“Jabez called on 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 hurt and harm!’ And God granted what he asked.”
1 Chronicles 4:10
Tucked into the seemingly endless listing of descendants in 1 Chronicles, lies a prayer. This brief prayer is a welcome interruption to the mind-numbing list of names found within the first nine chapters. I know the list of descendants is there for an extremely good reason. I know it serves its purpose. It’s fine—but they’re certainly not my “go to” passages for inspiration. However, this one little prayer tucked neatly in the middle of it all has interested me from the first time I saw it.
Not much is known about this prayer. Most sources I’ve read agree that the most important take-away is, simply, that Jabez prayed. He took his requests to God. I like that. I like the thought that Jabez didn’t just exist. He requested a larger life. He requested space to flourish, and grow, and bear fruit—space to be established—and he requested it from the One who was able to answer such a bold prayer.
The prayer to have my boundaries expanded—my territory enlarged— has been my constant prayer for the last decade. This request has not come from a selfish “give me more” kind of place. For me, this has been a prayer of deep trust—that I will go and do and allow into my life anything and everything God has for me. I want my life to flourish and bear fruit for God’s kingdom. I believe that’s why God put me here, and that is what I want to be about.
I don’t know how that strikes you. Does that seem like a safe prayer? Or does it seem risky, frightening? Does the thought of praying that kind of prayer make you a little nervous?
It made me really nervous for a long time, but I continued to pray it. This prayer keeps me from complacency, from settling for less than God’s best, and from giving in to fear.
You see, my tendency is to play it safe, to set my fences really close and have nice, manageable boundary lines. But if I take no risks—if I seek to stay as comfortable as possible, only attempting things that I can accomplish and understand in my own strength and power—I will not have the impact God desires me to have in this world. However, if I let God set my boundary lines, and if I allow Him to keep expanding them and pushing them back, I will discover new and beautiful territory, and my life will make an impact that goes beyond my safe and limited ideas.
That’s the first half of the prayer, and it’s been my companion for many years. The second half, however, has consistently stumped me:
How can it be that Jabez would request that no harm would come to him? And how can it be that God would grant him that request? I mean, I understand the desire to pray such a prayer. None of us wants any harm to come to us. However, it just doesn’t seem very realistic to expect that nothing bad would ever happen to us.
Recently it occurred to me that I may have been looking at this the wrong way. Maybe Jabez figured that his new, enlarged territory would look very appealing to an enemy. Perhaps he thought it likely that an enemy could come along and seek to take it away from him. In that case, it just makes sense to couple a prayer for expanded territory with a prayer for protection from harm. With that thought in mind, perhaps his prayer was more like, “Oh that your hand would be upon me and prevent enemies from taking back the progress and expansion you will bring into my life.”
Whether or not this is what Jabez meant, this has been the prayer I have now adopted to go along with my request for God to expand my boundaries. I know I have an enemy. I know that whenever I have made serious, spiritual progress, he has attempted to take back every bit of that progress. So, I am not shy about asking God to protect me from this enemy. Even Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:13) to pray “rescue us from the evil one.”
God has definitely not answered every prayer I have lifted up to him, and I am very grateful for that. However, the Lord has always protected me from my real enemy. He has always come to my aid when I’ve needed him. Even though I have gone through seasons of wandering, seasons where I moved my own fences back into my safe zone and retreated into fear, God has consistently and persistently shepherded me and guarded me from the enemy of my soul. I feel confident that this is a prayer He wants me to pray. It keeps me in line with Him and reminds me that He is always for me.
I am amazed at the expansion He has brought into my life. I have taken time over the years to write down all the ways I’ve seen him grow me and expand my boundaries, using me to make an impact in the lives of others. Each time I am overcome with gratitude.
My prayer is that you will trust God with this same kind of prayer. May you trust Him to set your boundary lines where He sees fit. And may you follow Him into all the new and beautiful territory He will lead you toward, to the glory of God and for the sake of others.
*This short prayer was popularized in the 1990s by the book The Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson. I, like many other people at that time, purchased a copy. In the end, I didn’t agree with the author’s approach (a little to “prosperity gospel” sounding to me.) However, it is what introduced me to this prayer, and for that I am grateful.