How can I live above average?

What are your early memories of school? Most of mine are of annual reports saying I needed to try harder or was pretty average at most things. But at age eleven, all that changed, forever. In the last week of term, for the first time ever, I came first at something. I won the first race of my life – the 800 yard, walking race. Do you know the difference between walking and running? Walking becomes running when both feet are off the ground at the same. In a walking race, one foot has to be on the ground at any time. And although it may be hard to imagine it now, at age 11, I had the natural skinny hip movement necessary to walk with speed.

For the next few days before term ended I bathed in the glory of being a winner. At last I was the best in my year at something and it had been recognised. And I kept the certificate to prove it. I still remember the surge of adrenaline that lasted days. The desire for recognition and affirmation are deep, deep needs. The need is universal. Everyone longs to be recognized for something. Recognition is good for our emotional health.

As young children we say instinctively, “Watch me, Daddy, watch me!” We need to be recognized. We need to be affirmed from an early age. That doesn’t change when we grow up. We just get more subtle in fishing for recognition. We do it with our cars, with our clothing and our homes. All the time we’re saying, “Watch me, accept me, affirm me, appreciate me.” That’s because we have a deep need to be valued and recognised. A healthy self esteem develops, however, when we find an equilibrium between our own emotional needs and those of others. We will however, ultimately only find peace with ourselves when we find our security in a right relationship with God. Because ultimately what he thinks about us is more important than what other people think. If we rely solely on others for our emotional stability, we will never be secure or truly fulfilled. Instead we will remain immature and self centred. When we are secure in our relationship with our God, we can grow up healthily into the unique people He intends us to become. We can then excel. We can thrive. Our short Old Testament reading have probably sold more books per verse than any other in history.

How can I live above average? from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are genealogies. More than 600 names are mentioned in the genealogy of David. And right in the middle between Koz the father of Anub, and Kelub the father of Mehir, we meet Jabez. He just appears out of nowhere. There is no mention of who his father was or who were his children were. He’s just there.  No praise is given to anyone else in the genealogy. Only Jabez is so honoured by God. Only two verses in the entire Bible refer to Jabez, yet he is given an honourable mention above 600 other people. Why is that? Let’s look at the text and find out.

“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, “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.”
(1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

The life of Jabez holds three simple abiding principles, that when applied, can, by God’s grace, help you excel, as God intends for all his children. But before we look at them, I need to give a spiritual health warning. Much of what has been written about Jebez is actually unhelpful and at times pagan. Verse 9 has been mistranslated Jabez was “more honourable than his brothers.”  A better translation would be, “Jabez was more honoured than his brothers.” God honoured Jabez by answering his prayer. God didn’t answer his prayer because Jabez was more honourable. See the difference? Some writers have suggested that if you pray this prayer enough times, God will bless you with physical health and material prosperity. And judging by the book sales, millions of people have hoped so. Let me give you an example from Bruce Wilkinson’s book, The Prayer of Jabez:

“I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief– but I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God…. I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life…
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…
3. Reread this little book once each week during the next month, asking God to show you important insights you may have missed… By the end, you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit… the Jabez prayer distills God’s powerful will for your future.”[2]

And millions of people have turned this obscure little prayer into a mantra… and they been badly led astray.

“[Imagine] ….a steak dinner with all the trimmings; steak, baked potato, corn and bread. All good nutritional food, the problem is that as a final touch the chef sprinkled just a little rat poison over the plate. Would you still eat it? It is 99% wholesome! If you answer no, then why would you feed your spirit something that was only 99% wholesome or even less than that?”[3]

Prayer based on mindless repetition, common in pagan religions is like rat poison. God knows that our dreams and human wishes fall far short of His wonderful plan. His ‘blessings’ include hardships and humiliations that rarely find a place in our hopes and prayers. Knowing our wayward hearts, Jesus shows us a different way:

“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done….” (Matthew 6:7-9)

Jesus says, “pray in this manner”. “Pray in this way because your father already knows what you need.” Jesus didn’t say, “repeat after me… and make sure you get it word for word.”  To turn models into mantras confuses the power of prayer with the power of God. There is a significant difference between the two. But the so-called ‘power of prayer’ has always been far more alluring than the surrender and obedience involved in praying the way Jesus taught. Most people would rather memorize and repeat a prayer that “works” than take time to discover the heart of God in simple child-like conversation.  The Bible actually warns us on numerous occasions that God will not always answer the prayer of Jabez.  For example, David tells us that “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” (Psalm 66:1). And Proverbs warns, “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.” (Proverbs 21:13). The Apostle James gives another reason why our prayers may go unanswered:

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” (James 4:3-4).

So in prayer, motive is far more important than method. We cannot build a theology of prayer upon one verse. One verse that merely tells us what someone prayed.  If the Prayer of Jabez was indeed all that some author’s claim, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he would have reminded them of the Prayer of Jabez. But Jesus didn’t. That’s because Christian prayer based on the New Testament takes us far beyond the Prayer of Jabez.  Now with that word of caution, let’s discover three simple principles we can apply from his prayer. The first principle of living above average is this:

1. Develop ambitious God-honouring goals

“Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!” (1 Chronicles 4:10)

Jabez dreamed of doing something significant. And he sought God’s blessing to achieve it. There is passion in his cry for God’s blessing. He knew that only God could bless his life so he asked for it. How about you? What are you passionate about? What energises you?

What are you asking God for? Because if you don’t have dreams you may be drifting. If you don’t set yourself goals, you will just fulfil those of other people. If you don’t raise your expectations, you will never excel. If you don’t ask, you will not receive. I go to the gym twice a week. On the walls are the running shoes and signed shirts of British Olympians. Winning an adult walking race is a secondary goal. My ultimate aim is to have a long and fruitful ministry. I will better honour God by becoming fitter and healthier. But at 59, I need a secondary goal like losing 14 pounds of body fat.

Jabez prayed “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory.” I pray “Oh, that you would bless us by increasing the number of people who hear of Jesus through the church website. Enlarge the circulation of Connection magazine. Multiply the opportunities to share your love with others. Grow your church Lord and bring your blessing of new life in Christ to more people.”

That is what keeps me awake at night. Thinking how we can reach more people with the gospel through our buildings, through our services, through Christianity Explored, through Connection, through our websites, through my blog, Facebook and Twitter. This I believe is a God-honouring way to apply the Prayer of Jabez.

God never intends us to go through life with a complacent, satisfied or half-hearted attitude. But neither does God intend us to be tossed about by every new idea, or taken in by the latest quick-fix prayer formula.

God wants you to develop your full redemptive potential, and there are no substitutes for a personal daily walk with the Lord. Jesus said “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Another translation says “and have it abundantly”. That is God’s will for you. An abundant life! The Apostle Paul wrote:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me… I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

So, the first principle to living above average is develop ambitious, God-honouring goals. The second principle?

2. Nurture a simple Christ-centred faith

Jabez prayed, “Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (1 Chronicles 4:10). Not only did Jabez have great ambition,

he also displayed a deep trust in God. William Carey put it like this, “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.”  Jabez knew his hope and security was found in God, not his abilities or possessions.  Faith is more important than talent or education.

It’s tempting to speculate on why Jabez prays to be kept free from pain. For in naming him Jabez (rather than Jazeb), his mother inverts the word for pain – so his name was a kind of a pun – a play on words. Jabez may have had some type of handicap or disability. How would you like to be called “Painful”? “Here comes Painful,” or “There’s old Painful over there.” Growing up, his name would have been a constant reminder of his past.

But Jabez was stronger than this handicap. Regardless of his past he had the faith to look ahead and trust that God would be with him.  Do you feel you have a handicap? Is it physical? Is it emotional? Is it an unhappy childhood? Is it a deep seated trauma or a frustrating job or loveless marriage? Whatever it may be, remember we can identify with and draw our strength from a Master of whom it was said,

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain… But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:2-6)

Because Jesus died in our place; because Jesus has reconciled us to the Father; and indwells us by his Spirit – he will never leave us.  Hebrews assures us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can human beings do to me? (Hebrews 13:5-6).

If you want to live the way God intends, like Jabez, develop ambitious, God-honouring goals and nurture a simple Christ-centred faith.

3. Cultivate Spirit-led prayers

It was Jabez’s simple prayer request that got him an honourable mention in the Bible. That is the reason we’re still talking about him thousands of years later.

His prayer demonstrates three things we can ask God for and expect him to answer:

3.1 God’s Power.
“Oh, that you would bless me.” (1 Chronicles 4:10)  Jabez specifically asked for a power greater than his own to accomplish his dreams. He prayed, “I want you to bless me. I want your power in my life.” Do you pray about your goals? Do you ask God to guide you in the future? At first glance, Jabez’s prayer seems selfish, doesn’t it? He prayed, “God, I want you to do all these things for me.” But evidently God approved of the prayer, because he answered it. Consider this: God dares you to ask for big requests. He can sift our motives. But you cannot out-ask God. You cannot out-dream God. If you could stretch your imagination to the greatest limits of what you think could possibly happen, God can go beyond even that. Pray for God’s power.

3.2 God’s Presence.
“Let your hand be with me” (1 Chronicles 4:10). Jabez realized, “If I do indeed receive more territory that means I’ll have more responsibility and I’ll need more of God’s wisdom and help.  So he asked God to be with him. When you ask for God’s presence in your life, you can be sure he will answer. God’s power. God’s presence.

3.3 God’s Protection.
“Keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (1 Chronicles 4:10). Now there is nothing wrong in praying like this. What mother or father, sitting by the bedside of a sick child has not prayed for the pain to go away, for healing, for a miracle. Prayer for forgiveness, for our daily needs, for deliverance from evil, for God’s kingly rule to come on earth and rid us of sickness and suffering and death – prayer for these material things is not wrong. These are the very petitions Jesus has taught us to use. God’s power, God’s presence, God’s protection.

These are the things Jabez prayed for, “And God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:10). How about you? Are you tired of drifting through life not knowing where you’re going? Do you want to see God work in your life in new ways? If you want to live to your full potential make this Easter a new beginning. Commit to being a full member of Christ’s Church here in Virginia Water. Make space for a daily quiet time alone with the Lord. Make it a habit to attend church weekly.

Join one of our mid-week small groups, or CBS, for Bible study, fellowship and prayer. Find a place of service, on one of our ministry teams at Christ Church.
And give sacrificially to help us fulfil our vision and achieve our goals for 2013.  There were once two toads.

“One toad prays for a juicy grub; another toad prays for a princess to kiss him back into a king. Although we ought to pray like the second toad, it is not wrong to pray like the first, provided we remember that our deepest wish is not to be fattened but to be transformed. The real breakthrough to a blessed life will come when we look beyond the good things our nature teaches us to like, to the gracious thing our nature teaches us to reject: the cross of Jesus Christ.”[4]

If you want God’s best for your life, if you want to live above average, then like Jabez, develop ambitious, God-honouring goals, nurture a growing Christ-centred faith and cultivate spirit-led prayers. Then watch as God delights to answer his children’s prayers.

Let’s pray.

The Franciscan Prayer of Discomfort

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

And the Blessing of God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more. Amen.

[1] The title and some of the content of this sermon (and sermon series) is adapted with thanks from Rick Warren’s God’s answers to Life’s Difficult Questions (Zondervan).

[2] David Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez, Preface and pp. 86-87.

[3] Ralph Dettwiler, Review of the book The Prayer of Jabez,

[4] Carol Zaleski, The prayer of Jabez. – Review – book review Christian Century,  May 23, 2001