We all go through painful experiences of one kind or another, and how we handle life’s adversities will have a lot to do in determining our character and our destiny. The intriguing story of Jabez reveals how our pain can be transformed as we lay hold of God’s promises:
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 ESV).
Too often, people assume that their upbringing inevitably determines their destiny. But Jabez knew otherwise. Right from the beginning, we see that he stood out from the crowd, and he was “more honorable” even than his own brothers.
However, as we read about Jabez’ life, we realize his life got off to a rough start. It seemed like the cards were stacked against him. His birth was so painful that “his mother called his name Jabez”—derived from the Hebrew word for pain.
Perhaps you can relate to Jabez’ story at this point. Your parents probably didn’t name you “a pain”—at least not formally! But let’s be honest: Sometimes parents, siblings, peers, pastors, or employers send us negative messages about our identity…who we are. Or maybe there was a bully in your neighborhood who said you were too skinny…too fat…too ugly…too short…or too stupid.
There’s an old saying that is totally false. I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” That truth is just the opposite: We can recover from sticks and stones and even broken bones—but people’s words often cause us a lifetime of hurt.
That’s how Jabez’ story begins: with pain…with rejection from the very people who should have shown him the most love and acceptance. But the good news is that Jabez wasn’t content to wallow in his situation. He rejected the labels put on him by his detractors, choosing instead to seek God for a new identity…a new purpose…and a new destiny.
How did your story begin in its early chapters? Perhaps you had a wonderful, loving family that cared for you and nurtured you all along the way. But I meet so many people today who have had an experience more like Jabez.
So what did Jabez do to break free from the negative labels that threatened to bind him to a life of failure or mediocrity? The text says, “Jabez called upon the God of Israel.” If you are going to break free from people’s opinions about you, you must cry out for HIGHER opinion—the opinion of Almighty God. In the end, it’s really just HIS opinion that maters, isn’t it? When you stand before Him in eternity, the bullies and naysayers won’t be there to tear you down. The only thing that will matter will be hear His beautiful words of affirmation, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
We’re specifically told that he called upon “the God of Israel.” This doesn’t just mean he was calling upon the God of the nation of Israel. No, Jabez was calling upon the God of JACOB—the patriarch whose name was changed by God to ISRAEL.
Do you see why this is significant? Jacob had a pretty dysfunctional childhood, and his own brother seemed intent on killing him. And just like Jabez, Jacob had been given a rather negative name—Jacob, the “supplanter” or “usurper.” And up until the point when Jacob’s name was changed, he had lived up to his negative name, becoming an opportunistic scoundrel and deceiver.
But after Jacob wrestled all night with God in Genesis 32:22-29, the Lord changed his name to Israel, which meant “Triumphant with God” or “Prince with God.”
You see, Jabez knew the story of Jacob well. He saw how God had transformed Jacob from being a PAIN to being a PRINCE. And Jabez called on the “God of Israel (Jacob)” to do the same for him.
Perhaps you need a name change today…a new identity. God can take your PAIN and make you a PRINCE or PRINCESS. He can take your FAILURES and give you a glorious FUTURE. But you have a role to play. You must cry out to Him, like Jabez did. You may even need to wrestle with Him, as Jacob did. But don’t let go until you have a new name…a fresh start…a new beginning.
And I want you to notice that Jabez asked God to give him several specific things. This is an important lesson for us, because sometimes our prayers and our plans are too vague and undefined. I encourage you today to be specific about what you are asking God for. Specific prayer requests will bring specific answers!
Jabez first requested of the Lord, “Oh that you would bless me.” God wants to bless YOU, my friend! So go ahead, like Jabez, and ASK Him to bless you.
The second thing Jabez asked is that God would “enlarge his border.” In the same way, God wants to enlarge you today. He wants to give you bigger dreams…higher vision…more audacious plans.
But think of how incredible this prayer request must have been for Jabez, the man who was labeled a pain and a loser. He could have curled up in a ball and wallowed in his victimhood, but instead he did just the opposite. He called on God to enlarge his territory and give him greater responsibilities and impact.
So what about YOU? Is there some area of your life that you need God to enlarge? Your career…your finances…your health…your relationships…your ministry…your vision? Today can be your first step in asking God for an INCREASE that will change your entire trajectory in life.
Jabez’ next request was that “God’s hand” would be upon his life. This expressed Jabez’ recognition that he needed GOD’S FAVOR in order to accomplish his life’s PURPOSE. This is so important for you to see: In order to escape from any painful experiences that would hold you back from your destiny, you need God’s favor.
Jabez’ final request was that God would keep from harm—from the things that would cause pain, either to himself or the people around him. Jabez was a man of great faith, but he also was a realist. He understood that he had received a legacy of pain and dysfunction, and the natural thing would be to continue that legacy in his own life. It’s no secret that people in pain tend to cause pain to others. People who have been abused often become abusers. Children of alcoholics and addicts too often follow in their parents footsteps.
But Jabez knew the negative patterns must STOP! He had been called a pain, but that’s not how he wanted to treat others.
This passage about Jabez ends with a beautiful conclusion: “And God granted what he asked.” I love happy endings, don’t you? Just as God did in the life of Jabez, He has planned a happy ending for YOU!