Grace Community Church of Riverside: To take Jesus Christ to lost people and lost people to Jesus Christ

Book Review by Pastor Brian Smith, 6/12/01

A new “best selling” Christian book has stormed into Christian Bookstores around the nation. It is “The Prayer of Jabez” by “Walk Though The Bible” president, Bruce Wilkinson. This book is selling so fast that many Christian bookstores cannot keep it in stock. 

What is “The Prayer of Jabez” you ask?

In I Chronicles 4:10, we read “Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that Thou wouldst bless me indeed, and enlarge my border, and that Thy hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldst keep me from harm, that it may not pain Me!’ And God granted what he requested.”

Jabez was one of the descendants of Jacobs’ fourth son, Judah. I Chronicles 4 provides an early list of Judah’s descendants. Jabez is distinguished from the rest of Judah’s descendants because he was a “man of prayer.” Listing only the other descendants’ names in chronological order, God chose to honor Jabez above the rest as a man who started each morning, and no doubt ended each day, with a prayer for God to direct his paths, to guide him in all he did, and to protect him from ever being disloyal to God.  What an honor!  For all eternity (for God’s Word is eternal), Jabez will be honored because God used him as an example of the importance of prayer. 

We see other examples in the Old Testament of great men of prayer, like Daniel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah.  In the New Testament, one of the common themes of Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John, was prayer.

Praying is one of the hardest disciplines for the Christian disciple.  I know.  I have been a Christian for 40 years, and prayer is WORK.  It doesn’t come naturally.  Our flesh tells us to “do it our self,” and “depend on our own wits and strength.”  But God tells us just the opposite.  He commands us to “trust in Him completely.”

If Bruce Wilkinson had used his short book, “The Prayer of Jabez,” as an example of a godly prayer, I would have no basic argument with him.  Though I might not agree with his interpretation and application on every phrase in the prayer, Bible scholars can, and often do, disagree as to fine points of interpretation and application.  I have frequently used the prayers of men and women of the Bible in my own preaching as instruction on the proper priorities for prayer.  But what troubles me greatly about Wilkinson’s book is that he doesn’t suggest that we use “The Prayer of Jabez” as a guide to our prayers.  He specifically instructs us to pray “The Prayer of Jabez” every morning.

In Chapter 7, pages 86-87, Wilkinson gives specific instructions as to what he wants his readers to do:

  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 that 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 Jabez’ prayer.
  6. Start praying the Jabez prayer for your family, friends, and local church.

Nowhere in the Bible do we EVER read God commanding us to pray “The Prayer of Jabez.” Solomon said in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  But Solomon, in all his wisdom, never commanded us to pray “The Prayer of Jabez.” 

When the disciples asked Jesus “teach us to pray,” Jesus did not instruct them to pray “The Prayer of Jabez.”  Rather, He gave them an outline to guide them in their topics of prayer.  In Matthew 6:9-13, He told them to “Pray, then, in this way…”  Jesus then gave what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Though many Christians repeat this pray by rote (like Bruce Wilkinson encourages with “The Prayer of Jabez”) the grammar and context is quite clear that that is not what Jesus intended.  In fact, just prior to giving this outline for prayer, Jesus had warned His disciples in verse 7, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition…”  The point is that prayer is a conversation with “Our Father” and not a religious ritual that we quote mindlessly by memory, or read from a 3x5 card.

We have an actual prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17.  He prayed that prayer in the Apostles’ presence.  That prayer encompasses 26 verses, and NOT ONCE does Jesus quote “The Prayer of Jabez.”

The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Notice, Paul did not instruct us to pray “The Prayer of Jabez” each morning.

The Apostle Peter said to persecuted Christians in I Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, for He cares for you.”  Notice, he did not tell them to pray “The Prayer of Jabez” each morning.”

Bruce Wilkinson states in Chapter One, “How do I know that (repeating ‘The Prayer of Jabez’) will significantly impact you?  Because of my experience and the testimony of hundreds of others around the world with whom I have shared these principles.” 

Well, what about the hundreds (maybe thousands, since Wilkinson claims that he has been teaching this prayer for 30 years) whose lives were NOT significantly impacted when they repeated this prayer each morning? 

What disappoints me even more is the fact that Wilkinson was trained in one of the finest, conservative seminaries in the world (Dallas Theological Seminary).  And yet, he has forgotten one of the cardinal rules of biblical hermeneutics, which is to corroborate the interpretation and application of each passage of Scripture with other Scripture.  The Bible always interprets itself.  No passage is to be interpreted out of context with the rest of Scriptures.  Not ONCE do we read of God, or ANYONE else in the Bible, say, or even hint, that we are to repeat “The Prayer of Jabez” as the secret to unleashing God’s power and blessings.  The silence of Scripture in this regard is deafening!

On page 17, Wilkinson states “God does have unclaimed blessings waiting for you, my friend.  I know it sounds impossible – even embarrassingly suspicious in our self-serving day.  Yet, that very exchange – our want for God’s plenty – has been His loving will for our life from eternity past.  And with a handful of core commitments on your part, you can proceed from this day forward with the confidence and expectation that your heavenly Father will bring it to pass for you.” 

My reply to Bruce Wilkinson is, “Evidently for the past 3500 years God’s people have accumulated billions of tons of ‘unclaimed blessings,’ from David, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, John, to D.L. Moody and Billy Graham, because, until you discovered this obscure prayer, God’s blessings have been withheld.”

The book, “The Prayer of Jabez,” is spiritual “fluff,” that caters to the Christian’s “fleshly” nature to perform mindless religious ritual.  We would all feel better if we could just rub “Aladdin’s Lamp” every day with a genie appearing to fulfill our every request.  God is not a genie, and prayer is not an Aladdin’s Lamp.  Prayer is communing with the living God.  It is not seeking something from Him, but rather a giving of ourselves to Him.  Prayer is not chanting 33 magical words each morning (I timed myself, and it took me 10 seconds), but a direct line to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who made this promise to us when we do not have the words to express all that we desire in our prayers to Him, “… the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit of God is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). 

I guess the Apostle Paul forgot about “The Prayer of Jabez” when he, by divine inspiration, penned those words.

The Prayer of Jabez