Living Large for God

1 Chronicles 4:9-10a

January 7, 2001 | Brian Bill

A 200-year-old church was getting ready for its anniversary celebration when calamity struck: the bell ringer was called out of town.  The pastor immediately advertised and looked for someone else to ring the bells.

He finally found someone, and when the replacement arrived, the pastor took him to the steps leading to the bell tower, some 150 feet above them.  Round and round they went, huffing and puffing all the way.  Just as they reached the landing, the bell ringer tripped and fell face-first into the biggest bell of all.  Bo-o-o-o-ong!

Dazed by the blow, the bell ringer stumbled backward onto the landing.  The railing broke loose and he fell to the ground.  Miraculously, he was not hurt, just stunned.  The pastor decided to rush him to the hospital anyway.

When the doctor saw the man, he turned to the pastor and asked, “Do you know this man’s name?

“No,” the pastor replied, “but his face sure rings a bell.”

This morning we’re beginning a series called, “A New You for a New Year” based on a man who had a name that is easy to forget.  His name is Jabez.  And he’s known for a very short prayer that he prayed.  We’re going to discover that there’s something in his prayer that rings a bell with us.

How many of you have already broken your New Year’s Resolutions?  How many of you didn’t make any?  That’s probably why you haven’t broken yours yet!  I hope some of you took advantage of Pastor Geoff’s excellent application from last week by working on some SMART goals for the New Year.  We’ll see that Jabez is a great example of someone who defied convention.  It’s my hope and prayer that you won’t just stumble into this year but that you’ll “live large for God.” 

A Face Stands Out

Please turn in your Bible to 1 Chronicles.  In the first nine chapters there is a list of 500 names!  These names make up the official family tree of the Hebrew tribes, beginning with Adam and continuing up to Israel’s return from captivity.  These long lists are enough to put anyone to sleep!  Most of the names are just listed without any editorial comment but there are a few that stand out in the first couple chapters:

1:19:  “…One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided…”

2:3:  “Er…was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.”

2:7:  “Achar, who brought trouble on Israel….”

And so, we have one guy who is given a name that means “division.”  Another man was wiped out because of his wickedness and a third guy was known as one who brought trouble to Israel.

Now, let’s turn to chapter 4.  Just when you may feel like pulling the plug on having your Quiet Time in Chronicles, a face stands out above the crowd.  I picture a camera scanning the crowd, moving rapidly from one face to another, until it suddenly zooms in and focuses on one individual, Jabez.  This is God’s way of calling attention to him.  Something about him caused the Chronicler to shoot some extra footage.  Though we have a brief account of who he was he’s remembered not for what he did, but for what he prayed.  

Forty-four names into the chapter, a man named Jabez prays a four-fold paradigm-breaking prayer in verses 9-10“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.”

As you look at this passage, it’s clear that there is something wrong in the life of Jabez; some shadows have fallen across his path:

The Shadows in His Life

1. His character is strong. 

The first clue comes from the opening phrase, “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.”   This says something more about his brothers than it does about Jabez.  When we read that he was more honorable than they were, it indicates that they were somehow dishonorable.  In contrast to his family’s bad reputation, Jabez is regarded as a remarkable exception. 

2. He was a pain to his mom. 

The second thing we learn about him is that his mother named him Jabez, which means, “Pain,” or “Sorrow.” A literal rendering could read, “He causes (or will cause) pain.”   That’s a strange name to give to a newborn.  What was she thinking?  Didn’t she have one of those “baby name” books?  In verse 9 we get some insight: “I gave birth to him in pain.”

That comment could, of course, be referring to the pain of childbirth as Genesis 3:16 says, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.”   I don’t think that’s what it means here.  If that were true some of you mothers would name each of your kids “Jabez.”  It would be the most popular name in the nursery!  His name indicates that something else was troubling his mother.  She was discouraged, she saw nothing ahead but hopeless difficulty, and so she named her baby “Pain.”  Only God knows for sure what caused the ache of this anguished mother.

3. His future was bleak. 

Sometimes babies are given names of relatives.  Others use Bible names.  Sometimes names are chosen just because they sound good. 

People in the Bible were often named to reflect something of their character and destiny.  For example, Solomon means “peace.”  He was the first king of Israel to reign without going to war.  Jabez on the other hand, was a child of sorrow and was marked as a “loser” from his very first breath.  Imagine the childhood dynamics when he was 5-years-old and out playing in the fields when his mother’s voice would cry out: “You who cause me pain, you source of grief, you loser, it’s time for dinner!”  The children around him mimic the mother, “Hey, Loser!  Momma’s calling.”

Mothers often call children their pride and joy, but this baby was a bummer to her.  In her mind what came out of her womb was worthless.  This label of shame and insignificance stuck with him like superglue that would not let go. 

4. No mention of his father.

If we look a little closer, we’ll notice some omissions in this verse.  These serve as clues to help us understand what is going on.  Throughout this chapter, the other listed names are heads of families (so-and-so is the father of so-and-so).  When Jabez is introduced, there is no mention of his father. 

5. They were poor. 

It’s evident from this passage that there was a struggle going on in the family of Jabez.  They seemed to be under the blight of terrible poverty, for Jabez prays, “Lord, enlarge my territory,” which is a way of saying, “increase my material possessions.”  This indicates that things weren’t going well in the home.  In Israel, the land had been divided among the tribes and among the families by lot.  Every family had its own inheritance, which was passed on from generation to generation.  Yet here is Jabez, without an inheritance, with no mention of his father’s name, and with bums for brothers.

This may be telling us something very significant about Jabez.  We have to use our imagination, but it’s very likely that the family’s money had been squandered by the irresponsibility of his father, resulting in shame and disgrace.  Whether or not this is true, Jabez’s mother seems to feel hopeless, dispossessed, and gripped by very difficult circumstances.  Jabez’s brothers have inherited some kind of a family trait, which has made them a description of dishonor in Israel.

6. He doesn’t want to stay where he is. 

Jabez prays, “Keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.”  There is a play on words here. “Harm,” or “pain,” translates into the name “Jabez” again, so what he is praying is, “Lord, whatever it is that is in me that is wrong, I pray that you will keep it from ‘Jabez-ing’ me—from hurting me.” 

When we put the pieces together, we have a picture of a young man who has all the cards stacked against him.  His brothers have humiliated the family.  His mom calls him “loser.”  He has an absent or irresponsible father whose name has been dropped from the official records.  His family is poor.  He has no property, no future, and is caught in the web of relational ruptures.  

My guess is that some of you feel a bit like Jabez.  When you look upon your childhood, your memories are messy.  Your legacy is a liability.  Perhaps you were made to feel stupid or insignificant.  Maybe your dad was absent, either physically or emotionally.  Your siblings were an embarrassment to you.  Money was tight and you worried about how your needs were going to be met.  Deep in your heart you know that your upbringing has marked you for life.  As much as you try to change, to be different, you seem to fall back into cyclical patterns of dysfunction.

Friend, can I give you some good news?  No matter how bad your past has been, your future is bright with Christ.  You already know that you can’t change things on your own.  That’s why most New Year’s resolutions are broken within the first week of January.  And that’s partly why you’re here this morning…you know you need the power of God to be unleashed in your life.

A Transforming Prayer

During our remaining time together I want to introduce you to a four-part prayer that has the power to literally transform your life – if you pray it faithfully and fervently.  Why was Jabez considered more honorable than his brothers even though his mother thought he was a pain in the neck?  God had reversed things for him as Psalm 90:15 says: “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.”  How do you account for the change in his life?  The answer is found in his new paradigm for prayer.  If you truly want to be a different person this year, than take up the challenge and pray this prayer.  

The B.E.S.T. Prayer

In order to help you remember the four requests in the prayer that Jabez prayed, I developed an acrostic using the word B.E.S.T.

  • Bless me “Oh, that you would bless me!”
  • Expand my ministry “Enlarge my territory.”
  • Stay with me “Let your hand be with me.”
  • Take evil away “Keep me from harm…”

We’ll focus on the first request this morning, and the other three next Sunday.

Verse 10 begins with the phrase, “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel…”  The burden of his shame caused Jabez to “cry out” to God.  He didn’t just whisper his requests.  He shouted them out in desperation.  The word literally means, “to call out loudly” and was used in Hebrew to get someone’s attention so that contact can be initiated.  Jabez knew who He needed to address and He wanted to make sure He had God’s full attention.  He was doing what Psalm 22:24 urges each of us to do: “For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

Jabez refers to God as the “God of Israel.”  He’s calling out loudly to the One who had committed Himself in a covenant to guide an obscure people through the winding wilderness, to bring them out of slavery and bondage into a place of peace and prosperity.  

Notice that though this prayer is very personal, it’s not selfish.  Jabez uses the pronouns “me,” “my” and “I” five times in just one verse.  At first glance it looks like a self-centered prayer.  It sounds like the famous prayer of the man who prayed: “Bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife, us four and no more.”  But Jabez is really not being selfish because he is praying for things God wants him to have.

Bless Me

His first request is bold and somewhat brash: “Oh, that you would bless me…”  The word, “Oh” in Hebrew can mean something similar to our word, “Wow!”   It shows how strong his desire was for God to bless him.  

While the NIV does not include the word “indeed,” it’s found in the Hebrew and in many other versions.  This is like adding several exclamation marks, or writing the request in capital letters and then underlining it.  Here’s a way that we could translate it: “Wow, God!  Please pour an entire truckload of blessings into my life!  And after that, I’ll take some more!”

What does it mean to ask God to “bless us?”   If you’re like me, you use the phrase as a lazy way to avoid thinking of something more specific.  “Bless my kids,” “Bless the missionaries,”  “Bless our church,” “Bless this food.”   Many of us say it several times a day when we hear someone sneeze.

The word is actually very rich in meaning.  The verb barak means, “to kneel” and is used 330 times in the Bible, first in Genesis 1:22: “God blessed them and said, ‘be fruitful and increase in number…”  All of creation is dependent upon God for its continued existence and function.  After the flood in Genesis 9:1, God “blessed Noah and his sons…”  In Genesis 12:2 we see that the central element of God’s covenant with Abram is, “ I will bless you…and you will be a blessing.”

Blessings are pictured as gifts in the Bible and are often portrayed as rain.  Ezekiel 34:26: “…I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.”  Was Jabez being selfish when he asked God to bless him?  Not at all.  God loves to send cloudbursts of blessings to His people.

To be blessed is to walk with Him, to share in His life, to be filled with the Spirit, to be given wisdom and to understand His loving, forgiving heart

Let me see if I can break it down a little more.  To ask God to bless me is to ask Him to reveal Himself to me in a way that I have never experienced, to draw me so close to Him that His gifts of goodness fall into my life like rain from the sky.  To be blessed is to walk with Him, to share in His life, to be filled with the Spirit, to be given wisdom and to understand His loving, forgiving heart.

Somewhere in this lonely, neglected boy’s heart there is a deep awareness that the key to life is to be loved and understood and appreciated by the awesome God of the universe.  To put it another way, when Jabez asks God to bless him he is saying, “Lord, first of all, above everything else, let me embrace you as my God and know that I belong to you and you belong to me.”

Even though he was poor, his number one request is for God to grant him spiritual prosperity.  He was not satisfied with the status quo in his life. He wanted God’s blessings.  Some of us are content with our spiritual ruts.  Not Jabez.  Some of us are willing to just go through the motions.  Not Jabez.  He longs for all the blessings that God can give to Him!

When you pray for God to bless you, be as bold as Jabez and ask for God’s hand of blessing to be with you at all times.  Don’t just ask Him for help when you’re in trouble.  Ask the Lord to bless you and all parts of your life – during the good times and the bad times.  

Wilkinson puts it this way: “To bless in the biblical sense means to ask for or to impart spiritual favor.  When we ask for God’s favor…we’re crying out for the wonderful, unlimited goodness that only God has the power to know about or give to us.” (page 23).  

If we don’t ask God for His blessing, we’ll forfeit what He wants to do in and through us.  James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.”  Wilkinson argues that even though there is no limit to God’s goodness, “if you didn’t ask Him for a blessing yesterday, you didn’t get all that you were supposed to have.” (page 27).

He longs to shower you with his blessings

God wants to bless you today.  That’s His very nature.  He has such an abundance of goodness that it will overflow into our unworthy lives, if we ask Him to do it.  He longs to give gifts to His children.  He longs to shower you with his blessings.  Why don’t you ask Him to bless you every day for the rest of your life?

A Radiant Recovery

I want to close this morning by asking Becky Anderson to read an alliterated synopsis of the life of Jabez.  A pastor named Chuck Brocka from Sandy, Utah, included it in one of his sermons.

Now the reputation of Jabez rose above the respect of his refined relatives: however his mother had little regard as she rather underrated him, relegating him to the rank of wretchedness by referring to him as a remorseful Jabez. Her remarks reflected, rehearsed and reviewed her reasoning that repented and repulsed her as she reluctantly received the little rascal, and her roughly repaired residence was surely not a rich resort as she was racked by regret while ruefully remembering the restless rigors reaped from her range of resistance.

But in response Jabez rebounded by a resolve to raise his requests for reprieve to the royal God who reigns over both race and region, replying,

“Oh, Redeemer, remedy and release, refresh and replenish! Raise, rescale and reset the room and rim of my boundaries. Reach out and relieve, remedy, reinforce and restore me as my hope, my refuge and rest!  Repress all who would rob, ruin, ravage or rub me out! May the resistance be reversed, refuted, rescinded, repealed, replaced, revoked and removed!” 

Then being recognized by the great Ruler who reigns forever, God responded by rewarding him with all of his requests.

Perhaps you can relate, recognizing yourself in this revealing report about Jabez. As you recollect, how would your record read? The rays in your rearview mirror may reflect seemingly random repercussions, the residue and rubble of revenge, rumors, reproach, rebuke, the rash and the rude! Perhaps you have either resigned yourself or rumbled remorse through reacting, recalling and reviewing the rout!

Respectfully, that rational is retrogressive and really wrong! If your name is on the roll, be reminded of the rare requests of Jabez! His prayer represents the reality and results from the Lord! Risk the ramifications! Reconsider your role! Reckon your weakness and relinquish your pain! Reject, refuse, reduce and renounce the past while reclaiming your future in the Lord! Renew your mind! Rely on our resplendent King to right the wrong! Revere His majesty! Remain in His presence! Recount your blessings! 

Then rise to your full potential in the Lord Jesus Christ! May you relax in the Rock who reconciles, relieves, remakes, retrieves and restores! And finally be ready to reserve unto Him all of the glory, while rendering Him praise and retaining His honor!

The Blessing of Communion

One way that God demonstrates His blessing is by having His children celebrate communion together.  I can’t think of a clearer picture of God’s blessing.  God’s ultimate gift is wrapped up in His Son, who lived and then died, exchanging His life for ours that we might enjoy the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life.  

John 1:16 says, “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.”  Ephesians 1:3 reminds us that we have been “…blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Once God sends the blessings, they never stop.  He longs to give even more.  Are you bold enough to ask Him to bless you beyond measure every day?  In one sense, we’re asking for what He has already given to us.  And yet, if we don’t ask, we aren’t able to enjoy God’s blessings and pass them on to others.

I think it’s significant that the last thing that Jesus did before He returned to heaven was to bless believers.  Check out Luke 24:50-51: “When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.” 

Ask Him to bless you as well.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?