An Opportunity To Distinguish Yourself

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If you are facing a back-against-the-wall situation in your life today, you have the perfect opportunity to exhibit faith in the face of it. Faith is an investment of trust in the sufficiency of God to take care of you. The return on your investment is up to God, but to this point, he has a 100% track record of delivering a yield of ever-increasing value in response to faith. Step out in faith, my friend, and you too, like the heroes of the Bible, will earn your spiritual bona fides.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 10:11-12

When all the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their valiant men went and took the bodies of Saul and his sons and brought them to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones under the great tree in Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.

You and I never want to have our backs against the wall, but on the other hand, isn’t a backs-against-the-wall circumstance usually the very place where our natural lives are infused with supernatural empowerment that enable us to do great exploits for God? We normally don’t develop outstanding testimonies of faith in the good times. Those stories come out of desperation and darkness. When we are pressed into knowing no helper but God is when we, well, know God. As someone has rightly pointed out, you will never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.

In this sad story, Israel’s arch nemesis, the Philistines, have defeated the army of Saul. An enemy archer wounded the king, and fearing that he will be captured, and tortured in the most unspeakable way, he pleads with his armor bearer to take his life. When the loyal soldier refuses, Saul falls on his own sword, and the glory of Israel is snuffed out. The Philistines overrun the rest of the army, Saul’s sons, including the heroic Jonathan, are also killed, and God’s people are put to flight.

And true to his fears, the Philistines mutilate Saul’s body, and then abuse his honor by putting it on display in the temple of their god:

They stripped him and took his head and his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news among their idols and their people. They put his armor in the temple of their gods and hung up his head in the temple of Dagon. (1 Chronicles 10:9-10)

Israel is at a low point, and all the people in the nearby towns flee in fear to escape similar brutality at the hands of this cold-blooded enemy. All—except some incredibly courageous men from the town of Jabesh Gilead. On that dark and desperate day, we are told that they put together their special forces and marched right into the temple of Dagon to recover the bodies of King Saul and his sons. They brought them back to Israel, gave them a proper burial, and mourned their loss for a number of days that was appropriate in that culture. Later, when David was anointed king, he singled these brave men out for special recognition:

When David was told that it was the men from Jabesh Gilead who had buried Saul, he sent messengers to them to say to them, “The Lord bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the Lord now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the people of Judah have anointed me king over them. (2 Samuel 2:3-7)

What inspired the bravery of these warriors from Jabesh Gilead? Were they just naturally courageous fighters? Did they have such love for the Lord or such hatred for the Philistines, or both, that they acted with such bold defiance in the face of such an atrocity? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know is that their backs were against the proverbial wall, and they acted in faith. And in that act, they “made their bones!”

Courage isn’t the lack of fear, it is the presence of faith. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, the famed American pilot in World War I and recipient of the Medal of Honor, said,

Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.

I would propose that you could drop the word “faith” in the place of “courage” and it would be just as true.

If you are facing a back-against-the-wall situation in your life today, you have the perfect opportunity to exhibit faith in the face of it. Faith is an investment of trust in the sufficiency of God to take care of you. The return on your investment is up to God, but up to this point, he has a 100% track record of delivering a yield of ever-increasing value in response to faith.

Step out in faith, my friend, and you too, like the men of Jabesh Gilead, will earn your spiritual bona fides.

Going Deeper With God: You may not be facing something as dramatic as a Philistine today, but you will likely face an enemy of God in the small details of your Christian walk: an opportunity to fudge on a report, cut a corner in your job, gossip about someone, etc. Show courage instead by choosing what faith would have you to do. Do that in the small matters, and then when the big enemies show up, you will be more prepared to exhibit Jabesh Gilead type courage.

Gratitude for the Gatekeepers

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Let’s hear it for the gatekeepers! Today we probably call them church custodians. They are the unsung heroes who don’t get much recognition—unless something goes wrong. They guard the house of God. They prepare it for worship. They unlock the doors for services and batten down the hatches when everybody else abandons ship and heads for home at the end of the day. They make sure the temperature is just right—although in my experience, the gatekeepers will never achieve that lofty ideal. They make sure the restrooms are presentable and keep all the light bulbs working. Their work really never ends. Thank God for them!

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 9:26-27

The four chief gatekeepers, all Levites, were trusted officials, for they were responsible for the rooms and the treasuries at the house of God. They would spend the night around the house of God, since it was their duty to guard it and to open the gates every morning.

Let’s hear it for the gatekeepers! Today we probably call them church custodians. They are the unsung heroes who don’t get much recognition—unless something goes wrong. They guard the house of God. They prepare it for worship. They unlock the doors for services and batten down the hatches when everybody else abandons ship and heads for home at the end of the day. They make sure the temperature is just right—although in my experience, the gatekeepers will never achieve that lofty ideal. They make sure the restrooms are presentable and keep all the light bulbs working. Their work really never ends.

They are truly heroes of the faith—but they don’t get credit for it. They are mostly unnoticed, underappreciated, and probably underpaid. But they did make it into God’s bulletin—they got listed in 1 Chronicles 9 along with the star quarterback and the wide-receivers—i.e., the priests and tribal leaders. They were the gatekeepers, and they were “trusted officials.”

I’ve been in church all my life—I cut my teeth on the backs of the pews, even carved my initials in one—and all my adult life has been in vocational ministry. And in each of the churches that I have been a part of, the “gatekeepers” played a significant but underappreciated roll in the ministry of those houses of God. And I have to confess, I don’t think I did a proper job of appreciating them.

So here’s what I’d suggest: This week, write a note to the “gatekeeper” of your church, and tell him or her how much you appreciate them and value the work they do to prepare God’s house so that you might enjoy worship. Perhaps you can take it a step further and take them out to lunch or buy them an appreciation gift.

And make it a regular practice—they deserve it.

Oh, and one more thing: Encourage others in your fellowship to do the same. And by all means, teach your children to show respect for them.

Going Deeper With God: A prayer of gratitude for the gatekeepers: “Lord, I want to acknowledge the scores of people throughout my life that have served as gatekeepers in your house. Most of them have been behind-the-scenes type people, and I am not sure I ever remember any one of them ever being singled out for special appreciation. I pray that you will honor each one in some tangible way. I ask for blessings to be poured out upon them and that deep within their spirit they will sense your love and affirmation. And Lord, the ones who are in my life currently serving as gatekeepers, I will commit before you in this moment that I will do something to show my appreciation for their labor of love.

Warts and All

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If God can redeem his ancient people from bad leaders like Saul by giving them good men like David, through whose lineage comes the Son of David, there is hope for us. Through Jesus, the only perfect God-man, we find eternal rescue. Yes, God will redeem us too, warts and all.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 8:1,33

Benjamin was the father of Bela his firstborn…Ner was the father of Kish, Kish the father of Saul, and Saul the father of Jonathan, Malki-Shua, Abinadab and Esh-Baal.

Israel’s first king turned out to be a complete disaster. The prophet Samuel anointed Saul, a once humble Benjamite, to be Israel’s inaugural monarch. He began with such promise and utter dependence on the Lord. He looked to Samuel for mentoring, and early on, he led the nation to stunning victories over their enemies—the dreaded Philistines and pesky Ammonites, to name a few. After hundred’s of dismal years under the Judges, Israel had a champion, a man who was head and shoulders, both physically and in terms of personal charisma, above everybody else. You can read about Saul’s early successes in 1 Samuel 10-11.

But things quickly went south when Saul began to take credit for his stunning successes. His victories and growing popularity among a nation desperate for a king went to his head, for he didn’t have the depth of character to withstand human worship. In fairness, not too many people can, since only God is built for worship. Because Saul drifted from humble dependence, organic acknowledgement and quick obedience to God, the Spirit of God lifted from him and he became an increasingly desperate, even demented leader. Saul crashed and burned—publically and spectacularly.

So why would scripture then give him am entire chapter by spelling out his genealogy? Why not hide this sad and sordid part of Israel’s history? Well, the chronicler probably had several things in mind, not the least of which was to connect the dots in the history of Israel’s monarchy. That is the job of someone who is tasked with reporting the history of something. But I believe that God had a higher purpose in mind than what the writer may have been thinking in his conscious brain.

You see, one of the things that powerfully authenticates the veracity of scripture is its willingness to present God’s people, warts and all. The Bible doesn’t try to hide the flaws of its characters, even it’s heroes: Abraham’s fears, Jacob’s deceptiveness, David’s adultery, Solomon’s addictions, Peter’s blunders, and so on. Other books that purport to be divinely inspired go to great lengths to hide the misdeeds and missteps of their heroes; not the Bible. It is raw, it is real and it treats sin as it deserves, roughly.

That is one of the reasons why you can trust the Bible. There are other reasons of course, and this is neither the time nor the place to detail those reasons, but the transparency of scripture is a very powerful indicator of its trustworthiness as well as a legitimate apologetic.

Now an important reason for this transparency must be acknowledged here: The Bible is this way because it is not a book primary about man; it is the book of God. It is about God and his plan for the ages. And what the Bible clearly reveals in exposing the flaws of our faith ancestors is that even the best of us are deeply flawed and desperately in need of God’s mercy and grace—which is exactly what is revealed throughout the pages of scripture, from beginning to end.

And that gives hope to thoroughly flawed and desperate people like you and me. If God can redeem his ancient people from bad leaders like Saul by giving them good men like David, through whose lineage comes the Son of David, there is hope for us. Through Jesus, the only perfect God-man, we find eternal rescue for our Saul-like souls.

Yes, God will redeem us too, warts and all.

Going Deeper With God: Memorize this verse today, and rejoice in it throughout the day: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

You Go Girl

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The Bible has been accused of being a sexist book that regards women as nothing more than the property of men. I will grant that most of the stories in Scripture feature men, but just read the Good Book and you will discover enough inspiring stories about a few good women of impact to see that God is no respecter of persons. He doesn’t look at the outward appearance or the genetic makeup of an individual, he looks at their heart. God uses people—men and women—who have a large faith capacity and a willingness to be stretched.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 7:24

Ephraim had a daughter named Sheerah. She built the towns of Lower and Upper Beth-horon and Uzzen-sheerah,

Reading through the first 8 chapters of 1 Chronicles is like reading from the phone book. If you are not careful, you can zone out. Honestly, you won’t miss much—can I say that about the Bible without getting struck by lighting?—name after name that meant something to them back then, but have very little value to us today.

Except that within these mind-numbing lists there is the occasional interruption of something very interesting, surprisingly inspiring, and quite intriguing. In fact, the little bit of information you get leaves you longing for more. And if you had allowed yourself to sleepwalk your way through these names, you could have missed one of these gems.

I have to confess, as many times as I have read the Bible, I don’t remember the story of Sheerah. Apparently I have been guilty of habitual sleepwalking when it comes to 1 Chronciles 7. But I was awake today, and what an interesting story Sheerah’s is. I wish I knew more about her.

She was born to Ephraim after two of his sons were killed trying to steal livestock, the text tells us. Her father had been in mourning for these two sons—how old they were we don’t know, why they were stealing we don’t know—all we know is that they were dead and their father was distraught. And the Lord had comforted his grieving heart by blessing him with another son and this daughter, Sheerah.

What is perhaps most interesting is that her story gets space in the record that is normally dominated by male figures. In that culture, at that time, women weren’t prominently featured and even a passing mention would have been rare. So when a women does make the front page, hold the press—this is big news. Sheerah must have been quite a gal!

And Sheerah was! She built three towns. How she got people, probably men, to follow her leadership will remain a mystery, but she did. She obviously had great leadership skills, personal charisma, a fearless personality, and the favor of the Lord. And she knew how to use it. And for all of time, and perhaps even in eternity, her story has been memorialized in the Word of God.

The Bible has been accused of being a sexist book that regards women as nothing more than the property of men. I will grant that most of the stories in Scripture feature men, but just read the Good Book and you will discover enough inspiring stories about a few good women of impact to see that God is no respecter of persons. He doesn’t look at the outward appearance or the genetic makeup of an individual, he looks at their heart.

God uses people—men and women—who have a large faith capacity and a willingness to be stretched.

So let’s hear it for Sheerah! You go girl!

Going Deeper With God: The Lord looks at the heart and not the outward appearance. What about you? If you are like me, you need the Lord to teach you to see people as he does. Which means there is probably someone he will put on your radar who needs your encouragement. Make sure you do just that—encourage that person today!

The Priesthood Then—Our Priest Now

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Jesus Christ, in one act at one point in history accomplished what thousands upon thousands of sacrifices into the millions of sacrifices by multitudes of priests could never accomplish. He opened the way to God permanently so that any person at any time by faith in Christ might enter into God’s presence. He is our great High Priest forever.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 6:49

Only Aaron and his descendants served as priests. They presented the offerings on the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense, and they performed all the other duties related to the Most Holy Place. They made atonement for Israel by doing everything that Moses, the servant of God, had commanded them.

God selected the tribe of Levi out of all the tribes of Israel to manage the physical place of his dwelling. The Levites were a privileged group. But out of Levi, he then selected the clan of Aaron to serve as the priests, and they became the privileged few who ever got to offer sacrifices in the place of worship—the tabernacle, then later, the temple—to the Lord God. They managed the presence of God, mediated the worship of God’s people and made atonement for their sins. Out of all the people who ever lived on Planet Earth, only a select few got to be this close to the presence of the Lord in this important of a role.

Once we get past the Old Testament, there is not much information on the Jewish priesthood. One of the final interactions with this unique group is in Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. We are told in Luke 1 of the father of John the Baptist, who was to be the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. His name was Zechariah, and he was a priest. He was on duty when an angel of the Lord suddenly showed up to announce to this old man that his old and barren wife was about to give birth to the greatest and last prophet of Israel, and they were to name him John. It is a great story that is worth reading again—a timely story of how God always remembers his promises and is dedicated to fulfilling his plan, but always in his sovereign time.

Now as a priest, Zechariah was a descendant of the priestly line of Aaron—at a time in Israel when there were around 20,000 other priestly descendants. This may seem like a large number, but again, keep in mind that when you consider all human beings who were alive at the time, it was a select group. In the context of tiny Israel, with that many priests and only one temple, these 20,000 men had to be divided into groups that served in the temple only two weeks per year so that all of them could serve.

Now the greatest privilege for an ordinary priest like Zechariah was to burn incense on the altar of the Holy Place. This was granted by lots, so only a very few priests would ever get this opportunity. If a priest was fortunate enough to be chosen, it was the only chance he would get—ever! So when Zachariah was chosen, it was the chance of a lifetime. That is when the angel interrupted his duties with a message.

This angel appeared and stood at one end of the altar in front of the aging priest! Now understand the shocking significance of this event: 400 years of nothing between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the gospel—and not only does God speak, but it’s not through the utterance of a human prophet. This news is so big, so important, and so good that God sends the angel of the Lord! Gabriel appears! As you can imagine, Zechariah did what we would have done: his knees had fellowship one with another. To say the least, he was afraid. But the angel calmed him with these next words, “Your prayer has been heard.” And with that, a new era began; John’s birth was followed by Jesus’s birth, and a new and living way into the very presence of God was ushered in. (Hebrews 10:20).

Jesus Christ, by his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, became the first non-Aaronic priest of God. And not just any priest, the Lion of the tribe of Judah became a High Priest forever—our personal and only priest before God. Through him, we have permanent and free access to the very presence of God. We also have him as our fulltime mediator and intercessor before the Almighty. We don’t have to come to a temple or go through an earthly priest or wait in line to offer a sacrifice for our sins, Jesus our High Priest did that once and for all for us. He ever lives to intercede for us, and he makes a way—he is our way—into God’s awesome presence any time we want for as long as we want.

Can you wrap your mind around that? Jesus is your permanent, personal full-time High Priest. And that makes you one of the privileged!

Going Deeper With God: Have you taken Jesus up on his offer to bring you into God’s awesome presence lately? Remember, through him, you can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) Do it today—through Jesus, get before God’s throne of grace.

Living An Overcoming Christianity

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Overcoming Christianity truly isn’t rocket science. It is actually quite simple: Trust in God + Passionate Supplication = Answered Prayer … Answered Prayers = The Victorious Christian Life. It is that simple. Not easy, but simple. If we walk daily, hand-in-hand in a relationship of simple trust with the Lord, and boldly, expectantly pour out our needs and desires to him, he will answer our prayers, and at the end of the day, we will have lived an overcoming Christianity.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 5:20

They cried out to God during the battle, and he answered their prayer because they trusted in him.

As I read this short, simple, to-the-point verse, here is the first thing that hit my brain: Overcoming Christianity truly isn’t rocket science, is it? It is actually quite simple:

Trust in God + Passionate Supplication = Answered Prayer

Answered Prayers = The Victorious Christian Life

It is that simple. Not easy, but simple. It is not easy because we often allow other things to wreak havoc on that divinely order relational formula. We allow fleshly selfish desires to corrupt out trust and tempt us to desire selfish things; we allow fear to stunt our prayer; busyness and self-sufficiency to shelve our prayer life; we allow the world to push in and push the things of God to the margins; we give the devil a foothold in our lives by flirting with immorality. And the list goes on.

That being said, the biblical formula is still simple: if we walk daily, hand-in-hand in a relationship of simple trust with the Lord, and boldly, expectantly pour out our needs and desires to him, he will answer our prayers.

When we so order our lives to do the will of God, we have every human right—in fact, we have an invitation from God himself—to come before him in bold, expectant prayer, and his promise is to answer us when we call on him. When you string a bunch of those experiences together, you have the makings of an inspiring witness of a life surrendered to and used by God. And that is the victorious Christian life.

That is the kind of life God blesses. In fact, those are the kinds of people God looks for. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

That is what explains the testimony of the Israelite warriors we read about in 1 Chronicles 5:18-20. We don’t know much about their lives individually; we don’t have details of the battle they were in; we don’t know anything about their enemy; we just know about their trust in God. In the midst of their life and death efforts, they cried out to God. And he heard them:

There were 44,760 capable warriors in the armies of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. They were all skilled in combat and armed with shields, swords, and bows. They waged war against the Hagrites, the Jeturites, the Naphishites, and the Nodabites. They cried out to God during the battle, and he answered their prayer because they trusted in him. So the Hagrites and all their allies were defeated.

They were in a fight—a life and death struggle. They did their part, but they needed God to do his part. So they cried out to the Lord in battle, and as he had promised his people, he heard them. He heard their prayer and they achieved a victory significant enough to make it into the pages of eternal history.

That is the he kind of life I want to live—a life of ruthless trust, passionate supplication, answered prayer and victorious Christian living. My guess is you do too. Follow the relational formula and you will have that life indeed.

Going Deeper With God: You are likely to face a battle today—probably a minor skirmish, but perhaps a major battle. Why do I say that? Because as believers, we have been thrust into the middle of spiritual warfare. Just keep that in mind throughout the day. And when you run into opposition, offer this prayer: “Lord, I need your help in this battle. I am going forth in your name to do your work in order to extend your kingdom. Enable me to do mighty exploits this day as I fight for you. Work in me and on my behalf to bring about a great victory that will result in high praise to your name. I ask for none of the glory for myself. I ask only for a day that can be chalked up in the win column for your kingdom. So I boldly ask that you would answer this prayer. I offer it in faith in the name of the ultimate victor, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Neutralize Your Negatives

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

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!

Going Deeper With God: Here is a Jabez-like prayer you might want to offer today: Lord, I need to rise above…above my circumstances, my family background, my physical, emotional and intellectual short-comings. So I boldly pray that you would bless me a lot; that you would extend your hand of grace toward me and enlarge my capacity to know you, love you, serve you and be used mightily by you. Lord, keep me from experiencing pain, and keep me from being the source of pain. Make my life a modern Jabez story. Amen.