The obscurity of the most obscure life can be shattered by the power of a bold prayer; the most insignificant person becomes significant when they reach out to the God of heaven with the boldest of requests.
Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.
Much has been written about this little, obscure verse in recent years. Jabez has been forever popularized by those who have written about him, and in the process, his biographers have become wealthy. I have no problem with that—someone needed to discover Jabez and tell his story.
In just two verses hidden among long lists of forgettable names, Jabez suddenly appears and then, just as suddenly, disappears. But his brief story is anything but forgettable—mainly because he had the temerity to rise above his circumstances and ask God to bless him with a distinguished life.
In his book, The Pursuit of Excellence, Dr. Ted Engstom writes these challenging words:
Cripple him, and you have a Sir Walter Scott. Lock him in a prison cell and you have John Bunyan. Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge and you have a George Washington. Raise him in abject poverty and you have an Abraham Lincoln. Strike him with infantile paralysis and he becomes a Franklin Roosevelt. Burn him so severely that the doctors say he’ll never walk again, and you have a Glenn Cunnngham–who set the world’s one mile record in 1934. Deafen him and you have a Ludwig van Beethoven. Have him born black in a society filled with racial discrimination and you have a Booker T. Washington, a Marian Anderson, a George Washington Carver. Call him a slow learner, “retarded,” and write him off as uneducable, and you have Albert Einstein.
All of these people, like Jabez, and like most of us, have this in common: we all have things, challenges, obstacles, what we often refer to as baggage in our lives that we have to carry around that can either keep us from becoming what God intends for us to be, or can motivate us to become all that God has designed us to become. Basically, our baggage comes in two or three different categories.
- Physical—some of the baggage we bear we were born with. Birth defects; from injury or illness; that which came from our parents’ gene pool…chromosomes and DNA which causes us to have our height, weight, shape of face, color of skin, even determines to some degree the kind of personality we have.
- Familial—some of the baggage we pick up comes as the result of being wounded by the most important people in our lives—our parents and other family members. Some of the heaviest baggage we carry comes from the mistreatment or even abuse of the people we trust…physical, sexual, emotional abuse.
- Failures—many people carry the baggage of the guilt of past mistakes—a failed relationship, a failed marriage, a failed business, academic failure; the baggage of a moral failure, a sin, whose consequences you live with everyday.
Whichever baggage we carry, the reality is it can weigh us down and keep us from enjoying a happy, productive and significant life, or it can be the very thing that motivates us to turn it over to God and receive his help to overcome and become all he wants us to be.
Jabez is the patron saint for those who are courageous enough to confront the baggage in their lives and tap into God’s willingness to empower them to overcome it. A couple of things stand out in these two verse about Jabez:
One is his unique personal history of Jabez. And what stands out about his history is that it was marked by obscurity. I mean, who is this man…where did he come from…and who were his brothers? As a matter of fact, doesn’t it seem that this little vignette is totally out of place with the rest of the chapter. It’s as though the writer spaced out in writing this genealogy and slipped in this tid-bit about Jabez, which has no connection to the rest of the chapter. Jabez appears out of nowhere. There’s no history…no family line to trace…no story.
Or is there? Is there a story here in his obscurity? I think there is. I like what the great Bible commentator Matthew Henry says about these verses: “The Spirit of God singles out Jabez for notice and lingers over him with delight. He is a bright gem on an apparently hard and uninteresting surface shining with brilliancy…His name would have not notice…but for what there is of God in it…it is this that gave Jabez a name in eternity.
Jabez is not known for any heroic act; Scripture remembers him only for his bold prayer. I like that about this man. Most of the time our heroes of the faith are people we elevate to such a height that they become untouchable. By nature a hero is someone far superior in character or in deed than we are. We can’t really identify with them in everyday life; we can only look up to them. But Jabez is just like us. He is a nobody, a non hero, an obscure man who found his way into the pages of history, not because of a great act, but because of an act of faith. What gave Jabez significance in an otherwise insignificant life was that he boldly called upon God.
Here is a special truth that we can derive from this: The obscurity of the most obscure life can be shattered by the power of a bold prayer; the most insignificant person becomes significant when they reach out to the God of heaven with the boldest of requests.
The second thing I notice in these two verses is the unique character of Jabez. And what stands about his character is that he was disadvantaged from the get-go. He had a less than ideal background and a tainted nature thrust upon him by his mother at birth. The very first thing we read in verse 9 is that he was more noble than his brothers. Apparently he lived in a family of scalawags.
It is noted that he was more honorable than they because he rose above the character flaws that seemed to haunt his family. His brothers gave into their flawed nature; he rose above it through prayer. You also see that one of the greatest influences in this flawed character was the outlook of his mother. She named him Jabez, which in the Hebrew language meant, he will cause pain.
Why did she name him that? Because the birth of this child was more difficult than usual. Now this is important because in the Hebrew way of thinking, a negative name, which in this case commemorated the pain of his mother during childbirth, made him a born loser.
He was destined to fulfill these negative expectations; his named became a self-fulfilling prophecy. And this name created an emotional hang-up which kept him from leading a full life. His character stuck with him. His mother’s prediction became his predilection; it became his nature. He was a real pain.
It has been well documented the influence a parent’s words and attitude has on the outcome of their child’s future. The story is told of two men, Bill Glass and Jim Sundberg. Jim Sundberg’s father told him he would end up in prison someday, just like others in his family. And that’s exactly where Jim ended up. Bill Glass’s father told him as a young boy that one day he would grow up to be a famous ball player. Years later Bill Glass became a famous athlete in the professional ranks.
Even if you have been saddled with a bad reputation, a flaw in your character, expectations of others that are extremely negative and low, a future that doesn’t look too positive, you don’t have to settle for it. In a moment God can take your flaws, your weakness, your propensities and turn them around. He is the master of taking weakness and turning them into strengths; of turning scars to stars, tragedies to triumphs, disadvantages to advantages, when you boldly submit them to him and expect him to change them. You are just a bold prayer away from rising above.
I think maybe God is just waiting for you to send up a big, bold, bodacious prayer. Who knows, maybe you will be the next Jabez!