They didn’t have a prayer (or shot).
That’s an idiom that says it all. Usually pronounced about someone whose demise is now history, the onlookers agree that the person in question never had a chance. His/her outcome was pre-ordained, in the now-expert view of all assembled. In retrospect, the Monday morning quarterbacks all agree: they didn’t have a prayer…
When Jabez launched into his adult life, he was the longshot-of-longshots. The handicappers counted him out of contention before the game of life even commenced. His mom had marked him – “he’s a pain” – and no one contested her assumptions… but Jabez, himself.
Find any survey that digs into spiritual themes. The findings are consistent, whether the Dow is “up” or “down;” whether you live in a Blue State or a Red one; timelines and zip codes don’t change this fact: when things get dicey, people – even the “non-religious” ones – pray, just in case. “Send one up for me” is the ultimate call of desperation that signals that someone thinks they’re heading down-for-the-count. “No atheists in a foxhole” is another one of those pesky phrases that confirm the fact that God is the last call made from a dying man’s cellphone. Prayer: it’s the last resort.
What made Jabez amazing: prayer wasn’t what he did with his final breath. Instead, he employed it at the beginning of the race, before life and its outcomes became a fait accompli.
He had a prayer: “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.” (1 Chronicles 4:10).
Christians often gather – in a well-understood routine – for “Bible Study” and “Fellowship.” Those clusters often finish with a protocol that everyone understands. “Any Prayer Requests?” signals the two-minute warning: if you’ve got something worthy of a Hail Mary – likely to fail without divine intervention – put it in Heaven’s in-box before the group shuts down for the week. Often trivial, the “list” changes frequently; the outcomes are seldom gamechangers in the flow of history.
Jabez didn’t have a prayer request; he had a Prayer. He looked beyond the job interviews, the cholesterol diagnosis, the kid hoping to score an SAT that would get scholarship attention; those are great to seek God’s partnership… but that wasn’t the tone of Jabez’ Main Thing Manifesto.
A concise appeal that framed his partnership with Heaven: Launch me into Your plan for my life (“Bless me”). Watch my faithfulness to You, and promote me accordingly (“enlarge my territory”). Give me the invisible, invincible Edge (“Let your hand be with me”). Cover my blindside (“keep me from harm”). I want to be exuding your glory rather than be consumed with my own despair (“so that I will be free from pain”). That was Jabez’ Life Prayer.
The words that ensured his ultimate success in life: “And God granted his request.”
The epitaph that was on his gravestone: “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.” That summation of a life well lived opens the two-verse biography that we’ve spent weeks dissecting.
In biblical terms, honor isn’t granted; it’s earned. Honor recognizes great performance and responds with the appropriate accolades. In God’s view, doing well warrants applause. He got it.
Jabez had a prayer; it was the Prayer of a Lifetime. He boiled it to its essence: two sentences, nineteen words, and decades of life ahead. Jabez stepped up; God reached down; honor followed.
So… what’s your Life Prayer? Are you still sending God your occasional texts with longshot appeals? Or have you captured the Longings of a Lifetime that could be your gamechanger?