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“The Prayer of Jabez: Enlarge my Territory

I Chronicles 4:10

Rev. Ron Holmes

June 15, 2003

            We continue in our journey throughout the month of June with the prayer of Jabez.  As a reminder, the prayer surfaces in the midst of a long, genealogical list of Hebrew names from Israel's history.  When something appears out of the ordinary in a sequence in Scripture, it's worth noting, like a sign pointing to it saying, "Pay attention to this!"  Bruce Wilkinson certainly did that in the Prayer of Jabez, and we're joining in that search for fruit in our lives from this passage.  Today, the section of the prayer in which Jabez asks God to "enlarge my territory."

            It is this part of the prayer of Jabez that most dangerously hovers toward materialism.  In essence, what Jabez is asking for is "more land."  On the selfish end of the scale, it appears that Jabez wants God to make him more important, more prosperous.  Land was everything in Jabez's time—its importance has decreased little even today—and Jabez is asking for more of this important commodity.  More land on which to feed and water his livestock.  More land on which he can build his reputation.  More land that he might grow more powerful and more influential.  It is this request, as much as anything in the prayer of Jabez, that is controversial.  It certainly can be seen as selfish.

            In fact, Wilkinson writes something about this particular request in his popular, little book on the prayer of Jabez that makes one uncomfortable.  "If Jabez had worked on Wall Street, he might have prayed, 'Lord, increase the value of my investment portfolios.'"  Really?  I don't know about you, but that makes me squirm a bit.  Wilkinson goes on, "When I talk to presidents of companies, I often talk to them about this particular mind-set.  When Christian executives ask me, 'Is it right for me to ask God for more business?' my response is, 'Absolutely!'"  In fact, Wilkinson's journey with the prayer of Jabez has turned into its own cottage industry.  There's the book on the prayer, there's a book on the prayer of Jabez for youth, there's memory cards with the prayer written on it, you name it and you can probably buy it with the prayer of Jabez on it.  There's a prayer of Jabez website you can go to discover all the possibilities.  There's even prayer of Jabez ties.  Like this one I'm wearing!  It's a Father's Day present!  And the petition that is our subject for today, "enlarge my territory," is particularly controversial because it seems to be so materialistic.  Some of the criticism may be based in jealousy because it has been so wildly successful and prosperous.  "That could have been me!"  But, there is certainly the danger of the prayer being used in a selfish, materialistic way.  "Enlarge my territory, give me more possessions, increase the value of my stock portfolio, give me more business, Lord."  If that's all there is to this prayer of Jabez, if that's all there is to our asking God to "enlarge our territory," then don't bother.  However, there is more to it than that.  Wilkinson follows those statements with a very important IF.  "If you're doing your business God's way, it's not only right to ask for more, but He is waiting for you to ask."  Please hear that clearly.  "If you're doing your business God's way, it's not only right to ask for more, but He is waiting for you to ask."

            Asking God to enlarge your territory begs the question, For what purpose?  For what purpose do you want God to enlarge your territory?  What is your intent in such a request?  To pleasure yourself with riches and materialistic things?  To make life more comfortable for yourself?  If that's your intent, then don't bother God with such a request.  I don't think He's interested in that.  If, however, your intent is to be used by God in bigger and more influential ways for His purposes, and His kingdom, then go ahead and ask.  I believe that is a prayer God loves to honor.  Wilkinson calls this chapter on "enlarge my territory," Living Large for God.  Not living large for yourself.  Not even living large as a Christian.  But, Living Large for God.  Prayer with that as its intent and purpose captures God's attention and imagination.  Recalling that Jabez was deemed "more honorable than his brothers," one can well imagination...and hope...that behind Jabez's request for more land is the realization that he could do more for God with more land.  The fact that "God granted his request," seems to confirm it.  "Enlarge my territory, O God, that I might accomplish more for you!"

            And so, it seems to me that as a part of the process of asking God to enlarge your territory requires you to do some surveying of that territory.  The first purpose in that survey is to discover exactly what is your territory.  What is the territory of your work, for example.  Can you define it?  More than just naming the place where you work, can you define more clearly the boundary lines of your work, can you put names and faces to that work?  Include in your survey the territory that makes up your passions for life, your areas of giftedness.  What really captures your attention and imagination?  What is the "territory" of your passion and gifts in life that you'd be asking God to grow?  To make this prayer relevant in your life requires good awareness about your specific territory.  Part of the power of this prayer comes from such reflective surveying of your territory—seeing things, perhaps for the first time, in a new way regarding God's will and God's purposes.  What about your neighborhood?  Is that a part of your territory you're asking God to bless, to enlarge for His purposes?  Begin with a survey to make clear exactly what territory you're asking God to bless and enlarge.

            Then, a second purpose to the survey is to ask, For whom am I working my territory?  Is God even in the picture of the territory of your work, your passion and gifts, your neighborhood?  Are there parts of your territory that you give to God...and parts that you keep for yourself?

            John Stott is a wonderful theologian from Great Britain—he is frequently quoted in our Alpha presentations.  Writing about our motives and ambitions in life, Stott says, "Hidden motives play a large part in our everyday behaviour.  The important question to ask is not merely what a person is doing, but why he is doing it.  Modern psychology is concerned to probe our basic motivation.  Industry and commerce study the subject of incentives in order to encourage good work.  Certainly no man can know himself until he has honestly asked himself about his motives.  What is the driving force of his life?  What ambition dominates and directs him?  Ultimately, Stott continues, there are only two controlling ambitions, to which all others may be reduced.  One is our own glory, and the other God's.  John the Evangelist set them in irreconcilable opposition to each other, and in doing so disclosed Christ's fundamental quarrel with the Pharisees: 'they loved the glory of men,' he wrote, 'more than the glory of God.'" (John 12:43)  Essential questions to ask in this survey, a part of the power of this prayer in your life.  What is the driving force of your life?  What ambition dominates and directs you?  Is it for your own glory?  Or, is it for God's glory?  If it's for your own glory, then don't even bother asking God to enlarge your territory—the Gospel of John makes clear that such a motive is in "irreconcilable opposition" to God's purposes.

            But if you can honestly say that God's glory is your driving ambition in the territory given you, then by all means ask God to enlarge that territory.  To help keep God's glory and purposes as the focus of your ambition, ask God, not to bless and enlarge what you are doing, but to bless and enlarge what He is doing through you.  Then be prepared for Him to bring new challenges and new adventures as He delightfully enlarges your territory.

            I think that is in keeping with what the New Testament teaches.  The parable of the talents, for example, in the 25th chapter of Matthew.  You're familiar with the story.  The master leaves on a journey and entrusts his property to his servants.  To one he gives five talents, to another two talents, and to one he gives one talent.  The master leaves and the servants begin to work the "territory" given to them by the master.  The five talent servant gains five talents more.  The two talent servant gains two talents more.  But, the one talent servant doesn't do anything but bury the one talent given him.  Upon the return of the master, the two servants who doubled their talents are praised, "Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."  For the servant who did nothing with his one talent, however, the master has some very harsh words.  Lots of lessons to be gleaned from that parable, but certainly one of them is that God seeks to bless and enlarge work that is done to His glory.  "You've been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."

            So if you're prepared to commit the work of your territory to God's glory, then ask Him to enlarge that territory—to do greater things through you than you can even imagine.  And get ready for a great adventure.

            Get ready to be brought to the edge of your comfort zone...and then taken even beyond that comfort zone.  Get ready to be taken to enlarged territory that involves risks and great challenge.  Because Jesus calls us to use our talents in new places, new territories...many of which will seem beyond our capabilities.  But, that is right where He wants us...in a place that requires absolute trust and dependency—not in ourselves and our abilities, but in Him.  He wants us to experience the challenge of serving Him knowing that brings meaning and joy to life.

            John Ortberg is teaching pastor at Willow Creek Church outside of Chicago—and an author of many popular books.  One of his books has the wonderful title If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat.  Much of the book has to do with serving God in enlarged territory that can seem scary and beyond our capabilities—certainly beyond our comfort zone.  He writes these words about our need for challenges in life.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley did an experiment sometime ago that involved introducing an amoeba into a perfectly stress-free environment.  Ideal temperature, optimal concentration of moisture, constant food supp—the amoeba had an environment to which it had to make no adjustment whatsoever.  So you would guess that was one happy little amoeba.  Whatever it is that gives amoebas ulcers and high blood pressure was gone.  Yet, oddly enough, it died.  Apparently there is something about all living creatures, even amoebas, that demands challenge.  We require change, adaptation, and challenge the way we require food and air.  Comfort alone will kill us.  When teachers want students to grow, they don't give them answers—they give them problems!  (If a train leaves Cleveland at 3:00 going 50 m.p.h...)  It is only in the process of accepting and solving problems that our ability to think creatively is enhanced, our persistence is strengthened, and our self-confidence is deepened.  If someone gives me the answers, I may get a good score on a test, but I will not have grown.  Just as our bodies simply will not grow stronger without being challenged to the point of exertion, so it is with our mind and spirit. (Bold mine)

 If you want to do something wonderful for God, to serve Him in territory that is enlarged beyond your imagination...be prepared for challenges and changes that move us out of our comfort zone, requiring our trust to be placed in Him, and not in ourselves.

            It was about four years ago that I first came across the prayer of Jabez.  Reading about it in a variety of sources, I decided to purchase the book.  After reading the book, I decided to take Wilkinson up on his suggestion to make the prayer a regular part of our daily walk with God.  I wrote out a card with the prayer on it and placed it on my desk.  I memorized it and made it a daily prayer—not the only prayer I prayed, but something I would pray each day.  And it led to me examining my territory—examining where I was serving God and where I was serving myself in the varieties of territory God had given me.  Examining exactly what my territory was and asking God if He wanted me to do more for Him.  And, if so, to bless me and enlarge my territory—for His purposes, not mine.  I was prepared for new adventures and new ministries within my position as associate pastor at Westminster Church in Amarillo.  But, my survey of my territory had also prepared me for the possibility of making a change, moving me beyond my comfort zone of where I was as an associate pastor to the possibility of serving a church as its pastor.  And so, in praying "enlarge my territory," I was open to whatever God wanted to do.  A few months after beginning the process of regularly praying the prayer of Jabez, I heard about this church up in Lakewood, Colorado that sounded interesting.  Could that be a part of God enlarging my territory?  And the rest is, as they say, history.  It wasn't the only possibility for enlarged territory that came across my radar screen, but going through the process of asking God what He wanted me to do, and asking God to enlarge my territory eventually led to my coming here.  A new challenge, beyond my comfort zone where daily I am reminded of my dependency on Him.  Believe me, there are some things about being an associate pastor that I miss!  "That's not my problem...take it to the guy in that office over there!"  Daily, I am reminded of my dependency upon God.  And the prayer of Jabez has been an important part of that journey.

            So, I believe it can be for you as well.  Imagine what a survey of your territory would reveal...a survey of what parts of that territory are dedicated to your own glory, and what parts are dedicated to God's.  Just increasing our awareness of our territory and God's role, or lack of one, in our territory is a plus.  And imagine what God might do through willing hearts motivated to honor Him, to glorify God through our committed efforts for Him in the territory He gives us.  Imagine what that could mean for your life.  And imagine what that could mean for our church.  What is our territory?  And what might God's "enlarging our territory" look like?  Remember, "comfort alone will kill us."

            It is in that context—"living large...for God"—that I think the prayer of Jabez can be a helpful tool—to help us grow in our faith, and grow in the always exciting and always challenging work that God has in mind for us in the expanded territory He give us.

            So, I put before you the challenge of using the prayer of Jabez as a part of your seeking God's purposes for you as a Christian...and for us as a church.  Memorize it.  Write it out on a card, or cut out the front part of the bulletin on which it appears and place it in a prominent place.  Pray it daily, reflect on it daily, survey your territory again and again, make sure honoring God is the driving ambition in all your territory...then ask God to enlarge that territory—not for your gain—but so that you might do more for Him.



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