down; it was a rattlesnake. Before he could move the snake spoke: "I am about to die," said the snake. "It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing. There is no food and I am starving. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley." "No," said the youth. "I am forewarned. I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite, and your bite will kill me." "Not so," said the snake. "I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you will be special. I will not harm you. Let's make a deal."
The youth resisted a while, but this was a very persuasive snake with beautiful markings. At last, the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass, when suddenly the snake coiled, rattled, and leapt, biting him on the leg. "But you promised," cried the youth, as he fell to the ground, soon to die. "You knew what I was when you picked me up," said the snake, as it slithered away.
Keep Me From Evil
Temptation is all around us. And temptation always looks and sounds good and promising on some level like the snake in our story, or you wouldn’t be tempted to do it or go along with it. Many times as believers we have the best of good intentions. In our hearts we are seeking to do right, but under our own power we fail. Often that’s because we wait to pray for the strength to overcome temptation while we are in the heat of the moment facing temptation head on.
But Jabez has a slightly different approach to the matter in his prayer. He doesn’t pray to overcome temptation in the moment – “keep me from doing evil.” Jabez’s strategy seems to be to just head evil off at the pass. He goes a step further and prays to avoid the evil or temptation entirely – “keep me from evil” – in other words, don’t even let me get close to it! Jabez recognizes that he needs God’s help to avoid the lure of the Tempter in his life.
Jesus reinforces the importance of this thousands of years later in our New Testament lesson as he’s teaching his followers how to pray using the model we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Towards the end of this prayer, Jesus says, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." As divine God and human being all in one, Jesus had keen insight into our human condition. He knew that under certain conditions our potential for wrongdoing can overwhelm our desire to do what is right and good. We need God’s help – the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – to keep us from experiencing those kinds of conditions. This is one of the most important insights you will give to your children and grandchildren - to avoid succumbing to temptation by steering clear of tempting situations.
Need This Reminder Especially in the Highs of Life
Jabez’s final request in his prayer is really extremely wise and mature. What he said in effect was, “God bless me, enlarge me, lead me, fill us, give me more, but keep me humble and keep me holy.” Jabez seems to understand that the more you do for God and the more God does through you, the more temptation comes your way. Do you recognize that? The more spiritual blessings you receive and the more you do on behalf of the kingdom of God, the more you are being set up for the devil to tempt you, trip you and trap you.
So many Christians are caught off guard by this. They come home from a wonderful spiritual retreat determined to be more faithful disciples and seem to encounter problem after problem after problem. Or as a congregation after a time of great spiritual success seems to be the time when so many divisions and factions arise up within a church determined to get their way.
Why does this happen? Follow the logic with me for a moment. If you as a believer or as a church aren’t doing much for the kingdom of God, Satan has you right where he wants you already. But when we deepen our relationship with God and expand our spiritual influence – as Jabez prayed to do – then Satan has work overtime to neutralize your effect. In essence you’ve popped up on Satan’s radar now as a perceived threat.
Have you ever felt that way? Like you had a big target sign painted on you? Several weeks back I had one of those Sunday mornings where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I didn’t get enough sleep the night before because one of the boys had been up and down. Then everything seemed to be taking longer to get ready when I got up and the boys were in a mood. I was running a bit further behind than I like to time wise and I got stuck by the train on the way to Belleview. Then at church things were out of sorts with different people. I forgot the order of worship and skipped something important and had to go back and rework it in. By the time I got to the prayer I was completely distracted. I knelt down at the rail and put my bulletin down and started praying. Two sentences in I realized my mistake – we have votive candles in the altar rail at my church and I laid my bulletin down on top of a lit candle. Now my bulletin was on fire! I stopped praying and someone in the front row helped me extinguish my bulletin. When I went back to praying, I abandoned the prayer I had in my mind and just poured out my heart…. “Lord it feels like I’m under attack this morning. I know you’ve given me this important word to share with people during the message today and it just feels like Satan’s doing everything he can to trip me up to keep me from sharing your Word. I want to honor you and say what your Spirit has put in my heart, but you’ve got to get Satan behind me. Help me have the strength to overcome.”
That’s why the prayer "keep me from evil that I may not cause pain" is one of the most important prayers that many of us will ever pray. In times of success and spiritual highs we also get a false sense of our own strength in comparison to God’s. But our weapons aren’t enough against the enemy:
- Common sense can get us in trouble. Adam and Eve knew just enough in the Garden of Eden to think they knew it all and Satan tricked them into disobedience.
- Previous experience can get us in trouble. Just because you beat temptation once doesn’t mean you will be safe the next time.
- Our feelings can get us in trouble. Often times the things that feel right are oh so wrong for us.
The Rest of the Story
What happens to our good friend Jabez in Scripture? He who was named pain, who was found to be more honorable than his brothers, who prayed for God to bless him, who prayed for God to enlarge his territory, who prayed for God’s hand to be with him, who prayed for God to keep him from evil?
Our Scripture lesson from I Chronicles tells us quite simply that God granted his request. We probably could have guessed that even if he had not told us because of how Jabez’s story is included in Scripture – a step out of the straight genealogy line to point out this young man and his interesting prayer. How God grants his request, what that looks like in Jabez’s life we are not told. Probably because the point is less about the answering, than about the asking.
There is only one more time that Jabez is mentioned in Scripture. It’s in the same chapter of I Chronicles down in the 55th verse. It tells about a place where families of scribes gathered together to study. The place where they gathered was called Jabez. Could it be that this young man, whose name was pain, lived in such a way that he was honored by those who knew him and they named a community after him? God granted Jabez’ request.
And when we come before him in prayer, with hearts and motives right, God honors our request as well.