Last Sunday (24 June 2018) I again preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church .
With the children we explored names both in society and in the Bible and how are names soemtimes define who we are.
So our Bible reading deals with a man who had been named Jabez which means “Pain”. Imagine going through life with a name like that.
Well our short reading from the Bible, a snapshot in reality, tells us what this man did and how God blessed him.
1 Chronicles 4 v 9 & 10
Jabez was more honourable 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.
How do you feel about being blessed by God?
For many it’s the nondescript “God bless you” we wish people in a vague way or tack onto the message inside greetings cards.
Many of us were bought up not to ask for things. You may have been taught the old saying: “Those who ask don’t get and those who don’t ask don’t want”
However at times like Christmas and birthdays some people write out lists of what they would like to receive. Often this starts once the Christmas cards start appearing in the shops – usually just after Fathers’ Day in June!
There are people who think God is rather like a cash dispenser. You know how they work, you put the cashpoint card in the slot and type in the PIN and bingo out comes the cash. I am sure none of you treat the Lord like that.
You know: say the prayer, shout “Amen” and grab the blessings!
This is the sort of prosperity religion we see mainly in the States. Some people call it “Name it and Claim it”.
Yes God can give us more than we can ever ask for but we have to ask in accordance with his will.
Of course some people in their asking God for blessings misunderstand how he works.
Many years ago when cash dispensers were first installed, I am told that a bank customer arrived at night at an obviously empty dark bank branch. He wrote out his cheque to cash and put it with his cheque book, and cheque guarantee card through the letter box and rushed round to the cash machine and waited and waited for his money. He was convinced that one of the bank’s cashiers was on duty in the darkened building to cash his cheque and push the money out of the slot in the machine!
People are just as wrong and muddled in their approach to God, relying on myths and old wives tales and a lot of misinformation. It is thought by some that God’s blessing just drops into their laps without the need for faith or any effort on our part. Others don’t feel they could ask God for anything. They are right that we don’t deserve God’s blessings but then he is a loving generous God who delights in giving good things to his children.
Some people think they can earn God’s blessings, rather as people used to collect Green Shield stamps years ago and trade the full books in for various items from the catalogue. “If I do this for God then he will do something for me…”
You can’t earn your way into heaven or bargain with God to get his blessings no matter how many times you go to church on Sunday or how many cakes you bake, meetings you attend or whatever. God doesn’t work that way.
God’s children are those who are “born again”, who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, not just people who come to church regularly – they are church goers. You may have heard the saying “You can’t rely on God’s promises by merely visiting his premises”.
Being men, women and children of faith is far more than parking your backside on a church pew for an hour a week or watching “Songs of Praise” on the TV every Sunday evening.
What does God say on the matter of blessings?
Just see the effect that God’s blessing had on people who were faithful and obedient:
Abraham who obediently left his comfortable lifestyle in Ur to find the promised land of Canaan became a successful and prosperous businessman. And had an even greater blessing in that his physical and spiritual descendants are without number as God promised him.
Joseph remained faithful to God despite all that happened to him and became Prime minister of Egypt and saved not only Egypt but also the Jewish people from starvation.
Job had everything taken from him, yet stuck with God and was blessed by having even more given to him because of his faithfulness.
David despite his sinfulness was described as a man after God’s own heart and he was blessed with the Kingdom of Israel and the promise that the Messiah would be one of his descendants. Now isn’t that a real blessing?
And so to the hero in our story.
Jabez clearly hadn’t had a good start in life because his mother had called him “pain” as she had a very difficult and painful childbirth.
Anybody here a pain to their mums?
Yet Jabez has overcome his difficult start in life and has become the most respected member of his family. Clearly this wasn’t enough and he recognised that he couldn’t do it on his own.
Jabez must have realised that human effort can only achieve so much. He was wise enough and humble enough to know that all things come from God. So to really make his mark he needs God’s help.
Jabez wanted it “God’s Way”. So he calls out to the Lord: “Oh, that you would bless me “
Jabez doesn’t limit his request with something trivial like the Old Testament equivalent of the Rolls Royce or a win on the Lottery. No he leaves it to God to provide the blessing.
God like any loving parent wants what’s best for his children and delights in providing for them. Because he is the creator he can bend the rules and make miracles happen. But miracles just don’t happen. We have to ask. Just look at the gospels to see how Jesus answered those who asked in faith
Yet some may say “Oh I haven’t that much faith”. But Jesus talks about us just needing faith the size of a mustard seed to see amazing miracles happen. As you may know a mustard seed is just a tiny black dot and you may wonder how anything of any size can possible grow from it. Matthew 17 v 20 “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”
Jabez has the faith to ask for an increase in his territory – some translations say “land”. But a person’s territory is where he or she can have influence. Jabez was already well respected and wanted to have greater influence.
But for whose benefit?
This is something we should ask ourselves when we seek to increase our influence – is it for us? For our personal benefit or for God? Are we trying to satisfy our own desires or are we seeking to serve God?
Some may say but I have enough. I do enough already. I don’t want to get labelled as “religious”. All this stepping out in faith stuff is alright for church leaders or for people who have the time to study the bible and things but not for me!
Yes, stepping out in faith and asking God to bless you and use you is scary but the results are truly awesome and often beyond your greatest expectations.
Jabez, I am sure, realised that just asking to be blessed was not enough. He goes on to ask “Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm”
If someone’s hand is with you or on you then you are close to them. The only way to keep that hand there is to stay close. Its rather like walking hand in hand with a child, to not only give them the comfort of feeling you there, but to keep them from running off or from falling over and hurting themselves.
Jabez realises even when God gives him the blessing, he needs God’s oversight to keep him safe. He needs to stay close to God.
Did you realise that a quarter of the Lord’s prayer is asking for protection?
All too often when things are going well we forget God. Some people treat him like the red box on the wall – “In case of emergency break your silence and pray“.
When there isn’t a problem we ignore the fire alarm don’t we?
So we too need to keep close to God and if his hand is restraining us we need to learn not to struggle and try to break free because he knows much better than we do the harm that will befall us if we go our own way.
We need also to learn to go at God’s pace not ours. Like the little child who has to learn that the hand he is holding is slowing him down for a reason we also have to realise that God doesn’t want us to run out of steam or indeed over balance and fall because of our haste to get things done.
Indeed Jabez was cute enough to realise the pain that can be caused by going his way rather than God’s way. Without God’s protection we are on our own in the dark. After all Psalm 119 v 105 ”Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” My bible commentary says this about this verse “Apart from this (God’s word) I could only grope about in the darkness. We all know how much harm we can get into walking along an unlit path or negotiating the landing and stairs in the dark when the lights fuse or there is a power cut.
So what happened when Jabez prayed this prayer “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.”?
We read “And God granted his request” We don’t hear again from Jabez in the Bible but we can assume he made his mark for God because his story is recorded for us to study and think about. Clearly the man’s life was changed and indeed his territory or influence is with us today. His story still bears witness to our wonderful loving generous God. Isn’t that something?
Just imagine if you prayed a prayer like Jabez and in three thousand years time, if the Lord Jesus hasn’t returned in the meantime, people are still talking about you as an example of a faithful believer would n’t that say something about your influence being increased and used by God?
If you desire to use what you have for God, to be an influence for him wherever you are, why not pray this prayer?
If you believe that God can and does bless people, and you are prepared to let him decide what the blessing will be and when it will be, why not pray this prayer? After all James says in James 4 v2 “You do not have because you do not ask”
So if you do not ask, you do not get the blessings that God has ready for you and you miss out on the experiencing the God who describes himself as “abundant in goodness”.
Asking God to bless you, as he wills, means that your life will never be the same and he will be able to use you to be a blessing to others and a witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.
So lets step out in faith and ask God to bless us:
“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.” Amen.