Making Jabez Mine:
The Prayer of Jabez--Is It For Me??

A Review by Ronald Gleason

There’s a relatively new book out that’s making quite a splash in the modern evangelical world. The title is The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. The author is Bruce Wilkinson, who is the founder and president of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries. He has previously authored Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs and 30 Days to Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.

The little book numbers only 93 pages and the font is fairly large, so it’s a quick and easy read. I think that both of these attributes make it a sought-after book in modern Christianity. I’d like to take a few moments of your time and give you my impression of the book. The reason why I’m taking the time to do this is for several reasons, not the least of which is that so many Christians are reading this book and finding it helpful to very helpful. While there are some insights and applications in the book that can be beneficial, on the whole the book presents some serious problems of biblical interpretation.

One disclaimer: I’m writing this for the Church of Jesus Christ. I have no desire to be polemical or to kick another brother in the Lord in the shins. I do consider Bruce Wilkinson a brother in Christ, but I think he’s just wrong on some of his statements and interpretations. Not all, just some. Where I disagree with him with become increasingly evident in what follows. I hope that it will be helpful for you.

The way I’d like to go about this is to begin with a thumbnail sketch of the book, give an explanation of the Hebrew words in the text, go to an examination of what can be known about Jabez and the author of the book of Chronicles where this prayer is found, and then close with some comments and criticisms of what Mr. Wilkinson has written.

A Thumbnail Sketch of the Book
The table of contents promises the reader seven chapters of relatively short duration preceded by a preface. This is what the author tells us in the Preface.

“Dear Reader, I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief—only one sentence with four parts—and tucked away in the Bible, but I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God. This petition has radically changed what I expect from God and what I experience every day by His power. In fact, thousands of believers who are applying its truths are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis. Will you join me for a personal exploration of Jabez? I hope you will! Bruce H. Wilkinson.”

The chapters that follow bear these titles: Little Prayer, Giant Prize (1), So Why Not Ask? (2), Living Large for God (3), The Touch of Greatness (4), Keeping the Legacy Safe (5), Welcome to God’s Honor Roll (6), and Making Jabez Mine (7).

A “Gimper”

Bruce Wilkinson had a life-changing experience during his senior year at Dallas Theological Seminary—and it wasn’t that he missed the rapture! He heard a message from the seminary chaplain, Dr. Richard Seume. Here’s what Seume said that was earthshaking: “Want a bigger vision for your life? Sign up to be a gimper for God.” A gimper, as Seume explained it and Knute Rockne lived it, is someone who always does a little more than what’s required or expected. (pp. 9-10.) Dr. Seume also used this text from Jabez' prayer to make his point.

Wilkinson told the Lord that he wanted to be a “gimper” for Him. I’m not certain what the Lord responded, but that’s another story. Since that time, he’s prayed this prayer every morning for thirty years! Jabez was a gimper for the Lord and Wilkinson knows that this prayer will have a significant impact upon our lives. Why? “Because of my experience and the testimony of hundreds of others around the world with whom I’ve shared these principles.” (p. 11.) But there’s more. Wilkinson asks us a very pointed question: When was the last time you saw miracles happen on a regular basis in your life? (p. 16.)

That’s a very interesting question and I suppose I’d have to answer that I have never seen miracles happen in my life on a regular basis. Should I now feel very guilty or that I’ve missed a lot out of life? I believe Wilkinson would answer Yes, but I’d answer No. In fact, I believe I’m in pretty decent company because I don’t think anyone in the Bible saw miracles happen on a regular basis in their life. I certainly believe that many of the men and women of the Bible saw God’s miracles take place in their life as well as in the life of others. That’s an important point. I wonder why Wilkinson didn’t ask about miracles in the lives of others? Some people in the Bible witnessed a number of miracles. Some of the instances were more regular than others, but if we’re talking about expecting a miracle weekly or daily I’m convinced we’re missing the point of the gospel. I also fear that we can take our focus off of Christ and put it on the miracles that should—if they’re genuine—point away from themselves and to God.

Wilkinson is convinced that “God really does have unclaimed blessings waiting for you.” (p. 17.) If he means that God wants us to be in prayer for both the physical and spiritual things of this life then I wholeheartedly agree. What does it take to achieve these unclaimed blessings? Nothing more than “a handful of core commitments on your part.” (Ibid.) I haven’t been able to locate anywhere in the book where Wilkinson tells what those core commitments might be except for a 6-step program near the end of the book. But he is convinced that if you’ll start praying Jabez’ prayer God will “sweep you forward into the profoundly important and satisfying life He has waiting.” (Ibid.)

Let me pause right here for a moment and ask a question. Can we derive from the text of Jabez’ prayer that God gave him a profoundly important and satisfying life? Based on the three times his name appears in Scripture (I take the text in 1 Chr. 2:55 to be a place) I believe we’d be hard pressed to draw those conclusions.

Is This “Name It & Claim It?”
One of Wilkinson’s theses is that “Great men of the faith think differently than the rest of us.” (p. 19.) This may very well be true. What Wilkinson is leading to, however, is yet another question. “Is is possible that God wants you to be more ‘selfish’ in your prayers?” (Ibid.) He asks this question in light of Jabez’ prayer that the Lord would bless him indeed. He paraphrases this petition this way. “Father, oh, Father! Please bless me! And what I really mean is. . .bless me a lot!” (p. 22.)

In light of this petition, Wilkinson adds, “Let me tell you a guaranteed by-product of sincerely seeking His blessing: Your life will become marked by miracles.” (pp. 24-25.) At this point we can only ask if this is truly the biblical message. Is it true that if I ask the Lord to bless me richly that my life will be characterized as full of miracles? To make his point, Wilkinson uses the example of a fictitious Mr. Jones dying and going to heaven. Wilkinson prefaces his remarks with yet another question. “What if you found out that God had it in mind to send you twenty-three specific blessings today, but you got only one?” (p. 25.) I’m of the persuasion that if God wants me to have anything, He will make certain that I get it. But the author of the book seems to believe otherwise.

He illustrates his point by means of the example of “Mr. Jones” going to heaven. Jones dies and goes to heaven and St. Peter is giving him the proverbial nickel-tour. There in heaven, Jones observes an odd-shaped building and asks his tour guide about it. The building is filled with packages neatly gift-wrapped. “Do I have a package in there?” asks Jones. “Yes you do,” replies the poor saint that has done nothing in heaven since his death but give tours and make up jokes. So Jones rushes in and finds the gift box with his name on it and opens it. Jones lets out a deep sigh like St. Peter has heard so many times before. “Because there in Mr. Jones’s white box are all the blessings that God wanted to give him while he was on earth. . .but Mr. Jones never asked.” (p. 27.)

That’s just awful theology folks! In the first place, the Bible tells us that there will be no more sadness in heaven. But Wilkinson has Jones sighing deeply because of blessings he never received on earth. That’s pretty pitiful. The next thing is even worse. If God is truly sovereign as the Bible repeatedly says that he is, then His plan will never be thwarted. Wilkinson doesn’t tell us the theological reason why Jones didn’t receive all those blessings, but it seems to boil down to this. God had these blessings somehow reserved for Jones, but he was such a bonehead that he never asked for them. Even though God intended to give them to Jones He never did because Jones didn’t ask. It all sounds terribly Arminian to me.

Should we be asking for God’s spiritual blessing(s)? Absolutely! God is able to do superabundantly more than we can ever think or imagine. (Eph. 3:20.) Probably one of the areas of neglect in the Christian life is failure to ask our Lord to bless us spiritually. The example that Wilkinson uses, however, is theologically horrible.

A Big Leap
Chapter 3 (Living Large for God) makes a quantum leap, but I don’t think it’s forward. When Wilkinson deals with the petition “Oh, that You would enlarge my territory!” in Jabez’ prayer. Interpreting the Word of God properly (2 Tim. 2:15) is of the utmost importance. Modern Christianity is plagued by sloppy and inept interpretation. All of us should be deeply concerned about how we interpret God’s Word in light of the entire message and with a view to the immediate context of any given verses.

Here is what Wilkinson says about the petition to enlarge one’s territory. “The next part of the Jabez prayer—a plea for more territory—is where you ask God to enlarge your life so you can make a greater impact for Him.” (p. 30.) Huh? How do we get there from Jabez’ prayer? How do we rightly, correctly, and justifiably interpret that petition to mean that we are to ask God to enlarge our life so that we can make a greater impact for Him?

For Wilkinson, the conclusion is simple. “From both the context and the results of Jabez’s prayer, we can see that there was more to his request than a simple desire for more real estate. He wanted more influence, more responsibility, and more opportunity to make a mark for the God of Israel.” (Ibid. Emphasis Wilkinson.) All right, then, let’s think about what he’s said for a moment. First, he speaks about the context. What context? Wilkinson has not taken the time to give us any semblance of a context. How can he now appeal to that which is unknown to us? If you go back and look at the abrupt appearance of this prayer what can you deduce concerning its context?

Second, our attention is drawn to the results of Jabez’ prayer. The text merely says that God granted his request. So if Jabez asked for more territory and God granted his request how does that compute into us asking God to “enlarge” our life so that we can make a greater impact for Him?

Finally, how does Wilkinson know for certain that Jabez was asking for something more than real estate? Looking at the text itself, how in the world are we to conclude that this obscure prayer that only mentions real estate (territory) means that Jabez really was praying for more influence, more responsibility, and more opportunity to make a mark for the God of Israel? There is not one shred of evidence for this type of conclusion. If ministers of the Word of God play this foot loose and fancy free with the Word of God, what ought we to expect from those who are less trained in interpretation?

In a similar vein when Wilkinson puts this paraphrase in Jabez’ mouth, it is pure speculation. “When Jabez cried out to God, ‘Enlarge my territory!’ he was looking at his present circumstances and concluding, ‘Surely I was born for more than this.’” (p. 31.) Here we see interpretation going from bad to worse. We have no idea whatsoever of what Jabez was thinking when he prayed this prayer. I think there is a very different biblical attitude of humility. King David seemed to manifest this type of humility when he asked the Lord why He had exalted him to such a high position in light of his circumstances. (See 1 Sam. 18:18; 2 Sam. 7:18; 1 Chr. 17:16.)

Even though Wilkinson repeatedly issue disclaimers that his interpretation of Jabez’ prayer has nothing to do with the gospel of health and wealth, the following quote gives you some idea of why his critics have accused him of peddling a version of health and wealth theology. “If Jabez had worked on Wall Street, he might have prayed, “Lord, increase the value of my investment portfolios.’ When I talk to presidents of companies, I often talk to them about this particular mind-set. When Christian executives ask me, ‘Is it right for me to ask God for more business?’ my response is, ‘Absolutely!’ If you’re doing your business God’s way, it’s not only right to ask for more, but He is waiting for you to ask.” (Ibid.)

More—or less—interpretation of this petition causes Wilkinson to conclude that praying this prayer in the 21st century has to do with “appointments to keep.” (p. 42.) This is synonymous with asking God for miracles. (p. 43.) This gets hokey—or hokier—when he says, “God always intervenes when you put His agenda before yours and go for it! Amazingly, if you have prayed to the Lord to expand a border, you will recognize His divine answer. You’ll have a front-row seat in the life of miracles.” (p. 44.) I am under the impression that God has an agenda (otherwise known as His determinate counsel) and that even when I don’t put His first, He has a way of overriding my agenda. I’m also less concerned about having a front-row seat in the life of miracle than I am about witnessing God’s grace in the life of sinners and worshipping Him.

A Touch of Greatness or the Numbers Game?
Chapter 4 deals with the petition in the prayer where Jabez asks that God’s hand would be with him. There are places where Wilkinson seems to have made a turn for the better. Early in this chapter he directs our attention to the phrase “the hand of God” and states “The church’s growth bears powerful witness to both the necessity and availability of the hand of God to accomplish the business of God.” (p. 54.) Even stuffy old Presbyterians can muster up a heartfelt “Amen” to that! In addition, he is to be commended when he says “When we ask for God’s mighty presence like Jabez and the early church did, we will also see tremendous results that can be explained only as from the hand of God.” (p. 55.) Where the chapter “derails” is when he gets involved in what I’ll call “the numbers game.” Let me let him explain this.

When he was a youth pastor in New Jersey he and twelve other high school students planned an evangelism effort on nearby Long Island. Their objective was to evangelize the youth in a particular suburban area over a six-week period. They did all the necessary planning and brought in a specialist in children’s ministry to help them prepare and strategize. So far so good. When the specialist left Wilkinson said to the twelve kids, “If we don’t have one hundred kids in each club by the end of the week, we should consider it a failure.” (p. 57.) Why? They prayed for the Lord’s blessing, as they should have. But to make the statement that unless you achieve a certain number the whole thing is a fiasco verges on the ludicrous. How did he arrive at the number one hundred? Did the Holy Spirit give it to him? Did he somehow derive this for Jabez’ prayer? How? If God had chosen to bless them with five, ten, or none, would God’s Word have returned to Him empty? (Isa. 55:11.) In addition to this, Wilkinson and his group asked the Lord for thirty decisions for salvation by the end of the first day. (p. 58.) God blessed their efforts beyond expectation “but right in line with the scope of our Jabez prayer.”

What kind of message does this send to us lesser lights? Are we “failing” because we don’t pray the Jabez prayer, mantra-like, every morning? Is it because our faith is too small? Is it because we’re not trying hard enough? And what about all the others that have witnessed faithfully and have seen little or no “results?” Are we even supposed to look for results? What is to be said—if anything—for being used of and by God to plant a seed in a person’s life?

Watching Your Flanks or Other Parts of Your Anatomy

Chapter 5 deals with being kept from evil. You think to yourself that this is going to be a meaty chapter because all of us need help in dealing with temptation. What I found here was a series of self-serving anecdotes and success stories.

He begins by relating a conversation between Dallas Seminary New Testament professor Howard Hendricks and a fellow-student. The student tells Hendricks that he’s reached a level of sanctification at seminary to where he was hardly being tempted at all. (p. 64.) My assessment is that he was kidding himself or Hendricks or both—probably both and that he really needed to work on pride, which, if I’m not mistaken is still a sin. Anyway, Hendricks answers, “That’s about the worst thing I could have heard. That shows me that you’re no longer in the battle! Satan isn’t worried about you anymore.” (Ibid.) I wonder. The Bible tells me that Satan is a formidable foe and works on Christians in a methodological fashion. (Eph. 6:11.) We’re warned that he roams around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8.) It would seem that this would include even deluded seminary students.

But Wilkinson does issue a very valid warning about temptation and how, when our resistance is down or we are tired, we can fall prey to things that would normally not tempt us. He cites an example, however, that seems to be especially self-seeking and self-serving. Here’s what he tells us.
Years ago, a cab had picked me up in downtown Chicago and was whisking me down the Kennedy expressway toward the airport. I slumped in the backseat, [sic] exhausted from a week of special meetings at Moody Bible Institute. God had moved in remarkable ways. I had preached every day and counseled scores of students—seventy-six, to be exact (I kept a log). Now heading home, I was physically and spiritually spent. Staring blankly out at the traffic, I reached for the Jabez prayer. (p. 65.)

He made it to O’Hare and sat down on the flight in between two men, each of whom was reading a Playboy or Penthouse magazine. Silently, Wilkinson complained to God that he thought they had a “deal.” He told the Lord that he just couldn’t cope with that situation in his current state and within moments both men swore and put their magazines away. Yet another “success” story. Let me tell you the story of a Christian I know. He was flying back from Mexico and sat down next to a woman who had a small DVD player. She was watching a porn movie on it. My friend was weary too and prayed that God would remove the temptation. God chose to let him sit there the whole flight and turn his head the other direction. Which was more “successful?” It can be argued that my friend had as much success over evil as did Wilkinson or Jabez.

Wilkinson concludes this chapter with these words. “With the fourth plea of Jabez as part of our life, we are now ready to move up to a higher level of honor and exponentially expanding blessings.” (p. 75.) Now let me see if I’ve got this straight. God’s kingdom is the safest investment and also shows the most remarkable growth. (Ibid.) That’s true enough, but a lot depends on how you interpret that last idea. We are to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness and everything else will be given to us as well. (Matt. 6:33.) It’s also true that this kingdom shows the most remarkable growth, but this growth is a quality and not a quantity. I don’t measure spiritual growth by counting noses or conversions.

Does God Play Favorites?
Chapter 6 returns to the beginning of the account in Chronicles: Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. Without explaining the context in which the Chronicler penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Wilkinson believes these words beg the question: Do you think God has favorites? He qualifies this question with these remarks. “Certainly God makes His love available to all, and Jesus came to earth so that ‘whosoever’ might call on His name and be saved. But Jabez, whose prayer earned him a ‘more honorable’ award from God, might have made the case that God does have favorites.” (p. 76.) What this boils down to, then, is this. “Simply put, God favors those who ask. He holds back nothing from those who want and earnestly long for what He wants.” (Ibid.)

Moreover, to say “that you want to be ‘more honorable’ in God’s eyes is not arrogance or self-centeredness.” (pp. 76-77.) Here Wilkinson is making reference to the beginning of the text containing the prayer of Jabez. Since Wilkinson has not explained or opened the text for us, the reader is only left to guess—or worse, fantasize—about what the words might mean. Let me give you an example of what I mean. We know nothing of Jabez’ brothers. To say that Jabez was more honorable than his brothers might not be a true complement. Since we haven’t looked at the text and its larger context yet, it would be difficult—I would think—to decide a priori what the words “more honorable” actually mean.

Two items seem to motivate Wilkinson in this chapter. The first is Paul’s admonition in Philippians 3:14 that Christians press on toward the goal for the prize. The other is found in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 where we are told that we will have to give an account to God for what we have done. Wilkinson’s theology comes shining through when he writes, “The sorrowful alternative does not appeal to me. I don’t want to get to heaven and hear God say: ‘Let’s look at your life, Bruce. Let me show you what I wanted for you and tried repeatedly to accomplish through you. . .but you wouldn’t let me.’ What a travesty!” (p. 77.)

Well, actually this is substantially worse than a travesty. It’s a horrible indictment about God and His sovereignty. In this example, God is portrayed as impotent. He wanted to do all kinds of wonderful things for Bruce and even tried repeatedly to get His creature to do what He wanted him to do, but to no avail. What kind of image does this paint of our Lord? He certainly doesn’t seem to be the Lord God Almighty. His creature can thwart His desires. God wants to do all kinds of things for us, but just didn’t seem to have the ability to accomplish what He wants to do.

Wilkinson then shifts gears a little and gives us an example that I find mystifying. Like many of us, he seems to have enjoyed the thrills of meeting deadlines and air travel. He gives the example of being in Atlanta on his way to a speaking engagement in North Carolina. A major accident had blocked all the lanes of traffic and it became clear that he was going to miss his flight. What to do? Wilkinson prayed this prayer. “Lord, please make my flight late so I can catch it.” (p. 79.) Martin Hedman should have thought of a comparable prayer when we were on our way to the PCA’s General Assembly in Louisville, KY a couple of years ago. We arrived in Atlanta from LAX and just as we landed a huge thunder and lightning storm began. Down South they call that kind of storm a “red hill washer.” Anyway, we sat in the plane on the tarmac for longer than the flight from LAX to Atlanta! I prayed, but I guess I prayed the wrong kind of prayers.

Wilkinson seems to have a kind of “direct line” to God—all of us pastors are accused of having one of these phones—and low and behold his flight was delayed. He tells us that not only was his flight delayed but he began to see that the Lord might be arranging “an appointment for ministry” for him. (Ibid.) He encountered a woman who was very flustered and asked, “What can I do for you?” and she punched him in the nose. No. She really didn’t, but I could certainly imagine a scenario where that would happen. Anyway, this turned out to be “an appointment for ministry.” I mean how much more dramatic can you make it? He was granted the privilege of witnessing to the woman, who was considering divorcing her husband. To make it even more impressive, he told the woman that they would be sitting together on the plane even though they had different seat assignments. God arranged it all. The result? “Let me encourage you, friend, to reach boldly for the miracle.” (p. 82.)

“As you repeat the steps, you will set in motion a cycle of blessing that will keep multiplying what God is able to do in and through you.” (p. 83.) This is nothing more or less than a mantra or incantation principle. We seem to be guaranteed that as we repeat these steps we shall receive an ever-increasing cycle of blessing from God. Is this what the Lord promises us? Most certainly he promises that He will bless His children. He also points us to example after example of hardship and sorrow in the Christian life. My pastoral fear is that Wilkinson paints a rosy picture of the Christian life that is skewed in the direction of success and bereft of some of the true trials and hardships of reality that mug us on a regular basis.

Wilkinson promise something else. “This is the exponential growth I referred to at the close of the previous chapter. You have asked for and received more blessing, more territory, more power, and more protection. But the growth curve soon starts to spike upwards.” (Ibid. Emphasis mine.) In theology we speak about the believer’s sanctification or being made holy. The Bible is clear that this is not always a curve that spikes upward. Sanctification is filled with growth and regress, ebb and flow, times of great spiritual elation and times of spiritual dryness. You get the impression from Wilkinson that if you plotted the “sanctification curve” and if you were faithfully praying the Jabez prayer you’d get a steady upward climb. How good will it get? I’ll let Wilkinson tell you. Before I do, however, I should warn you that it’s going to get very, very good. So good, in fact, that you’ll actually have to ask God to stop blessing you. Don’t believe me? Well, just listen.

“The will come—and come repeatedly during your life—that you will be so overwhelmed with God’s graciousness that tears will stream down your face. I can remember saying to the Lord, ‘It’s too much! Hold some of your blessings back!’ If you’re like many who use the Jabez prayer, including me, you’ll come to times in your life when you feel so blessed that you stop praying for more, at least for a while.” (p. 84.) I can’t speak for you, but I can never get enough of God’s blessings in my life. If I’m truly praying for spiritual blessings and the Lord grants them I cannot conceive of a situation or time when I’d ask Him to stop! But then again, I haven’t prayed the Jabez prayer very much.

Making Jabez Mine

Chapter 7 is the application. The first part of the appropriation of this prayer comes in the form of a challenge from Wilkinson. “I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.” (p. 86. Emphases mine.)

Let’s break this down and have some fun in the process. Can you imagine Jesus saying something similar to His disciples? “Hey, guys. If you just pray this Lord's Prayer I’ve taught you for the next thirty days you’re going to see some great changes in your life!” Where do pastors get off suggesting that God’s people do something God has never suggested? This stuff is starting to get very scary at this point. I know that Wilkinson did not command us to pray the prayer, but given everything he’s said up to this point, his suggestion/encouragement is almost a command. It’s like you’re an idiot if you don’t. Did Jesus ever suggest anything like this to His disciples? No. It’s as if this obscure prayer has now taken on some magical mantra-like powers so that if you follow Wilkinson’s plan things are going to start going a lot better in your life. What is that plan? It should come as no surprise that it’s a 6-step plan for significant change in your life.

Here it is.

1. Pray the Jabez prayer every morning, and keep a record of your daily prayer by marking off a calendar or a chart you make especially for the purpose.

2. Write out the prayer and tape it in your Bible, in your day-timer, on your bathroom mirror, or some other place where you’ll be reminded of your new vision.

3. Reread this little book once each week during the next month, asking God to show you important insights you may have missed.

4. Tell one other person of your commitment to your new prayer habit, and ask him or her to check up on you.

5. Begin to keep a record of changes in your life, especially the divine appointments and new opportunities you can relate directly to the Jabez prayer.

6. Start praying the Jabez prayer for your family, friends, and local church. (pp. 86-87.)

Let me comment briefly on each of these steps to success. It would certainly seem that life is more than the Jabez prayer. That is why God gave us such diversity in His book, the Bible. The prayers recorded there for us are anything but monotone. Our prayers are not to be rote, but from our hearts. There is nothing wrong with “journaling” if that’s helpful to you, but I’m not convinced that we’re required to keep a calendar or chart just for the Jabez prayer, for Pete’s sake! Give me a break!

Why should I tape the prayer in my Bible unless I’m only reading the New Testament, in which case I’m wrong. The prayer is already in my Bible. I’m not opposed to taping favorite or very helpful texts to your mirror or putting them on the “fridge,” but my new vision is given to me by the whole counsel of God!

With step 3 we’re headed right in the direction of a blatant Roman Catholic theology. It’s a sad truth, but many Christians struggle with reading their Bible on a daily basis. I honestly would have expected Wilkinson to encourage us to read the Word of God daily in lieu of his book. Certainly God’s Word will show us a great many more insights to life that we’ve missed than Wilkinson’s book ever will. It’s like we’re got two authorities in our spiritual walk now: the Bible and Wilkinson’s book. This is serious, folks! Maybe it’s just a cheap plug for his book, but I believe he could have done a lot better on point number 3.

I think it’s important to have people hold you accountable for prayer. Most of us are far too sloppy and negligent in our prayer life. It’s one thing to have my fellow-Christians hold me accountable to pray on a regular basis. It’s quite another thing to have them make sure I’m praying this specific prayer.

“Divine appointments” is another phrase for opportunities to witness for God. Most of us are just to lazy to speak to the people God brings into our lives already. If we were to sit down and think about it, I’ll bet we could list a number of people God brings to us on a regular basis already. To make matters worse, if you’re like me you keep your mouth shut far too many times. To my distorted mind, “divine appointments” is a cutesy way to say Providence. In God’s providential governing of His created order, He brings all kinds of people into my life with a high degree of regularity. What am I doing with those He’s already given to me?

Finally, I’d say we should keep praying for our family, friends, and church. You don’t have to prayer specifically the Jabez prayer to be effective. Prayer is effective. Prayer is one of the most sublime gifts of grace our Lord has given us. If you want to include the Jabez prayer in your variety of prayers for family, friends, and your local church, I’d encourage you to do so. I’d also encourage you to pray a variety of prayers for the variety of spiritual needs our family, friends, and church have.

Wilkinson has some concluding remarks that point in the direction of American success: numbers. Like it or not, Americans are numbers oriented and numbers driven. Even though we don’t say it very loudly, we tend to determine truth by counting noses. Numbers matter and they matter a lot to us. Success or failure can be gauged by numbers. Your value as a human being can be closely associated with how much money you earn. One of my fears while reading this book—there are more—is that Wilkinson throws numbers around as an indicator of success. He spoke to 9,000, his church is large, he needs so many warm bodies at a Vacation Bible School before it can be considered successful. The book ends on a similar note.

“Over the years at Walk Thru the Bible, our once feeble prayers have grown because He has never stopped answering! I can remember when we had twenty-five or thirty Bible conferences in a year. This year Walk Thru will conduct over twenty-five hundred Bible conferences—fifty each weekend. The ministry now published ten magazines each month to help individuals and families grow in God’s Word every day. We recently passed the 100 million mark in total issues published.” (p. 88.)

We’re told that these figures are not quoted to impress us, but is just evidence of what Jabez praying can do. (p. 89.) But then we’re on to more numbers. “In January 1998 we began WorldTeach, birthed from the womb of the Jabez prayer.

WorldTeach is an exciting fifteen-year vision to establish the largest Bible-teaching faculty in the world—120,000—a Bible teacher for every 50,000 people on earth.” (Ibid.) In principle, this is a very good idea. One of my first questions is, however, what kind of theology are these 120,000 educators going to teach? I’ve been in seminaries where even small faculties can’t agree. How ungainly is it going to be to try to monitor 120,000? Then again, maybe there’s going to be no attempt whatsoever to monitor them, except, maybe, on their view of the Tribulation and the Rapture.

Wilkinson ends by inviting us to join him for the coming transformation. He ends with a promise. “You will change your legacy and bring supernatural blessings wherever you go. God will release His miraculous power in your life now. And for all eternity, He will lavish on you His honor and delight.” (pp. 91-92.) What is my legacy if I’m a Christian? Wilkinson seems to suggest that whatever it is, it’ll get substantially better if I pray this prayer enough. This might come as a surprise, but as a Christian, I believe that I receive supernatural blessings from my heavenly Father because of Christ.

Now that we’ve looked at the book, let’s go back and look at the text. Wilkinson has mentioned it to us from time to time, but it will be most helpful if we gain an understanding of it and then move on to see how it fits into the fabric of the book of 1 Chronicles and into the theology of the Chronicler.

The Hebrew & Greek Text
The only reason I’m taking the time to even discuss the text itself is that Wilkinson takes very little time to do it. He is building his case on an admittedly somewhat obscure text in the Old Testament, which is fine. It would have enhanced the book immensely, however, if he had taken some time to tell us a little bit about the text without all the technical jargon. For example, he could have pointed out that there are some translation difficulties with some of the Hebrew words due to their (relative) obscurity.

In the next section we’ll take the opportunity to examine the book(s) of Chronicles itself, how it got its name, when it was written, and some of the key theological concepts of the Chronicler, just to mention a few. For the present, we want to take a really quick look at some of the peculiarities of the text and then we’ll move on to talk about the context of Chronicles in the Old Testament canon. Boom!

This section is going to be fairly technical and I would understand if you want to skip on to the next section. Believe me, I won’t be offended in the least if you’re not interested in this part.

The Name Jabez
The name itself is located in only two places in the Bible. In 1 Chr. 2:55 it is the name of a place. In the prayer of Jabez it is found three times. His name is somewhat obscure. Keil and Delitzsch comment in this fashion. “The word #Be[.y: donotes [sic] in ii. 55 a town or village which is quite unknown to us; but whether our Jabez where father (lord) or this town cannot be determined.” In point of fact, there are many things unclear to us. A. Noortzij is not atypical when he writes, “Behind the name, over which no one has been able to bring any light to bear, is the possibility of a Kenite tribe, which was eventually—in the course of the centuries—taken up into Judah.”

Even the connection with the preceding verses is not clear to Old Testament scholars and commentators. As was mentioned above, it is even up for grabs whether or not Jabez was originally an Israelite. The so-called “older commentators” have drawn the conclusion that Jabez was a son or brother of Coz. The “newer commentators” apparently have little or no light to shed on the matter. So I’ll just give you the newer first and then the older and let you decide.

Roddy Braun writes concerning the verses, “The emphasis here is. . .upon Jabez’ prayer to God and the fact that God heard that prayer and ‘brought about that which he asked.’ This emphasis upon prayer is a marked feature of Chronicles, and its inclusion here. . .reflects an appreciation of that same interest. God’s grace is always available to those who turn to him in prayer.”

The older commentators, Keil and Delitzsch have this to say about the text.
If there be any genealogical connection between the man Jabez and the locality of this name or its inhabitants (ii. 55), then the persons named in ver. 8 would belong to the descendants of Shobal. For although the connection of Jabez with Coz (not Bill Cosby—RG) and his sons is not clearly set forth, yet it may be conjectured (Emphasis—RG) from the statements as to Jabez being connected with the preceding by the words, “Jabez was more honoured than his brethren.”

There are some interesting parallels with other Old Testament texts and Jabez’ prayer even though the latter is shrouded in relative obscurity. For example, there are parallels between Jabez’ mother giving him such an odd name—meaning pain—and other Old Testament accounts. On the other hand, there is a rather curious omission in Jabez’ prayer and that is the absence of an accompanying vow on his part. A rather classic example of what I’m talking about is found in Genesis 28:20-22. Unfortunately, Wilkinson makes no mention of this oddity in Jabez’ prayer. Keil and Delitzsch offer this possible reason for the omission of the vow. “The reason of this is probably that the vow had acquired importance sufficient to make it worthy of being handed down only from God’s having so fulfilled his wish, that his life became a contradiction of his name; the son of sorrow having been free from pain in life, and having attained to greater happiness and reputation than his brothers.” Really, though, who knows? Keil and Delitzsch previously used the word “conjecture.” That’s an apt word for the verses included in Jabez’ prayer.

One other word needs to be said before we move on. I’m not at all convinced that a vow must be attached to a prayer before it’s “valid.” There are many prayers in Scripture where the ones praying do not attach a a vow to do this or that. I’ve certainly prayed many a prayer where I merely asked the Lord to bless me without stating that I’d do anything. It’s always been a foregone conclusion on my part that what God wants from me, however, is joyful and willing obedience to Him. That’s enough of this sort of thing. Let’s move on to other matters.

The Chronicler and Jabez
One of the most important tools of valid biblical interpretation is called the “grammatico-historical” method. That’s kind of technical talk for understanding the author’s intent in a given book along with an understanding of the book’s basic message. This is one area where I believe Wilkinson really missed the boat. Throughout his book he makes appeals to the “Jabez text” without really telling us anything about the book of Chronicles itself. He also doesn’t have much to say about the context of the Jabez prayer, primarily because there just isn’t much to say about it.

So what I want to do in this section is to kind of lay out what the Chronicler is “about” in his two books. I believe this will help us get a handle on things when we continue in our investigation of how this prayer ought to or can be used in the Church of Jesus Christ and in our individual lives. Bear with me for a few moments while we get some “nuts and bolts” things out of the way.

The Title of the Books

Before I begin with the “yawn” stuff, I want to thank our Lord for making me a pastor. If I weren’t a pastor of such a lively church I might not have taken the time to do this type of investigation right now. But when you’ve got an enthusiastic congregation to work with, things change. The questions that have arisen about this book under review have taken me on yet another fascinating study of God’s Word and its application in our lives.

The English title of the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles has an unusual history. The titles originate neither from the original Hebrew nor from the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (sometimes seen written as LXX). The church father, Jerome, first applied this name in the fourth century AD. Martin Luther’s German translation called the books Die Chronika, and this set the stage for the current name of the books.

This is not to say that Jerome or Luther or other English Bible translators just made the name up out of thin air. “Chronicle” is a fairly decent translation for the Hebrew idiom diberê hayy_mîm, which is the accepted Hebrew title of the book. The phrase literally means “the events of the days” which allows a smooth transition to thoughts such as “chronicle.”

The Greek translators of the Old Testament produced a quite different title to the books. They called them Paraleipomena, which means “the things omitted.” What were they talking about? Apparently they saw Chronicles as containing things omitted from the books of Samuel and Kings.

The division of Chronicles into two parts goes back to the Septuagint. The division is probably made for practical reasons and for no other reasons. Once we take the time to read these two books—and unfortunately far too few do—it becomes evident that they are really a single unit.

What Kind of Book is Chronicles?
What should we expect to find when we read 1 & 2 Chronicles? That’s a fair question and deserves a good answer. Its subject matter covers the whole of Israelite history from creation (see 1 Chr. 1:1) to near the author’s own time (1 Chr. 9:2-34), and in terms of the number of chapters Chronicles is the third largest compilation in the Old Testament after Psalms and Isaiah. But what kind of book is Chronicles. There are a few apt descriptions of it.

In the first place, it can be treated as a history book. Although in more recent investigation of the book the Chronicler’s contribution as a historian has sometimes been understood more in terms of the provision of an over all framework of interpretation rather than in compiling an objective record of events, categorizing Chronicles as a work of history is still a frequent approach.

The long, long lists and genealogies—especially in 1 Chronicles—mark out Chronicles as distinct from Samuel-Kings and are inappropriate in a primarily historical work. More detailed comparison with what is called the “Deuteronomic History” (a common pinhead name for Deuteronomy to 2 Kings) confirms this view, for it is clear that the Chronicler’s concerns are more narrowly focused. “In place of a history of Israel’s monarchies, the Chronicler concentrates on the southern kingdom and on individual kings such as David, Solomon, or Hezekiah, though he also appears to adopt a more favourable attitude towards the north than the author of kings. His preoccupation with specialist matters such as the temple, prayer, worship, and the Levites also indicates that his real interest lies outside the purely historical sphere.”

I give you all this “stuff” to make a point. If the Chronicler’s historical features are secondary rather than primary greater attention ought to be paid to his theological emphases. This was overlooked in Wilkinson’s book, but is essential for understanding the over all message of Chronicles. The late professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA summed up the work as “through and through a theological essay.” Others have described the Chronicler as the first Old Testament theologian. Still others have deduced that the person and dynasty of David are the “heartbeat” of all the Chronicler’s theology.

Since one of our topics is prayer, I’d like to talk for a few moments about the place of prayer in Chronicles without specifically concentrating on Jabez’ prayer, which we’ll come to in due time. It’s not too strongly put to say that the prayers in Chronicles have an equal place with the prophecies in the structure of the work. The accounts of David and Solomon, for example, often include important and lengthy prayers. The various speeches, prophecies, and prayers, therefore, summarize and explain essential elements of Chronicles’ main themes. These are “structural elements” and concentrate on God’s covenant with David and the temple, as a central motif. These serve to underline their priority in God’s purposes and in Israel’s national life.

One final point has to be made and I halfway apologize for making it. It’s a kind of technical thing that doesn’t interest common folk like you and me, but it’s important so I beg your indulgence. The Chronicler is fond of using a Hebrew literary device known as the chiasmus or chiastic pattern. Now don’t you feel enlightened? I’ll just bet you’re ready to rush out and buttonhole the first poor unsuspecting lost sinner and whip out your known about the Chronicler and his use of the chiasmus. Yippee! This is better than the four spiritual laws. Actually, it is. Anyway, let me put this concept in terms you and I can understand. Chiasmus is a literary structure commonly found in the Hebrew language where form and meaning are repeated with variation.

We conclude then that the Chronicler is much more than a scribe or popular re-writer of ancient texts. He spends a lot of time in “theological exegesis,” undertaken according to the principle of allowing Scripture itself to interpret Scripture. “At the heart of this enterprise is a conviction that ‘the word of our God stands forever’ (Is. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25). The Word of God is both the subject which the author addresses and the method by which he addresses it.” With all this as background let’s now proceed and look at some of the main elements of the Chronicler’s message.

The Chronicler’s Message—Covenant
Wilkinson does not mention the covenant relationship between God and His people in his book. That’s really unfortunate because he fails to connect the dots of God’s covenant of grace and the life of God’s people. “According to Chronicles, the Davidic covenant is that element which most clearly expresses the meaning of Israel’s continuing life as the people of God.” This is a grave omission on Wilkinson’s part. He eliminates the covenant character of the prayers given to us in Scripture and therefore must end on the plane of the individual, which is precisely what he does. One of the glaring omissions in this little book by Wilkinson is the omission of covenant prayer or the covenant.

If Wilkinson had been more attuned to this key biblical concept he would have pointed out how frequently the covenant is associated with God’s promises to David. “The primary feature of Chronicles/ presentation of the Davidic covenant is that its very existence depends on God’s promise. Everything hangs on what God purposes, says and does.” A disclaimer is needed here. When we talk about “God’s promise” or “God’s promises” we’re not talking about Him giving us expanded territories or divine appointments. The emphasis in Scripture is on God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness to bring about the promised salvation through Christ.

The Chronicler’s Message—Covenant Community
If our theology is off or skewed at one point, it will be off or skewed at other points as well. Since Wilkinson does not paint a picture of God’s covenant relationship with His people, we should expect that he’d have little or nothing to say about what it means to live in a covenant community. Wilkinson does not disappoint us. He mentions nothing about it. I’m not surprised because Wilkinson’s particular brand of theology does not spend much time on God’s covenant with His people and His people’s lifestyle within the covenant.

As a consequence, we’re left on the level of the individual. What were the practical implications of being bound to God in a covenant relationship? For the Chronicler it was a kind of theological optomism that brought fresh hope to God’s people who were alive after the Exile. It was the reminder of the truth that God is always faithful and trustworthy regarding His word. It was the truth that God’s covenant community has its values and morals shaped and molded by the community and not that they embrace individualism. Truly the covenant community was comprised of individuals, but their morals were “community based.” This is pretty much the complete opposite of modern Christianity.

Interestingly, when you do take the time to read through the various genealogies—and that’s no mean feat—you do discover some very fascinating insights from the Chronicler. For example, if you read 1 Chronicles 2:1-9:1 you’ll find out that the author was not only concerned with the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The Chronicler “goes out of his way to stress that the old divisions of north and south were really a consequence of a temporary judgment on Solomon’s excesses, but that every opportunity should be taken to rebuild the whole community.”

Of equal importance is the notion taught in Chronicles that the Israelites should seek God. This is one of the most crucial aspects of their covenant relationship with the Lord. Let me just give you a handful of illustrations of what I mean. There are a couple of occasions prior to David’s death that come to mind. The first is found in 1 Chronicles 22:19. He says, “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD.” (NIV—Emphasis mine.) Even though this is not a prayer, it is certainly sound biblical advice that we ought to heed.

Another example is located in 1 Chronicles 28:8-9. Again David says, “So now I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the LORD, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the LORD your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever. ‘nd you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.’” (NIV—Emphasis mine.) The last sentence in particular is powerful covenant language. God’s covenant with man contains both blessings and curses. There are promises and there are also obligations.

The theme of seeking God is found in the contrasting accounts of kings such as Rehoboam and Asa (2 Chr. 11:16; 12:14; 14:4, 7; 20:4; 34:3). To fail to seek God was to become liable to His wrath (1 Chr. 10:13-14; 15:13; 22 Chr. 12:14; 25:15, 20). On the other hand, however, seeking God’s face was part of the process of restoration (2 Chr. 7:14.) This last text seems to point more in the direction of the primary emphases of the Chronicler than does the prayer of Jabez.

One of the reasons I say that is because it is clear from Chronicles that “Those who made it their custom to seek God as a way of life could expect God’s blessing in various ways—even in unfavorable circumstances.

Martin Selman offers this explanation in his commentary.
The benefits might include God being “with” his people (1 Ch. 22:11, 16, 2 Ch. 15:2, 9; 17:3-4; 20:17), God’s “help” or support (1 Ch. 15:26; 2 Ch. 14:11; 26:7, 15), prosperity (1 Ch. 22:13; 2 Ch. 26:5), “healing”, that is, spiritual and physical wholeness (2 Ch. 7:14; 30:20; cf. 2 Ch. 36:16), a large family (1 Ch. 26:5; 2 Ch. 13:21; 24:1-3), peace and rest (2 Ch. 14:7; 20:29-30; 23:21), and a recognition by foreigners of the reality of God’s power (1 Ch. 17:17; 2 Ch. 20:29-30; 32:23). On the other hand, the fact that godly kings suffered serious trouble on several occasions (2 Ch. 14:9-11; 20-13; 32:1) indicates that faithfulness to God was no automatic assurance of success.

I’d like to make a couple of points here. In the first place, nowhere in the above list does the prayer of Jabez occur. Apparently, Selman did not find it appropriate to list it among the various blessings that accrue to believers for seeking God. Moreover, an important truth is conveyed to us that is missing in Wilkinson’s book in the words I placed in italics. In our modern striving to avoid pain and suffering at all costs, the Chronicler imparts an essential message to us. We may seek God and ask for His blessing and yet suffer serious trouble on several occasions. God’s blessing might include the exact opposite of what we expect, especially in our stock portfolio!

Two particular covenant blessings stand out in the book of Chronicles. The first is Israel’s presence in the Promised Land. I don’t have the time to go into a detailed explanation of the concept of the Land in Old Testament theology, but suffice it to say that (1) it pointed to the heavenly realities and (2) that possession of the land had to be obtained through God’s help. This second point is aptly shown in Jabez’ prayer. The second covenant blessing is God’s presence with His people. All the blessings in the world are to no avail if God is not with His people. Moses’ account of the glory of the Lord in Exodus 33:12-16 is instructive. “Moses said to the LORD, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.” If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’ The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’”

This is the essence of the matter and one of the prominent features of the Christian life. There is substantially more to be said for seeking God’s Presence and His spiritual blessings than there is in the mere recitation of a prayer or the expanding of a business.

The Chronicler’s Message—The Covenant as Basis for Restoration
For those like Wilkinson who have little or no eye for the truth of the covenant of grace as God reveals it in Scripture, this notion of restoration based on the covenant makes little sense. Yet, it is important for us to note that Israel’s unfaithfulness to God is one of the most repetitive themes of Chronicles and one of the main reasons for highlighting God’s covenant with David. Wilkinson would have done us a great service by pointing this out in his book.

“Israel’s failure is particularly expressed through two related Hebrew words m_´al and ma´al, meaning ‘to act unfaithfully’ and ‘unfaithfulness’ respectively.” What we should not deduce here is that the Exile occurred because of the unfaithfulness of one or two individuals. Remember, the covenant community is a community. Martin Selman makes an interesting point regarding Israel’s unfaithfulness in the following quotation. It is somewhat lengthy, but certainly worthy of our consideration.

Unfaithfulness is clearly a key term in Chronicles. An attempt has been made to deduce its precise meaning from the Pentateuchal law concerning the guilt or reparation offering (Lv. 5:14-6:7) where it has the sense of depriving God of that which is his due. Its use in Chronicles, however, seems to correspond more closely with Leviticus 26:40 and to a lesser extent the book of Ezekiel, where the guilt is that of a whole community rather than that of an individual. The passage in Leviticus 26:40-45 is particularly significant in view of its influence in key passages in Chronicles such as 2 Chronicles 7:14 and 36:21. M_´al is also not restricted in Leviticus 26 to specific forms of sin, but refers more generally to acting sinfully against God. This is consistent with the Chronicler’s use of it as a virtual synonym for the frequent expression “to forsake (God)” (Heb. ´_zab). Personal rejection of God is more important in Chronicles than simply failing to meet his requirements, and this emphasis is confirmed by the use of m_´al in the context of marital infidelity (Nu. 5:12, 27).

The Chronicler has a kind of unique approach to Israel’s life. When you take the time carefully to read and study his books you find that a strong link exists between obedience and blessing and between disobedience and judgment in the lifetime of individuals. I mention this because it is so crucial for modern Christianity. Christians today long for God’s blessings but are often not willing to follow the path of obedience that leads to those blessings.

Some neglect the worship services for a wide variety of reasons and excuses, but the bottom line is that to neglect them is against the Word of God. (Cf. Heb. 10:25.) Christians somehow seem to think that they can engage in extra-marital (cyber) sex and that God will continue to bless them. Young people (and older ones as well) apparently believe that living together (shacking up) will not be an impediment to God’s blessings in their lives. Christian businessmen sometimes operate their businesses according to the ethics of raw pagans but expect God’s blessings simply because they are Christians. Unfortunately, this is often what the phrase Christian businessman means.

There is a great deal of talk in Wilkinson’s book about God’s blessing and that’s a good thing. There are sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that explain how we can come to expect God’s blessings when we pray this prayer of Jabez. What’s missing is the correlation between obedience and blessing that is such a strong theme with the Chronicler. Does God bless His children? Absolutely. Does He bless His children richly and often? Yes He does. Does He also expect obedience to Him and His Word? You bet He does! It’s a simple spiritual lesson. Obedience is part of Christian character that is not attended by fireworks and “the spectacular” according to the thought processes of man. It is that part of the Christian life that is often attended by struggle and failure. Obedience does not attract crowds or motivate many. If you think I’m wrong watch TBN for a while (not too long!) and listen to how many “sermons” you’ll hear on gospel obedience. Don’t hold your breath.

Nevertheless, the combination of obedience and blessing runs like a golden thread through the fabric of the Chronicler’s books. When Wilkinson suggests that Christian businessmen can and should pray for the Lord to expand their stock portfolios and their businesses he would have done better to have added the concomitant aspect of obedience to the Word of God while you’re praying and waiting God to bless you.

The Chronicler’s Message—David and Solomon
The Chronicler has been described “as a person interacting with texts, or in other words he has produced a work of interpretation or exegesis.” Though it’s true that the books of Samuel and Kings provide the “framework” for the main historical section of the Chronicler’s books (1 Chr. 10-2 Chr. 36), the “author ranges much more widely over what we now call the Old Testament. The beginning and end of the work provide a good example of this. Chronicles starts with Adam, mentioned in the first book of the Old Testament (1 Ch. 1:1; cf. Gn. 2:20; 5:1) and ends with the edict of Cyrus in Ezra-Nehemiah, a book dating approximately to the Chronicler’s own time (2 Ch. 36:22-23; cf. Ezr. 1:1-3).

This being the case, we should pay particular attention to those texts or people that occupy prominent positions in the Chronicler’s books. When we do this, two figures loom large in the Chronicler’s mind: David and Solomon. Recent Old Testament studies have concluded that David and Solomon are presented to us as a single unit. Selman is not overstating the case when he says, “Indeed, it is precisely in the combined account of David and Solomon that the main thrust of the entire work is to be found.”

Central to the Chroniclers purposes is God’s covenant with David. (See 1 Chr. 7:3-14.) This is a key concept for it is an essential factor in God’s covenant of grace and is bound to the Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations of the covenant. In the Davidic administration God promised that he would build an eternal house or dynasty for David and that one of David’s offspring would build a house or temple for God.

This leads us to understand why Solomon and David are to be taken together in the Chronicler’s mind. We are reminded of God’s word to Solomon in response to his prayer at the dedication of the temple. (See 2 Chr. 7:11-22.) What are we to take from this “single unit” approach? In terms of the remnant of Jews returning from exile these two figures point to the nature of God’s faithful and trustworthy promise, namely that He is always ready to forgive and restore His people.

What is more, the centrality of God’s covenant with David finds its finest expression in our Lord Jesus Christ who descended from David. The Prayer of Jabez is totally void of these crucial and necessary concepts for the Christian life. Like obedience, the centrality of the covenant administration to the returning exiles is omitted from Wilkinson’s book. That’s a serious omission! In fact, it’s not going too far to say that omitting this in lieu of the rote repetition of Jabez’ obscure prayer undermines the Chronicler’s intentions. Admittedly, it’s very difficult to give a precise context to Jabez’ prayer because of its obscurity, but to have omitted the notion of the covenant from the book greatly takes away from its impact.

Surprisingly, however, the book has had an enormous impact. There are various reasons for that and we’ll look at a few in the last section. Without being overly pessimistic I’m going to suggest that the very reason for its success is that it omits so many key biblical doctrines. Ours is a time when the word doctrine is anathema. Christians today don’t want to hear about doctrine and sound teaching even though the Bible refers to its importance regularly. Ours is an age of “easy believism” and cheap grace. Ours is a Christian society that prides itself of knowing little or nothing other than John 3:16.

I’m reminded of the words of the Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship. Apart from being an interesting Christian, Bonhoeffer has some provocative things in this book. This is going to be a fairly lengthy quote, but it’s worth your time and attention.

Let the Christian rest content with his worldliness and with this renunciation of any higher standard than the world. He is doing for he sake of the world rather than for the sake of grace. Let him be comforted and rest assured in his possession of this grace—for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sins departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must the asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Our modern day Christianity has come to expect popular books to be “pabulum.” Popular is synonymous with easy, requiring nothing (especially, God forbid, thinking!), anti-intellectual, consummately entertaining, and avoiding all types of controversial concepts. My mentor, R.C. Sproul, writes popular books all the time. And yet when I read one of Sproulie’s books I come away with a greater understanding of and appreciation for God. Sproul’s books will stretch you, but you’ll be better for it. His is the kind of popular book I never hesitate to recommend. I know that what is wants for all Christians is not expanded portfolios but a deeper knowledge of our Sovereign God and His Word of truth.

Comments and Criticisms

I think the best way to handle this part is by means of a series of questions and answers. I’ll base what I say on interaction I’ve had with various Christians that have both benefited from the book and from those who had raised questions about it. The early Church community used questions and answers as a good form of instruction, so I’ll take a page out of history and try their method.

May I pray this prayer? Well, of course you may. It’s a prayer found in Scripture and it’s valid for Christians to pray it. We may pray the prayers that are recorded in Scripture.

But I’m not commanded to pray this prayer? This is true. We are commanded to prayer the Lord’s Prayer, but not this one. But that shouldn’t be a hindrance. There are many prayers in the Bible that we are not commanded to pray that we pray frequently. We’re not commanded to pray the Psalms, but Christians throughout the centuries have found great comfort in reading and praying them. We’re not commanded to pray the prayer of Daniel in Daniel 9, but it’s a most beautiful prayer and worthy of our reading and praying. In short, whatever is biblical we may pray.

Do you think this book is a “name it and claim it” piece? Even though the author reminds us that that is not his intention, the idea does seem to come across fairly frequently. I certainly found myself asking that question over and over again. From time to time I also felt that Wilkinson was leaning in the direction of the “gospel of health and wealth.”

When he encouraged businessmen to pray that their stock portfolio might be enlarged, I got more than a little antsy. Maybe that’s just my problem, but I have found—as a general principle—that “high-rolling” businessmen are not as ethical as they should be. And I’m talking now about Christian businessmen. All too often they cross the line and engage in business transactions and “deals” that are at best shady and at worst felonies. What keeps them out of jail is that don’t get caught.

As a pastor I firmly believe that the book would have been on more solid footing if the author had suggested that those businessmen spend more time reading and applying God’s Word in their lives and in those of their families. There’s just something about sinful-though-redeemed human nature that does not lend itself to asking for “more.” There’s this sin called greed that’s always crouching at the door.

What about the suggestion to repeat this prayer every day? I take great exception to that suggestion. What I found is that the prayer becomes some kind of magical mantra or incantation. It smacks of forcing God’s hand through the mere recitation of this prayer. I cannot think of any prayer that God tells us to recite every day. Obviously, it is to our spiritual benefit to pray and to pray often and to pray with fervency. But when someone attempts to impose an extra-biblical requirement on us, that’s cause for concern. I’ve already voiced my displeasure with Wilkinson’s point that we re-read his book weekly for a month. I believe that it’s audacious to suggest that and—in my opinion—the book is not worthy of one re-read.

You see, one of the problems is the very fact that we like praying for blessing and success. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking God to bless us spiritually. In fact, we should probably do that a lot more. We need to be very careful, however, that we rightly understand when it is that God’s truly blessing us. For example, what if we pray for God’s blessing and He sends some hardship our way. Should we see that as His blessing? I would argue that a very good spiritual case can be made for viewing trying times a great spiritual blessings from God. That idea is not presented in the book however.

In addition, times of great “success” and wealth can be times when we’re in Pilgrim’s Regress. When you stop and think about the so-called “Golden Age” of Israel, that was the time prior to the Exile. It was a time when Israel was rife with idolatry and when the Israelites chased after foreign gods. They went through the “externals” of Judaism but forgot that true worship of the Lord was from the heart. They had lots of money in the bank, they were having lots of fun, and life was good. At least they thought it was. They were God’s chosen people! What could happen to them? They didn’t reckon on living biblically holy lives and as a consequence they eventually—both the northern and southern kingdoms—were carried away into exile in Assyria and Babylonia respectively.

We must be very careful when we ask God to bless us. Certainly he can bless us without adding to our stock portfolio or giving us a better job. He can bless us by not giving us more business or allowing us to engage in all types of expansion deals that will substantially increase our revenues. He can bless us by taking all that “stuff” away from us. This is an essential spiritual insight that is not explained in the book. The Lord can give us “divine appointments” without allowing us to see anyone come to faith. We can hold Vacation Bible Schools and have less than 100, 50, 25, or 10 pupils and still be “successful.” God does not measure success by numbers, but by obedience and faithfulness to Him and His way.

Would you recommend this book to others? Definitely not. It’s not because there are no truths in the book. There are, but you have to search for them. There are many other books I would recommend for Christians before I would even think of considering this book. I find the book poorly researched as I have already said above. I’m certain that Christians have read this book and have received a lot of help from it. I’m glad for that. I’m always pleased when God’s people receive spiritual help and insight from a servant of the Lord, and I truly believe Bruce Wilkinson is such a person.

In terms of the standard rules of interpretation, however, I believe Wilkinson has made some “quantum leaps” and, at times, has somewhat forced the text to say and mean what he wants it to say and mean. To have taken such an obscure prayer and developed a whole theology around it would have, I think, required a lot more explanation regarding the “grammatico-historical” context of the prayer itself. Since it is totally lacking, it appears that Wilkinson—like so many other scholars—doesn’t know why this pray was inserted where it was or simply doesn’t think it’s important to know. There is too much in the book that is just “slip shod work.”

Isn’t the fact that the book is so popular a sign that it’s good? Well, that might be the case for others, but it certainly is not the case for me. The popularity of any given book, movie, TV program, or music group is no sign of be good. It’s merely a sign of being popular. Moreover, Christians and Christianity is so lacking in biblical discernment that it doesn’t surprise me that modern Christians think the book is great. We’re living in a day and age of almost unprecedented ignorance of the Word of God. Christians no longer know the basics about the Bible and biblical interpretation. Our age is one where Christians look at each other and say, “Well, that’s your interpretation.” What they mean by that—as often as not—is this: You have your interpretation and I have mine and we can both be right.” This is insinuated even when the two interpretations are blatantly contradictory.

One of the reasons this happens is that Christians are ignorant of the Word of God. Another reason is that Christians are ignorant of solid principles of interpretation. When you combine those two, you have a recipe for the Dark Ages. Think about this for a moment. If God’s people have only a casual or cursory acquaintance with God’s Word, then you can tell them practically anything you want. That’s precisely what happened during the Middle Ages and precipitated the Reformation.

Hal Lindsey wrote several popular books about the end times. The books contain almost as many errors as words, but those books sold millions of copies and Christians “swear” by them still today. This is a sign of our times.

Would you say that Bruce Wilkinson is a heretic? Absolutely not! I’ve already stated that I believe Bruce Wilkinson is a brother in the Lord. I make distinctions among people with doubts, people who are in error, and people who are heretics. A heretic teaches doctrines condemned by the Bible and by the Church of Jesus Christ. There’s nothing in Wilkinson’s book that’s heretical at all. I merely believe that he did injustice to the text and then elevated this relatively obscure text to a place of prominence it should not have.

I believe he made egregious errors in suggesting his 6-step program to reciting this pray. In short, he grossly overdid it and “underdid” it.

Ron Gleason is the pastor of Grace Presbtyerian Church in Yorba Linda, California. He's married, with six children. Ron currently holds Ph.D. (Systematic Theology) from Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He has studied at the Free University of Amsterdam, and then at the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, where he earned a Drs. (doctorandus) degree, with honors. He has also studied at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he earned an M.Div. and graduated magna cum laude (or as he likes to say, Lawdy! Lawdy! Lawdy!). His B.S. degree in Economics was earned at The Citadel.

Ron is the publisher of Ethos, an online magazine, where this article originally appeared.

©2001 Ron Gleason / Renewed Life Ministries.


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