Biblical Prayer Is Not Unbiblical! "Wesley vs. Jabez" Is False Dichotomy
Wesley vs. Jabez: A false dichotomy
JAMES GIBSON, Marshallville United Methodist Church
Ken Carter’s UMNS commentary, "A Tale of Two Prayers" offers some useful observations concerning the plight of Christians living in the midst of a society immersed in the consumer mentality. Without a doubt, there is a perpetual struggle within the Christian publishing community, from author to publisher to bookseller, to walk that fine line between legitimate ministry and cheap commercialism. It is a sad commentary on the state of Christianity in America at the dawn of the 21st century that there are probably more people who have read the fictional Left Behind series with eyes trained solely on some uncertain future than have read the actual Book of Revelation with eyes, ears, mind and heart singularly focused upon its challenging message for the present day.
Yet, in taking on one of the most successful recent works of Christian non-fiction, Rev. Carter draws a false dichotomy between a prayer offered by an obscure Old Testament character and one offered by the founder of Methodism. The Prayer of Jabez (the title of a book by Bruce Wilkinson), says Rev. Carter, is not for Methodists because it is about self-fulfillment, not self-denial; personal, not corporate. The Wesley Covenant Prayer is a better prayer, he says, because it is "profoundly biblical" and challenges believers to live a life in this world which truly reflects the life of Christ.
What Rev. Carter says about Wesley’s prayer is all well and good. But he overlooks one very important fact about the prayer of Jabez, namely, there is nothing more profoundly biblical than a prayer taken straight out of the Bible. Jabez, as portrayed in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, is neither selfish nor self-centered. The Chronicler says he "was more honorable than his brothers." His prayer, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!" is not recorded as an example of how not to pray. On the contrary, it is recorded to demonstrate both Jabez’s faithfulness in prayer and God’s faithfulness in answering prayer. The Chronicler concludes the brief account by saying, "So God granted him what he requested."
God does not grant requests which do not come from the depths of a heart fully surrendered to him. Jabez’s prayer is not about self-fulfillment or selfish gain. It is the out-working of a heart and life fully centered on and focused upon God. No one can pray so boldly who has not first humbly and reverently surrendered one’s whole life to God. In other words, the thought of so bold a prayer would not have even entered Jabez’s mind if he had not first done what Wesley’s Covenant Prayer demands.
Taken separately, Wesley and Jabez give us only one side of the whole coin. But they are not opposed to one another. They complement each other. We cannot find fulfillment without first denying ourselves. But in so denying ourselves, losing our life for the sake of the kingdom of God, we find our true self, that is, the eternal life God has prepared for us in a kingdom whose territory knows no bounds and whose blessings know no end.
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