ATLANTA (BP)–A small volume originally conceived as a gift for National Day of Prayer attendees in Washington just over a year ago has piqued the interest of media worldwide. Unfortunately, “The Prayer of Jabez” author Bruce Wilkinson says, the questions he repeatedly gets during interviews with secular media focus on a perceived “get rich quick” motivation.
“I’ve been preaching this for 30 years and nobody ever talked about money until it got to be a secular best-seller,” Wilkinson told an Atlanta gathering of Southern Baptist evangelism and church planters. “And all of a sudden people were wanting to know why people are buying a book on prayer. I said, because it’s working. People are seeing God answer prayer. … Not one secular person has ever accepted that. Not one.”
Wilkinson was the closing speaker Aug. 2 for the annual Summer Leadership Conference sponsored by the North American Mission Board for state and regional partners. Wilkinson is also president of Atlanta-based Walk Thru the Bible Ministries.
During his address Wilkinson shared some of the background of the Jabez phenomenon that has led to sales of more than 7.6 million copies. Wilkinson also offered encouragement for leaders on how God will honor their prayer to “enlarge their territory” — if they have the courage to venture beyond their comfort zones.
Wilkinson said the book came about as a result of an invitation to deliver his popular sermon on the Jabez prayer at the 2000 National Day of Prayer breakfast in Washington, D.C. He thought it would be nice to have a small printed version of the sermon available to give distinguished guests as a gift.
After talking to his publisher, they decided to print 30,000 copies. And because it was being published on a rushed schedule — and primarily as a personal favor — they decided not to do a lot of promotion.
Those copies sold in the first month.
“By the end of December I think about 300,000 books sold, which is more than all the books I’ve ever written put together,” he said — a milestone that turned out to be just the beginning of exploding popularity.
The book focuses on a passage in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 about a king, Jabez, who was found “more honorable than his brothers.” In the prayer quoted in the passage, Jabez asks God to “bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I might not cause pain.” The passage closes with the simple statement, “So God granted him what he requested.”
Wilkinson acknowledged his own struggle with the act of asking God to “bless me,” which might seem selfish on its face — resulting in common misperception he faces in the media interviews and in other secular contexts. But in order for it to be selfish one would have to assume there is a limited supply of God’s blessings to go around — or that God somehow does not want to give up his blessings.
He told of an instance in his own life when his son asked him to formally bless him, bestowing blessings on him just as the patriarchs of the Old Testament.
“I reached over and put my hands on his shoulder, and tried to find everything in the deepest part of my heart that I could pour out on my son,” Wilkinson said. “As he got up, the Lord whispered, ‘Now you know how I feel when you come over to me in the morning and say to me, ‘Father, I want your blessing. Would you bless me and bless me a lot?'”
“As you keep on asking God to bless you, he continues to pour out his blessings upon you,” Wilkinson added later. “Not always right away, but as you keep on asking he’ll continue to fill you up.”
In a workbook on the prayer of Jabez, Wilkinson says that one of the distinctives of the Jabez prayer is that “it’s not for my wishes, but His will.”
“It’s not for what I want, but to accomplish what he wants,” he says of the prayer. “It usually happens when you’re seeking to do something for God and need his help to accomplish it.”
It is the second part of the prayer — praying for God to expand your territory — that often is most difficult, Wilkinson said. In the context of Christian leaders, that means providing further opportunities for ministry.
“The thought of asking God to give me more to do for him was overwhelming,” Wilkinson said of his original struggles with the prayer. “I pictured myself as a plate piled up with stuff, and I thought if the Lord adds one more lima bean on top of this plate it’s going to all fall down — until I realized God can enlarge the plate.”
He described the familiar concept of a comfort zone, with well-defined boundaries of ministry.
“When we ask God to enlarge our borders, what we are saying is, ‘God please mess up my comfort zone.’ We are expecting it to be moved out six inches, and he moves it out a mile and a half.”
He described what he called “border bullies” that, as Christians approach the border, begin “whispering all over you, making you afraid, pushing you back.” But in praying for God to expand our boundaries, we must be willing to live with that kind of fear, he said — a fear that comes from knowing that anything beyond the current boundaries is possible only with God’s help.
“I realized that is the norm, and it is to be anticipated and expected,” he said. “If you are to do everything God wants you to do … you will be saying, ‘Lord, give me more. I’m going to go out in that field and I hate it, but Lord give me more.'”
Many Christian leaders have “avoided those borders for years,” he said, some attributing it to their age or other factors that have limited them. But the Scriptures are full of stories of individuals who have been blessed by God only when they stepped out in faith.
“There is absolutely no limit to what God wants to do through you if you’ll leave your comfort zone,” Wilkinson said.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BRUCE WILKINSON.