Equip: The Promises of God
It was a reading assignment in my 8th grade year and I wasn’t interested in completing it. My lack of interest was not result of being a poor student, as my sufficient report card showed. Rather my disinterest stemmed from a theological objection.
My grandfather Howard had died the year before, after a long hard battle with lung cancer. I watched as this faithful man of God suffered in a way that no one should. Even in his last days in the hospital his faith never wavered, using the visitations of friends and family far and near as an opportunity to share the Gospel.
So here I was in my Christian School English class given a book titled, The Prayer of Jabez. If you are not familiar, the prayer of Jabez is found in 1 Chronicles 4:10. It states;
“Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.”
From this prayer, Author and Bible teacher Bruce Wilkerson penned the best-selling book I was assigned to read. As a Church attending, Christian School Educated, 14 year old from a broken home, whose father was a fallen minister, coming off the most difficult loss to grieve in his life, you could forgive me for being a little jaded in my reading of The Prayer of Jabez. Within the first 7 pages I knew the claims of the book were eisegetic and formulaic. I couldn’t believe what I was reading when the claim was made,”"I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers."(p. 7, emphasis added) He goes on, "This petition has radically changed what I expect from God and what I experience every day by his power" (p. 7) In all fairness to the author, The Prayer of Jabez, was not simply another health, wealth, and prosperity book. As you read you are encouraged to pray the prayer in order to gain ministry opportunities and see God do the miraculous. But when read with any honest measure, taking this prayer and making it a ritualistic genie to rub creates a false sense of who God is to us.
The reality is that life is full of highs and lows, victories and struggles, miseries and joys. If you approach God with a formula of unlocking his blessings by praying a magic prayer, you’re going to be left disappointed in Him, as well as, yourself. At a certain point praying the prayer of Jabez or anything like it becomes similar to a Scientist’s approach to faith and life with the Scientific method. Generally speaking, the scientific method is summed up in these 4 steps with its application in parentheses:
Ask a Question. (How can I be blessed by God?)
Do Background Research. (Ignore the majority of Biblical examples of God’s servants who suffered and narrow in on a couple who “prayed correctly”)
Construct a Hypothesis.( If I pray the “Jabez Prayer” I will be healed or successful in my endeavors)
Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment. (Pray the Jabez Prayer over and over and wait for results)
Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion. (Result A: I succeeded or was healed, so continue praying the prayer. Or Result B: You failed or continue to suffer so maybe add another variable, like never speaking negative things, to the formula and repeat the steps)
After watching my grandfather struggle through chemo, radiation, and the ensuing sickness, I saw a man whose faith in the promises of God was for something much more than healing that never came. If living the right way would have brought healing he had it covered. He was a man of integrity and service. But in spite of these qualities he carried no sense that God owed him anything. Nor was there anything missing in his approach to God. It’s impossible to know his private thoughts, and I’m sure he had his moments of immense anger toward God, but his witness to all the world was that the promises of God that sustained him were futuristic. When I use the word ‘futuristic’ I don’t mean a delayed gratification. No, the futuristic hope in God’s promises were such that he presently was changed by, in spite of circumstances.
The futuristic promises of God are such that sustain us in the here and now. As believers we partake in the already life giving power of the gospel, but the not yet glorification and joy of the presence of our eternal King. Just because there will be no more tears, does not mean we don’t currently mourn, but we do not mourn as others do, we mourn with the knowledge of the promises of God to have the final word. Hebrews 10:34b-39 put it like this:
“and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37For,
“Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
In the time since my grandfather’s passing I have seen God do some amazing things. My nephew was miraculously healed of a blood clot from a botched surgery to remove cancer. I have seen friend with broken limbs made whole again. God has continually blessed me with provisions beyond what I could ask. I am not advocating to believe only in the future hope of the resurrection, but to trust the sovereign will of God in all our circumstances.
Hebrews goes on to say it perfectly:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”