LIVING ON A PRAYER
February 11, 2001
Have you ever been sitting in traffic, checking out all the cars? And maybe a certain make, a certain model, catches your eye, and you say to yourself, “Wow, it sure would be nice to drive that car.” You have probably had that happen to you before. Maybe you have been shopping, just walking around a mall, and a certain outfit sort of makes you do a double take and you say, “I’m going to try that on right now.” Maybe that has happened to you. Or maybe you have been listening to a CD, or something like that, and a certain song or guitar riff captures your ear. You say, “Man, I have got to listen to that again.” You push the rewind and you listen to it one more time. “Yeah,” you say, “that’s cool.”
Maybe you are a single adult and maybe there is a certain guy or girl that catches your eye, and you do a double take. Have you ever been channel surfing and an image comes across the screen? You surf back and say, “Wow, Baywatch does have some great acting.” It’s amazing, things jump out at us. Things capture our attention, people, places and events.
1 Chronicles, Chapters 1-5 are pretty boring. They are so boring, they would make the most serious Bible student among us put it in dry-dock. I mean, it’s that laborious, 600 genealogies, name after name after name after name. Most people as they read through it go, “Give me something exciting. Let me move over to the Psalms or Proverbs or the Gospel. This 1 Chronicles stuff is wearing me out.”
But something happens in chapter 4 of 1 Chronicles. God is listing all these people for us. The writer is penning down all their names, but suddenly a name jumps out. Sports Illustrated has a feature called, “Faces in the Crowd.” There are usually six pictures of men and women who have achieved something athletically, and because they are so great at this particular event, they have done so well and live above the rest of the crowd, they have their pictures in this section of Sports Illustrated. It’s a cool deal, a goal for a lot of people, “I want my picture in “Faces in the Crowd” in Sports Illustrated.” Well, a guy in the Bible in 1 Chronicles, elevates himself above the rest. This guy’s name is not just mentioned. A brief thumbnail sketch is given. He stands out. He makes us do a double take. His name is pretty weird: Jabez.
Over the next three weeks, we are going to look at two verses that describe the life of Jabez. Can you imagine that? Three weeks on two verses. “Unbelievable,” you say. Don’t say it too soon, because I really feel like this series can teach all of us how to really talk to God.
The first time I ever heard about Jabez was this past summer in south Florida, of all places. I was helping some friends load some Sea-doos, really launch Sea-doos, on this boat ramp in the ocean. Out of nowhere, a man in his fifties turned to me and said, “Hey, Ed, have you ever heard of Jabez?”
I wanted to sound really intelligent, you know, being a Senior Pastor of a church. I wanted to say, “Oh, yes, sure I’ve heard of Jabez.” But I said, “No, I haven’t heard of him.”
He said, “I want to send you some information on this guy. He will change the way you talk to God.”
I thought, “That’s pretty cool.” So, I kind of filed it away and then we just jumped on the Sea-doos and had a great time in the ocean.
Push the clock forward several months, I was in a conversation with my mother-in-law, Elva Lee, from Columbia, SC. Elva has a one of a kind southern drawl and she said, “Ed, have you ever read or heard about this character in the Old Testament named Jabez?”
I said, “Elva, I have. I heard about Jabez in South Florida on a boat ramp.”
“Well, I tell you what, I want to send you some information on this character because I really feel like it will be a blessing to you and it will change the way you talk to God.”
I said, “Elva, thank you for your generosity. I would love to have some information, books and stuff on Jabez. Great, great.” So, she sent it. I began to study it in my devotional time. I began to see what God was showing me through this guy. Then I shared it with our staff.
Once again, we are going to look at two verses in three weeks as we delve into the prayer of Jabez. The prayer of Jabez. You might be saying, “What is so special about Jabez? Why the big deal, Ed? Why three weeks on this guy?” I’ll tell you.
Let’s read about it in 1 Chronicles 4:9, “Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘because I bore him in pain.’” Isn’t that something? Jabez was more honorable than his brethren, than his brothers. Most historians feel that Jabez was a lawyer, and he was so influential and so powerful, so humble that many people followed him and learned from him. In fact, Ezra mentions that a city was named Jabez.
Jabez was someone who didn’t want to settle for just a mediocre life or an average life. He wanted to live on another level. He wanted to achieve greatness. I want to tell you something, and this should be some great news for all of you here. God does not want you to live a status quo same old, same old life. He doesn’t want you to live in the prison cell of predictability. God wants you and he wants me to achieve greatness. Greatness. The thing that elevated Jabez above the rest, the thing that made him stand out, the thing that gave him God’s honorable mention in the book of 1 Chronicles was the fact that Jabez prayed. If you want to sum up his entire life in two words, here we go, “Jabez prayed.”
Now, his mom said, “I’ll name him Jabez because I bore him in pain.” We are not sure what happened with Jabez. We are not sure if his mom had a horrible pregnancy, a difficulty there. We are not sure if Jabez had some kind of physical problem. We are not sure if Jabez’s father didn’t bolt on them, or maybe die at a young age. For some reason, Jabez was connected with pain and grief. If you take time to look the name up, Jabez in Hebrew, it means “pain.” Can you imagine a 21st century, high-tech mom, thumbing through a name-your-baby book at Barnes and Noble and going, “I know what I will name my brand new bouncing baby boy: pain.” What a pain, what a pain, what a pain. That’s a great name.
Back in Biblical times, your name meant something. When someone articulated your name, they knew what it meant. Jabez had to overcome a negative label, didn’t he? Maybe someone has superglued a label on your life, maybe a parent, maybe a coach, maybe a teacher, maybe a friend or maybe a co-worker. Maybe they called you a no-count, an idiot, uncoordinated, ugly, someone who will never make it or never amount to anything. Maybe you have been living under this label and reading it so much that you believe it. You believe the bunk from others. You believe their words.
You are reading this man-made label. God is saying to you, “Do what Jabez did. Morph your pain into prayer. Don’t live in mediocrity. Don’t live incarcerated in this prison cell of predictability. Don’t think you don’t matter. Don’t think you can’t make it. Don’t think you don’t have the ability.” God wants to do extraordinary things through an ordinary you and you and you, and he will if we simply take some cues from Jabez. Pretty wild.
Jabez was more honorable. His mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” We can identify with that.
Now you are probably sitting on the edge of your seats going, “I want to hear the prayer. I mean, Ed, you talked about the prayer. Let’s go with the prayer. What did he pray? This prayer must be something else, man. I can’t wait to hear it. It’s going to bowl me over.”
Okay, here we go. I can tell you are fired up. 1 Chronicles 4:10 : “Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me and that you would keep me from evil.”
Look at it now. What is he saying? Bless me, help me, be with me, keep me out of trouble. “That’s it?” you are saying. “Ed, three weeks, 21 days on that? Come on.”
My wife and I have twin six-year-old daughters. They are learning to write. They sometimes write each other letters. They write us letters. They are even writing letters to God. The other day, I intercepted one of Landra’s letters to God, and it said this, “Dear God, whaz up?” That was it. “Dear God, whaz up?” I’m in the process of framing that prayer.
When I first read the prayer of Jabez that my mother-in-law, Elva Lee, sent to me, when I read it out of 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, my first response was like Landra’s. “Whaz up, God? Whaz up? That’s it? I mean, this is it? That you would bless me, enlarge my territory, your hand would be with me, and you would keep me from evil. Whoa.” Don’t let the words fool you. These words are packed with depth and meaning. I am talking about they are packed with stuff that can revolutionize our prayer life, and even the way we see God.
Let’s break it down. Let’s look at the first line. “Oh, that you would bless me indeed.” See the word “indeed?” Indeed in the Hebrew was much more powerful than the word “indeed” today. If we say it, we say, “Bless me indeed.” In the Hebrew it would go, “Bless me, INDEED!” It’s like turning up the volume. It’s like 14.5 exclamation points. Indeed, God. Do it. God, bless me indeed!
Jabez had grown up hearing about how God has supernaturally delivered his people from Egyptian bondage. He had grown up seeing how God had given them the Promised Land. He believed great things from God. He knew God wanted to work through him for greatness. He just downloaded it. He said, “You know what, it’s gonna happen. I’m gonna pray it. I’m gonna do this stuff with God. God, it’s not my will, but your will. God, bless, indeed.”
We have taken the word, “blessing” and kind of messed it up. We say, “Oh, bless your soul. Bless this mess.” We ask God to bless our families, bless our church, and bless the food. We have just decaffeinated it, haven’t we? You know I love coffee. But recently, I have been dialing down, and I have kind of gone to decaf. I hate decaf coffee. It’s horrible. That’s what we have done to the word “bless.” We have decaffeinated it. We have stripped it of its caffeine, of its octane.
Do you know what it means when you ask God to bless you? It means this, and you might want to write this down. “God, grant me your supernatural favor. God, give me your fantastic favor.” That is what it means when we say, “God, bless me.” Notice something now. So we don’t get all of this messed up and skewed, we don’t try to say, “Hey, God, I want this and I want that and, God, you better give it to me.” No, no. “God, that YOU would bless me, indeed. That YOU would bless me, indeed.” Blessings are there for our asking.
Proverbs 10:22, talks about blessings. It says, “The Lord’s blessing,” not my blessing, “the Lord’s blessing, is our greatest wealth.” Wouldn’t you agree? Spiritual blessings are the most awesome blessings out there. There is no way that I could be a blessing to you or you could be a blessing to me, until God has first blessed you or first blessed me with spiritual blessings. “The Lord’s blessing is our greatest wealth. All our work adds nothing to it.”
Now some right now are thinking, “Now, this is a cool deal. This is kind of like a little game. I could just ask God to bless me, and I want this and I want that and….” If you ever channel surf sometimes, you will come across a televangelist who will say, “God wants to bless you. He wants to give you a Mercedes Benz, and a mansion, if you have enough faith, he’ll do it.” Do you ever see people say that? That is the health and wealth gospel. That is basically saying that if we have enough faith, we can corner God and he will have to give us our materialistic desires.
Now, God does bless us materialistically. That’s part of the blessing. Sometimes, he can make people multi-bizillionaires. If that happens for you, good. But we can’t limit God and say, “God, I want my blessings over here in my account, in my portfolio. I want my blessings over here in my wardrobe or in my garage.” We have got to say this. We have got to take the Jabez Jump. If we are going to pray like Jabez prayed, we have got to say, “God, I jump into your arms. I give myself to you, warts and all. The total package is yours, God. You work in and through me. I want my agenda to be your agenda; your agenda is my agenda. You do your stuff through me. You bless me the way you want me to be blessed, not the way I want to be blessed. God, I want your favor, not what I think my favor should be.”
When we get to that point, like Jabez did, you better watch out. You just better hold on, because you will not believe the blessings. Sometimes, they are relational. Sometimes, they are spiritual. Sometimes, they are physical. Sometimes, they are financial. Sometimes they are a combination. God, though, wants to bless you and bless me. Isn’t that great? Man, that is a positive deal. Because far too long, Christians have just moped around going, “You know, God doesn’t want to bless me. I have just got to live this mediocre life in the prison cell of predictability. Oh, no. I think God’s up there in heaven with some kind of blessing blocker keeping his cosmic scorecard. He has blessed me a little bit, but, if he blesses me too much, I get the big head. He can’t do that so that is just my lot in life.”
Come on. That is sad. You know why I say that is sad? I use to think that way some. “Oh, God can’t bless me anymore. He can’t bless Fellowship Church.” He wants to. He wants to. He wants to. We have got to make and take the Jabez jump and then we have got to do this. We have got to go for the ask. We have got to ask him for it. I love to bless my children with stuff, but I like for them to ask me.
In Matthew 7:7, here is what Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given unto you. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be open to you.” Do you know what the word ask means? Ask means always seeking knowledge. Anytime we ask the Lord something, we will always seek knowledge. True knowledge only comes from God. You can never get true knowledge away from him. That’s why the writer of Proverbs said, “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death.”
When was the last time you hit your knees and said, “God, I want my agenda to be your agenda. I want your will to be mine. I want you to work through me. I give my life to you, warts and all, the total package. You work in me. You bless me. God, bless me, indeed. Bless my family, bless my career, bless everything I touch God.” When was the last time you did that? When was the last time you asked God that? When was the last time you made the Jabez jump? When? Take the Jabez jump. Go for the ask.
Something else I am going to tell you to do is something I will challenge you with after I read the second line in the prayer of Jabez. Okay, we talked about the blessings part, “Oh, God, that you would bless me, indeed.” Now Jabez says this, “Oh, that you would enlarge my territory.” Now wait a minute. Are you saying what I think you are going to say? Just hold on. Here’s what we should do after we take the Jabez jump and go for the ask, we should have those coast-to-coast conversations with the Lord. We are to go coastal with God. We are to say, “God, expand my coastline. Expand my territory.” We are to do that.
“Ed, wait a minute. You mean to tell me I should ask God for a bigger business?” Yes. “You mean I should ask God for my client base to grow?” Yes. “You mean I should ask God for more leadership and influence and power?” Yes. If you know it comes from God anyway, ask him. Ask him for it. It’s not, though, a me-istic thing, it’s a theistic thing. If you are in it for yourself and what you can gain, and how it can help you and what makes you look good and feel good, forget it. That’s not the deal. It is saying, “God, I know it’s all from you. I want you to take my one and only life here and expand my territory.”
Wow, that’s cool. Revolutionary. Remember Jabez? He was in the Promised Land. God had given this land, this real estate to Israel, but there were still inhabitants in the land that God did not want there, the Canaanites. I’m sure Jabez looked at his tract and thought to himself, “Whoa, that’s my land. They have got some of my stuff.” Who has some of your stuff? Does the evil one have some of your stuff? God wants you to have your stuff. Ask him for it. “God, expand my horizons. I want to have coast to coast conversations with you daily.” Again, hold on. Watch out when you do, because you will not believe what will transpire, extraordinary things through ordinary people, like you and me.
As I was praying through this, I kept saying, “God, just highlight for me something in my life that underscores this that I can share with the people. Just show me.” Then I thought about my prayer journal. I have been keeping a prayer journal since I was 17 years of age. I found this, which is 11 years old, and I want you to listen as I read a prayer that I prayed on December 8, 1989, as I was wrestling with the whole process of coming up here to actually be the founding pastor of Fellowship Church.
Here is what I prayed. I said, “God, I pray for the pastor’s search team of this church (who were looking for a pastor at the time). Give me your clear answer. I don’t have the ability. You do. You work through me. I rely and give everything to you. My life (and I talked about our family’s lives) they are in your hands. Thank you for blessing me. (I didn’t even know what I was praying here) I pray for the lost people in Dallas. Give us the innovation and the methodology to reach them for Christ. What do you want me to do? Wherever you lead God, I’ll go.”
That is a Jabez type prayer. That is going for the ask. That is saying, “God, expand my coastlines.” Look what he has done. I thought, “Maybe I’m the only one on the church staff who has prayed a prayer like that. You know, I am the Senior Pastor. Maybe I am the most spiritual, you know.” I was thinking I was probably the only one who did this. We were sharing at one of our staff meetings recently and Mike Johnson, a young man on our Management Team who oversees everyone from birth to high school, talked about a similar situation.
Ed: “Mike, come on out, man. I want you to share this Jabez type prayer that you prayed a while back.”
Mike: “Okay, I appreciate the opportunity to come out and share that because the Jabez prayer that I prayed that day lead to unbelievable results. Eight years ago, my wife and I were both in seminary and I was working in a really small church that had about 80 people. I was responsible for everyone birth through twelfth grade at the church. We had 12 children and students. While I was there, I had a dream that someday I would be able to lead programming for hundreds of children and youth and that I would be able to provide programming that would help them develop a positive attitude about God, a positive attitude about church. Also, that they would be able to learn more about God, learn to serve him and love him.
With that dream in my mind, I began to pray, “God, if you would, just expand my ministry.” I don’t know why, but there is one particular instance that comes to my mind just like yesterday. Karri and I were down working out, early one cold January morning down at the Tom Landry center downtown. I remember sitting on the stationery bike and I was talking and praying to God. I was saying, “God, if you would, just please bless me, expand my ministry. Make this dream a reality.” I remember feeling a bit guilty, like, “Man, Mike, there is a lot of things you should be praying for. Isn’t it kind of selfish to be praying that God would bless you?”
That didn’t really faze me. I kept praying anyway. I remember asking God, “God, I know this is not hard for you. This Sunday, just bring one family to our church, one new family with children, and let that family lead to another family, and lead to another family.” I remember going to church that next Sunday. I was just excited with anticipation. Throughout all my duties that morning, I kept an eye on the front doors, waiting for that family to come.
They didn’t. So, I went home and the next week I continued to pray, “God bless me, expand my ministry. Please, just bring one new family this weekend.” Went to church again that weekend, kept my eye on the front doors, just waiting for that family to come. I knew they were probably trying to get there last week, but they had a flat tire or something. This week, for sure, they will be here. I watched the front doors and, again, they didn’t come.
What’s sad is I spent seven more months there at that church and they never did come. I remember being really discouraged, like maybe I was praying the wrong thing. But in the face of absolutely no results, I continued to pray and asked that God would expand my ministry and that he would bless me.
That fall, I got a call from Pastor Owen Goff to take a position at the church. As I look back over the past eight years, I don’t even know what to say. How do you even fathom a blessing that is so tremendous, that takes you from leading twelve children and youth to leading over 3,000? How do you even speak of a blessing that is so incredible that, if you were to tell me eight years ago that I would be sitting here today doing what I am doing, that would have been so far beyond my wildest dreams that I wouldn’t have even known to pray for that.
I’m asking God for hundreds and he gives me thousands. Now, as I look back over the past eight years here and all the blessings, my mind continually goes back to that cold January morning when I was sitting on that stationery bike and I believe every blessing that God has given me today was all because of that one little Jabez prayer.
Ed: Mike, we often just sit back and say, “This is amazing what has happened here,” because Mike and I are very ordinary people, yet we prayed an extraordinary prayer to an extraordinary God and he has done extraordinary things through us and many people here. I think about Fellowship Church and what has transpired. We started off in a little office complex. God expanded our territory from there to a fine arts complex, from there, after four or five years, to a high school, and from there to this 140 acre tract, right in the heart of the Metroplex. It just rattles my cage every time I think about it, because little did I realize what God was constructing and how he was going to bring many people together, hundreds, now thousands, together for this great church.
Just recently, too, I think about this Internet thing that we are doing, our website. We are now averaging 1.5 million hits a month on our website. That is astronomical. I think about several weeks ago, we had our Creative Church Conference where we had nearly 600 pastors and leaders from across North America and Canada, who converged on Fellowship Church just to hear about the blessings of God and how we can expand our territory as they go out and do a lot of the things that God has shown us here at Fellowship.
God is in the expanding business. He is a coast to coast God who wants us to pray those high-risk prayers, those blessing type prayers. He wants us to go for the ask because, when we do it, look what will happen, not only in our church, but with our families, with our friends, and with our careers. Mike, there is no telling now what God is doing behind the scenes right now in every person’s life, but we will never see the results of it until we get serious and obedient as Jabez did.
So, really, to sum this whole talk up, I want to steal a line from my introduction. If you talk about Jabez, if you boil down what he did, you can do it in two words: Jabez prayed. Jabez prayed.
Right now, we are going to pray. Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes. I’m going to challenge you to pray this prayer, the prayer of Jabez, for the next 30 days. Right now, we are going to pray together. I will say it, and you repeat it. In other words, I will go through one line, and then you repeat that line as we pray together. Dear God, bless me indeed, enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil. Thank you, God, for the results of this prayer in advance. In Jesus Name, Amen.