We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Thursday, August 13, 2009

“THE PRAYER OF JABEZ” - An Analysis of the Book by Bruce Wilkinson

I'm still seeing this book in the book stores, and can't figure out why it is still so popular except that it tickles the ears. I first heard about this book eight years ago; I had read about it being very poor hermeneutics, but just chalked it up as another fad until Emmaus Bible College was passing it out to their graduates, one of whom was a daughter of a friend.

Emmaus Bible College is a solid, fundamental Bible college, so I was quite surprised at the content of this book when I borrowed it to see for myself what the clamor was about. I then did a review of the book for members of the church I was attending at the time to warn people away from this poor teaching. Here is the review I did then, and I think it is a good idea that we remember this book and the problems with it so as to avoid the other similar stuff from the same author.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, “God has hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ. I say this so that no one will mislead you with arguments that merely sound good.” (Col. 2:3-4, GWN) In this analysis I will demonstrate that Mr. Wilkinson’s book is no more than “arguments that merely sound good.”

The prayer of Jabez is found in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10: “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him 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.” (NIV)

There is nothing more in the Bible about Jabez. None of the prophets of the Old Testament, nor Jesus or the apostles ever mention this prayer. For 2000 years this verse has not been mentioned as having any significance, yet Mr. Wilkinson claims if we say this prayer daily (like a New Age mantra), “God’s great plan for you will surround you and sweep you forward into the profoundly important and satisfying life He has waiting..” (P.17)

What do we really know from this passage?
1. Jabez sounds like the Hebrew word for pain (this is from any commentary). His mother “gave birth to him in pain.” That is the origin of his name.
2. Since he is noted as “more honorable than his brothers,” we can infer he was a righteous man and had an established relationship with God.
3. Based on this obvious previous relationship, we are told of a particular prayer that God granted. We are not told that this was Jabez’s only prayer, nor would that be a logical assumption. The plain teachings of Scripture would tell us that Jabez must have had a previous intimate relationship with God that would lead to this prayer, since a relationship with God is required of anyone receiving blessing from Him.
4. This was a prayer by Jabez and no one else.

Without any Scriptural support, Mr. Wilkinson makes the following claims about this passage:

1. It is “a daring prayer that God always answers.” (Preface). Do we have any evidence that anyone else ever prayed this prayer before Wilkinson wrote this book? Do we have evidence that everyone who prays this gets answered?

2. It is “the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God.” (Preface). Where does Scripture say another person’s prayer is a key to our life of favor with God?

3. “The Jabez prayer distills God’s powerful will for your future.” (p.12) Again, where is the Biblical evidence?

4. “It reveals that your Father longs to give you so much more than you may have ever thought to ask for.” (p.17) The Bible says God gave him his request, not “so much more than...[Jabez] thought to ask for.”

5. “Jabez was blessed simply because he refused to let any obstacle, person, or opinion loom larger than God’s nature. And God’s nature is to bless.” (p.29). Where does Scripture say this about Jabez?

6. When Jabez asked for increased territory, according to Wilkinson he was asking for “more influence, more responsibility, and more opportunity to make a mark for the God of Israel.” (p.30) No place in the passage is this stated or even hinted at. This is complete eisegesis (reading into a passage what isn’t there). Then Wilkinson goes on to say that our use of this prayer as a rote petition will be a request for ministry opportunities. Does this prayer even remotely make this request? This is making it mean whatever you want it to mean.

7. “Thereafter his life was spared from the grief and pain that evil brings.” (p.74) Scripture doesn’t say this, so it must be a new revelation by God to Mr. Wilkinson. Scripture says that God granted Jabez’s prayer, part of which was asking to be kept free from harm so he would be free from pain. This does not say he didn’t suffer grief and pain from evil. All we can assume is that God kept him from harm, but this doesn’t necessarily correlate to eliminating grief caused by evil, or even emotional distress from others’ actions against him. Is it not possible to be protected from harm that brings physical pain and still suffer grief and emotional pain from the evil in the world?

8. Jabez was a “man who had no future.” (p.12) I challenge anyone to find this claim in the cited passage! We have no idea what kind of future Jabez would have had.

9. Mr. Wilkinson speculates about what caused pain for his mother (other than childbirth?), and that, since Jabez knew of God’s miracles, he figured he should be able to just ask the most from God and expect to receive it. (pp.20-21). We do not know from the passage what Jabez was thinking, so how can Wilkinson say this?

Mr. Wilkinson says he has prayed this prayer every morning for over 30 years, and that it has brought him great blessings and miracles, although he has given no evidence for any miracle, and blessings he claims can be very subjective. The premise of the book is that, by praying this prayer regularly:

1. “...thousands of believers...are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis.” (Preface). Yet he gives no evidence of real miracles that happened.

2. “Let me tell you of a guaranteed by-product of sincerely seeking His blessing: Your life will become marked by miracles. How do I know? Because He promises it, and I’ve seen it happen in my own.” (p.24) To begin with, a miracle is something that happens outside of natural causes, and Wilkinson fails to give any example of this taking place. He also says it is a guarantee, which means that God has no choice in the matter. He does not show from Scripture where God promises us miracles and life changes by praying this prayer!

3. “Through a simple, believing prayer, you can change your future. You can change what happens one minute from now.” (p.29) Out of context I can say this is a true statement, if one is talking about the prayer of a sinner coming to Christ. However, since the prayer Wilkinson is talking about is the prayer of Jabez, he can muster no Scriptural evidence for this claim.

On p.27 Wilkinson cites Matt.7:7 and James 4:2, and then interprets them as follows: “Even though there is no limit to God’s goodness, if you didn’t ask Him for a blessing yesterday, you didn’t get all that you were supposed to have.” There is no Scriptural support for this claim, and it limits God by our actions. This also takes these passages beyond any meaning of the original writer’s intentions.

On p.47 he states that, “As God’s chosen, blessed sons and daughters, we are expected to attempt something large enough that failure is guaranteed... unless God steps in.” He then continues, “It is God’s plan for His most-honored servants.” Again, there is no evidence from Scripture to support these claims, and it begs the question of testing God.

Although Mr. Wilkinson’s teaching about seeking increased opportunities for ministry is a noble one, we cannot justify twisting of Scripture to support it, and his unbiblical claims warrant our discernment. Mr. Wilkinson has taken an obscure prayer and has made it into a superstitious charm, a mantra to be said every morning to ensure God’s blessings. Since the book propagates error and has “arguments that merely sound good,” it should be avoided by Christians.


winteryknight said...

This is scary. People bought tons and tons of copies of a book that has virtually nothing to do with Christian doctrines and no direct applicability to them>

Sheesh. Why don't they like Lee Strobel instead?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Yeah, I'd say Strobel is a much better read!

Marie said...

I vaguely remember reading this long ago, and mentally filing it away in the same category as "Purpose Driven Life" - highly forgettable, and glad I had borrowed it from the library rather than spending money on a book that was essentially a waste of time.

However, I have a slightly clearer memory of Wilkinson's follow-up book, "Secrets of the Vine". It purported to be an exegesis of John 14, and the big "secret" was that "cut off" really meant "pick up and clean" in Greek. At the time, I thought,
wow, that's pretty deep" but since I have never seen another commentator in 2,000 years of Church history find what Wilkinson found....well, um....yeah.

Anonymous said...

Boy, the gullible flock was taken for a ride then and many times since by the same Dr.