LIVING ON A PRAYER
Hands On Prayer
February 18, 2001
There is nothing like the smooth sound of jazz. Accomplished jazz musicians can just go with the flow. They can find a beat and hang with it, and it turns out to be some awesome music. There is nothing like the sound of jazz. When you think about it, Jabez could play some serious jazz. He had the uncanny ability to pick up on God’s beat and to follow his flow. Why? Because Jabez knew how to pray. He knew how to talk to God. He is one of the least known and least recognized persons in all of scripture, and he is sort of camouflaged in one of the least read sections in all the Bible. I believe that after this series, that is going to change. I think this lesser known guy will morph into a well-known guy. I think this least read section of scripture might become one of the most well read sections of scripture. Jabez.
To do a quick review, we talked about this prayer that Jabez prayed. The book of Chronicles, to be exact 1 Chronicles, chapter 4, highlights this guy named Jabez. This book, and in particular this section of scripture, will put the most serious Bible student in dry dock. It will make anyone tired. Six hundred, count them, genealogies, name after name, after name, after name. You say, “Man, I want something exciting. Give me something cool. Give me something relevant.”
Suddenly, Jabez rises above the rest and God gives him about two verses. He prays this life-changing prayer. Let me read it, and you follow along. “Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called him Jabez, saying, ‘because I bore him in pain.’” It doesn’t sound that great so far, does it? Let’s go ahead and read his prayer. “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.’” That’s it. The prayer of Jabez. He had the uncanny ability to pick up on God’s flow to follow his beat, and Jabez prayed some serious prayers. He played God’s jazz, some jazz that God wants you to play and me to play.
Jabez started out in pretty tough circumstances. The word Jabez means “pain.” Can you imagine your name being pain? For some reason, his mother had a horrible pregnancy, or for some reason, either his father bolted after his birth or for some reason, maybe Jabez had a physical abnormality, for some reason, people called him pain. Yet because of his prayer and because of this jazz of Jabez, he morphed his pain into prayer and he rose above the rest and achieved greatness.
God wants greatness for every person’s life. If you do the Jabez jump, and jump into God’s arm, and pray this prayer and go for the ask, and say, “God, bless me. God, expand my coastlines,” God will do it. He wants to bless your life. He wants to bless my life. The word bless simply means for God to pour out his supernatural favor on your life, on your existence.
Remember, we have got to say, “God, I want your will. I want your agenda. I want your plan for my life.” We can’t come to God and say, “God, give me this. Give me that. Thank you God.” That’s that. “I want you to satisfy my materialistic yearnings.” No. We have got to say, “God, I jump into your arms. I go for the ask. You work through me.”
I hope you are following along now. Jabez prayed this prayer, “God bless me. God expand my horizons.” If we do that, God’s hand, Jabez says, will be on our life. Notice the progression. Jabez didn’t walk up and say, “Hey, God, I want your hand on my life.” He said, “God, bless me. God, expand my coastlines.” If we do that, if we ask for blessings God’s way, as he expands our coastlines, we will be out there in never-never-land. We will feel kind of outgunned, out manned, and over our head. God will have to show up to make this deal happen. Do you ever feel like you are a junior high kid trying to play in the NBA? Do you ever feel like you are just over your head?
That is precisely where God wants you. Our staff is always skeptical, if we give someone the invitation and say, “Hey, would you like to speak and maybe share a little bit?” And someone responds by saying this, “Speak at church on the stage? No problem, man, that’s a no-brainer. I would love to do that, you know, that’s no big deal. I would be happy to do it.” We do the push back. Conversely, if we give someone the invitation, “Hey, would you like to maybe share a little bit?” and they say, “In church? Are you talking about speaking in public? Man, I don’t know. I don’t know if I could do that. That like wigs me out.” We say, “This is going to be great, because God is going to show up now.”
Blessing, and then you have the expansion, and then you have feeling out of control and like I am over my head, “God you are going to have to show up,” that is the way God designs it. People ask me all the time, “Ed, what is it like to speak in front of people?” I’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s scary. I always feel inadequate, outgunned, out manned, over my head. I am also scared. The day it becomes easy or flippant, or nonchalant, is the day I am going to say, “You know what? I’m not doing what God wants me to do.” We have got to understand something. God works in unusual ways. His math is mysterious. God’s math is just odd.
I had dinner with a friend of mine the other night, a very successful businessman and, might I add, this guy is a brilliant mathematician. He is talking about numbers, percentages, and this and that. He is like way up here in the ozone, and I am way down here. I am horrible in math. The reason this guy is so successful is because he can do the numbers. He has that unusual ability to do it. That’s the way God works. We are like down here. We think this math will do it, that math will do it, our math. God is on another planet. He’s in the ozone.
Isaiah, Chapter 55, underscores this. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I was thinking this past week, “Ed, I wonder why you are so terrible in math?” Then it hit me. If I trace my roots all the way back to Lonnie B. Nelson Grammar School in Columbia, SC, I think that’s what messed me up. They introduced this new math concept in the fifth grade and I never recovered. “You know, it’s my past. That’s the way I am. My diaper was put on too tight. The nursery was painted the wrong color. I had the new math. That’s my problem.” God’s math is mysterious.
I want to share with you, basically, God’s faith formula, God’s formula for your life and mine. This formula is against the backdrop of this prayer of Jabez. Once again, we talked about the blessings of God. We talked about God expanding our territory and coastlines. Today, we are simply going to talk about the hand of God. What does it mean when you have the hand of God on your life? What does it mean when you read in Scripture that the hand of God did this or the hand of God did that? The hand of God is simply this. The hand of God means God’s power, God’s protection and God’s provision on a person’s life. That’s what it means. I don’t know about you, but I want the hand of God on my life. God’s hand will not be on my life, or your life, unless we are blessed, unless we are expanded, and then his hand has got to be there.
Here is the first part of God’s faith formula. Are you ready? Blessing + expansion = what? Inadequacy. Sergeant Carter from Gomer Pyle, “I can’t hear you! What?” Inadequacy. Isn’t that strange? I told you it’s mysterious. God’s ways are higher than our ways. He’s doing math on another level. “Inadequacy? Man, you mean I am suppose to feel out manned, outgunned, over my head? You mean I am supposed to feel a little bit fearful, a little bit scared? I am supposed to feel like a junior high kid playing in the NBA trying to guard Vince Carter?” Yes, that is right where God wants you.
2 Corinthians, Chapter 12, and before I read this text let me give you the background right quick. The apostle Paul, I am talking about the man of faith, probably the greatest Christian who ever lived next to Jesus, the apostle Paul had this thorn in his flesh. He had some physical ailment, some problem, most scholars feel. He prayed for God to heal him of that thorn repeatedly. Guess what? God didn’t heal him. God didn’t heal him. So here is what Paul writes, as he is not healed. Jesus said, with Paul recording, “My grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, there is never an insufficiency of grace. It is never like, “Okay, there is not enough grace.” God’s grace is always sufficient. “For my power is made perfect in weakness.” You see, Paul accepted his affliction, watch this now, he accepted his affliction as addition. “My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
The hand of God, the power of God, the provision of God. Why? Because of the apostle Paul’s inadequacies, God blessed him and God’s power, the Bible said, “rested on his life.” This word rested is a cool word. Do you know what it means? It means to pitch a tent over your life. When I rest in God’s grace, when I rest in God’s power, when his hand is on my life, it’s like you throw a giant tent over you and it just envelopes you. It just covers you up.
I love what P.T. Forsythe said about pain, “It’s a greater thing to pray for pain’s conversion than pain’s removal.” Powerful stuff. We don’t live by explanations. We live by promises. God has promised us his power and his sufficiency in our inadequacy. Remember Jabez? Jabez dealt with pain. The guy had a horrible time yet God morphed his pain into faithfulness. This occurred because Jabez had a willing heart to talk to God and to follow his beat and to go with his flow. Once again, God’s math is odd. It’s weird.
We would say, “No, man, that’s not the right formula. The right formula is blessing + expansion = autonomy. It equals success. It equals confidence, man, that is what it means, come on now.”
But God says no it doesn’t: blessing + expansion = inadequacy.
Here is the second part of the faith formula: inadequacy + loyalty = responsibility. “This is weird, Ed.”
2 Chronicles, chapter 16, boy I love this text, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to him.” God is not looking for superstars. God is not looking for people who are just like, “Whoa, I cannot believe the talent. Man, God sure is lucky to have them on his team.” God is not looking for people like that. He is looking for people who are loyal, who are faithful. People who are loyal, who are faithful.
We have a great staff at Fellowship Church, and the number one thing we look for is loyalty. We are not superstars. We are ordinary people. We are loyal people. That is a Biblical value. How loyal is your heart to God? How faithful are you? Are you saying, “God, you know what? I will do it your way. I’ll jump into your arms. I’ll go for the ask. I’ll allow and I’ll surrender myself to you. I want Your agenda to become mine and Your will to become mine. As far as who I date, as far as who I marry, as far as how I rear my children, as far as what I do in my career, God, it’s your way.” When we come to that point, that’s when God will really supernaturally show up.
Inadequacy + loyalty = responsibility. We have got responsibility. We are out here on the edge being outgunned, out manned. We are inadequate and that gives us a great responsibility. Now, some people say, “Oh, the prayer of Jabez, man, it’s just a beautiful prayer. God will bless me and God will expand my territory and God will keep his hand on me and he will keep me from evil. Ed, that is great. It’s kind of a presto-chango. Let’s pull the rabbit out of the hat type prayer. I can, you know, paste it on my bathroom mirror, hang it on my rearview mirror. I just pray the little prayer and everything will be cool. I’ll be blessed and I’ll say ‘thank you, God’, that’s really good.’ What a beautiful prayer. What a great Biblical view this is. Man, I like this stuff, Ed.”
Several months ago, a generous friend of mine took me to Wyoming. One day, we were doing some fishing on the Snake River, one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen on earth. We were just taking in the view. There is not a view like Jackson Hole, WY, the Grand Tetons, the water, the wildlife, and the surroundings. We were just talking about it. The guide, who was with us, overheard us and he said, “You know, this is beautiful. But you know what? You can’t eat the view.”
I said, “Come back.” He said, “It’s beautiful up here but you can’t eat the view.” Here is what he was saying. He was saying that Jackson Hole is a picturesque place, but you can’t just survive on the view. You have got to work, you’ve got to toil, you’ve got to sweat, you’ve got to get involved in some activity to make a living and, yes, you can make a living in this beautiful spot. But you cannot eat the mountains, you cannot eat the trees. You have got to work.
Hey, prayer of Jabez people? You can’t eat the view. You can’t eat the prayer. You can’t say, “God, just bless me. God, expand my territory. God, your hand’s upon me. God, keep me from evil. Okay, that’s it. I’ll just kind of chill.” You can’t do that. There is responsibility.
That brings us to the third aspect of this cool faith formula. Responsibility + activity = ministry. In Matthew 26:41, here is what Jesus said to his disciples the night before he was crucified. He said, “Pray so that…” I think I skipped a word there. Did you see it? He didn’t just say pray, did he? What did he say? “Watch.” Do you know what the word watch means? Watch. Watch. Use your common sense. Yes, it’s great to pray but you have got to have some activity around it too. You have got to put shoe leather or shoe rubber beneath it. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, the body though, is weak.”
2 Corinthians, chapter 3, says, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant.” So we have got responsibility + activity = ministry.
Let me just put it out there where you can get it. When was the last time in your life that you can look back and say, “Ed, I know God did that. I mean there is no doubt about it, God did it.” When was the last time that happened? When was the last time, because of God’s blessing and because of his expansion and because of your inadequacy, when was the last time you attempted something so great that God would have to have his hand upon you? When was the last time he came through and you said, “That was God. It was his hand. It was his blessing. It was his provision. It was his protection.” When was the last time?
If you don’t know, if you are scratching your head and saying, “Well…I think…I’m not sure.” You better check your spiritual pulse. You could have a blessing blockade somewhere in your life. God wants to bless you. There is no doubt about that. That’s a no-Biblical-brainer. He wants to bless you, but if you are not really receiving these blessings and expansions, if he is not moving in your life in great ways, something is amiss, something is wrong. You have some kind of blockade somewhere. Could it be a hurtful habit? Could it be the fact that you are living in sexual sin? Could it be because of materialism? Maybe it’s because you are not giving to a local church. The Bible says in Malachi 3, “If we give ten percent to the local storehouse,” which means the local house of worship, “that God would open the windows and the floodgates of heaven, and so many blessings will come our way, we can’t even hold them all.” Could that be it?
I’ll tell you something that really wigs me is thinking about the fact that one day I will see Jesus and meet him face to face and he will say, “Okay, Ed, I had all this stuff that I wanted to do in your life, all this blessing stuff. I had all this expansion stuff. I had this hand of God stuff and I wanted to keep you from evil and all that. But you know what, Ed? You didn’t really pray those high-risk, high-yield prayers.” It all goes back to that. It all goes back to that. We can’t play games with God. We have got to be serious with him. We’ve got to have those daily conversations with him. We have got to say, “God, I want to turn from my sin and turn to you. I want your blessing. I want your expansion. I want your hand. I want you, God, to keep me from evil.” When, though, was the last time that God showed up in a huge way?
When I was a junior in college, a friend of mine and I scraped up enough money to fly out to Los Angeles, CA, to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play a basketball game. It was during the height of show time. Pat Riley, Magic Johnson, Kareem, the Laker girls, all the Hollywood crowd, you know, was converging on the Fabulous Forum to watch these guys play. My friend said, “Ed, I know we can get in because I have a friend who is a ball boy and he is going to score us some tickets to the game.” So, I stepped out on faith and, sure enough, we flew into LA, caught some red eye and the tickets were there.
We walked into the Fabulous Forum. The place was packed. The place was rocking. Our seats weren’t that great. They were okay, but they weren’t that great. We were just jammed in there, and I could barely see over people’s heads, you know. I’m thinking, “Wow, this is fun. Is that Magic down there? I think that’s Magic.” I was checking for a nosebleed, you know. The place was packed.
My friend, who is about 6’5” was looking around and he said, “Hey, Ed, look man, on the front row right by the Laker bench, see Jack Nicholson?”
I said, “Yeah.”
He said, “Man, there are two empty seats.”
I said, “Man, what are you thinking?”
He said, “We’re going for the seats.” All this security was down there, you know.
I’m saying to myself, “I’m not going to go down there. Man, if I go down there and follow you, they will throw me out. I’m not going to do that.”
“Come on, let’s go.” So he just started down.
I just followed along, you know. I thought, “Well, what am I going to do when I see these security guys? I’ll just act like I know what I am doing.” So I walk by one big-old guy and I say, “Hey, man, what’s up?” He says, “How are you doing?” I just kept walking, all the way on the front row of the Fabulous Forum, and here’s this empty seat. I sit down. I’m sitting on the front row, three seats down from the Lakers with Jack Nicholson kind of right beside me with his running buddies. I could reach out and touch Magic and Kareem. I mean, come on, now. For a college junior, it doesn’t get any better than that, does it? It just doesn’t get any better. You know I am crazy about basketball. I’m like, “Gosh, this is incredible. I hope they don’t throw me out, you know.” I was loving life.
If you pray this Jabez-type prayer, if you go with God’s flow and follow his beat, and do his jazz, his way, here is what will happen to you. You will have courtside seats to colossal moves of God in your life, in your life.
I challenged you to pray this prayer for the next thirty days. Today, I am going to up the ante on your homework. I am going to challenge you today to start a Jabez journal. You know I am big on writing prayers down, and I want you to begin to write out the wonderful things that God does in your life as you pray these prayers. When he expands your horizon through blessings, when you feel that feeling of being inadequate, when you do the inadequacy thing, plus the loyalty thing and you have that responsibility. On top of that, you have responsibility plus activity and you are involved in ministry, God will show up. You will feel outgunned, and out manned, like a junior high kid playing in the NBA. God will show up. Record how God shows up. Write it down. Let me tell you the genius of doing it: it will build your faith.
One of the great faith builders of my life is going back and looking through all the answered prayer that God has brought my way due to high-risk, high-yield prayers. Also, it keeps me accountable. A while back, I was looking through my journal, and I was thinking to myself, “Man, Ed, God has not shown up very much in your life like He should.” I began thinking about my life and examining myself and praying. And God began to show me some things, some blessing blockades. What wonderful accountability. What would happen if you prayed that prayer for thirty days, for three months, for a year, for a lifetime, what would happen? We would have courtside seats to colossal moves of God.
I am going to ask you to kneel and pray the prayer of Jabez. I am going to pray this prayer, and you simply repeat the words after me as I pray, “Oh, God, bless me indeed, enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, in Jesus name, Amen.