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
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 timeits importance has decreased little even
todayand 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
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.
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
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
territoryseeing 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 Britainhe 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
territorythe 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
So if you're prepared to commit the work of your territory to God's
glory, then ask Him to enlarge that territoryto 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 dependencynot 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
Chicagoand 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 capabilitiescertainly beyond our comfort zone.
He writes these words about our need for challenges in life.
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
suppthe 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 answersthey
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.
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
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 prayernot the only
prayer I prayed, but something I would pray each day.
And it led to me examining my territoryexamining 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 territoryfor 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 toolto 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 territorynot for your gainbut so that you might do more for