The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life sold millions of copies, and upon reading this short book its popularity became apparent when a couple of things popped out as critical. The proposed intellectual underpinning of the movement was that public verbal confession of faith in the concept—asking God for gifts compels him to deliver what is asked for. “Ask and it shall be granted.” Of course there are caveats to this delivery of everything. Delivery is based on the absolute truth of your belief and commitment. In other words if God doesn’t deliver it is your fault because God wants you to have everything you can conjure up in your imagination and state in your prayers. The short book is a long rationalization of this doctrine.
There are good ideas in this book, such as on page 78, where it is suggested that while in conversation with people you should occasionally ask the question, “How can I help you?” That is at the heart of any good religion, because it is selfless in that it helps the other person move toward their personal goals of a more fulfilled life. The advantage of asking the other person is that it doesn’t require empathizing with them. If you can empathize you can help others without asking, but that is a very mature social skill. So, simple asking is recommended for most people.
On page 87 there was a reasonable list of specific things to do to enhance the likelihood of your success, like putting printouts of the prayer in conspicuous places around your home as reminders to do the prayer. Also, telling another person about your plan for prayer and having them check up on you often, because that goads you into performing better. Also, keeping a list of your success in doing the prayer and any improvements in your life. The point of these is to develop habits focused on the prayer. The message was received by millions of people and was popular during the turn of the millennium years. I asked a few people I know who live in the remote town of Sisters, Oregon, where the book was published, and they knew people who worked on the printing and distribution of those millions of books.
The Jabez Prayer
And 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 I may not cause pain!”
So God granted him what he requested.
1Chronicles 4:10 (NKJV)
One thing struck me as strange about this quote from the Bible — it ended with, “that I may not cause pain!” The book spends a whole chapter on each line in that quoted prayer, but doesn’t mention, except perhaps obliquely, the requester not causing pain. And that is ended with an exclamation mark! Who is the sufferer of this pain? Is it the prayer, or other people, or God himself? Hm, it’s unanswered, so I checked some other translations.
The New International Version makes it perfectly clear; the petitioner is the person that won’t be in pain. “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.”
The Basic English Bible takes a different path and keeps the petitioner from evil, “And Jabez made a prayer to the God of Israel, saying, If only you would truly give me a blessing, and make wider the limits of my land, and let your hand be with me, and keep me from evil, so that I may not be troubled by it! And God gave him his desire.”
If this is the closest the Abrahamic God comes to wanting people to be free from anxiety, free from pain, prosperous, and socially responsible toward others, it is surprising that it was as successful as it has been.
A link to other books on the general subject of The Gospel of Prosperity.