Thoughts to Ponder

The next logical step...

I receive many e-mail messages each day, but two came in which I think show the sad state of discernment in the Christian community. I received these two messages in response to my book review of "The Prayer of Jabez" by Bruce Wilkinson. If you would like to read it you may here:

The first e-mail shows what the next logical step is for a church that embraces this book:

I agree with your take on "The Prayer of Jabez." Our senior pastor, at the church we have attended for twelve years, has taken this book and is using it to buy new property, and build a new building. He has called our efforts, "The Jabez Project." Problem is no one knows if God is in the project, just hoping that He will bless our efforts.

Now we feel, along with quite a few others, that we are outcasts for not agreeing with this direction. I told my wife I don't feel like I am part of our church anymore, even while sitting in its midst. Those who think this is a grand idea have made those of us wanting to hear what God would have us do, feel like outcasts. It has become divisive.

The reason I say this is the next logical step is that this is exactly what the book teaches. "This" is the prayer that God always answers. Well if the book is being promoted from the pulpit and taught in the church, then why wouldn't the church as a whole embrace the concept and use it when a need arises within the church?

Why would a church seek God's will if they have the magic words which will compel God to act? Why trust God's grace and goodness when you can force His hand instead?

I made some pretty strong statements in my review of the book. I stated that what biblical principles there are in the book have been sprinkled with rat poison. Strong words but I believe they are true and I think this message confirms my fears. Not only has this book clouded the judgment of this church's leadership but it is driving a wedge between those who want to discern God's will and those who want to compel Him to act.

Here is the second e-mail:

It sounds as though you are having a problem understanding God's grace, mercy and the fact that we are His Son's, and as such, we have a right to ask Him for the things Jabez did. I'd like to hear something positive.

I receive quite a few of these types of messages. Many from pastors who are teaching this book in their churches. They claim, like this person that I don't understand. Either I don't understand what the book is saying or I don't understand God. I won't go back over the book review here, but I do want to briefly explain what my problem with the book is. In the book the author claims that 30 years ago he was doing his devotions and ran across the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. He decided that he would start praying that prayer too and see what would happen. The author claims he has prayed that prayer "word for word" every morning for 30 years. He claims it holds the secret to getting blessings from God.

Here is the passage of Scripture which the prayer is bases on: (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 NIV) Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." {10} 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. That is it, that is what all the fuss is about. Two short verses out of the whole Bible.

My problem with this is that the author does not give biblical principles of prayer, he does not encourage his readers to talk to God and establish a personal intimate relationship with Him, instead he claims he has the words that the person can use to get blessings from God.

Since I disagree with mumbling the same words over and over again, day after day, like the pagans do, I am told I don't understand God's grace, mercy or the fact that we are His children. I replied to this person and told them that I felt since I was a child of God that I could and should talk to Him the way a child talks to their father. In a personal way, explaining how I feel and what I perceive my needs and wants to be. I explained that I see no spiritual benefit to be gained from praying a prayer which does not come from my heart.

Jesus had much to say about prayer: (Matthew 6:5-8 NIV) And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. {6} But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. {7} And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. {8} Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Why pray in secret if you are saying the same prayer everyone else is anyway? Why would He tell us not to keep babbling like the pagans if in fact He wanted us to continually repeat the same words over and over again? Why would He tell us that our Father already knows what we need before we ask, if we need to ask using specific words to make sure we get the right blessing? For that matter, how could Jesus be so forgetful as to forget to even mention the prayer Jabez prayed?

Surely if this was the prayer that God always answers, I assume because it is the prayer that He likes, He would have shown us that in His word? Why would He keep this a secret for two thousand years and then show us? Does He love us more then those who were believers before us?

Do you see how ridiculous this is? I am sure I don't fully understand God's grace, mercy or love for us, but I think I understand it well enough to know a couple of things. First I know that He loves us enough to have sent His only Son to die in our place. I know that I do not deserve anything other then eternal punishment for my sins, yet because of God's grace and love and mercy He has set me free from the bonds of sin and paid the price for my salvation. I know that His love did not end at the cross, that it continues to this day and that it will continue for eternity. I know that He knows my needs better then I know them and that He will provide for me, because His word says He will. Knowing that, why do I need or even want a magic prayer which claims to be the one He always answers?

This may sound harsh, but I think that all too often people want the easy way out. They want the magic words that will compel God to bless them without any effort from them. They don't want a personal relationship with God because like all relationships it takes work to maintain. It is much easier to read a prayer or say it from memory, then it does to speak from your heart.

I also think there are a lot of people who just don't have enough discernment to realize that this prayer is the wrong approach. Too many churches are not teaching people to judge everything they hear by God's word. If they were, many book sales would drop drastically.

I don't want to paint with too wide a brush. I have received messages from people who have told me that their pastor is speaking boldly and teaching discernment. I praise God for that, and I always try to encourage those people to keep their pastor in prayer. Anyone who dares speak out in this day and age will come under intense criticism.

But what about the individual who is not hearing the truth boldly proclaimed from the pulpit and is concerned about being mislead? Pray and ask God to give you discernment and read His word as often as possible. It is the old story of the bank tellers and how they are trained to spot counterfeit money. They are trained using the real thing. If they really know what the real thing is then anything less than that will jump out at them. It is the same with biblical doctrine. If you know what God's word says then you will be able to spot a counterfeit easily.

Satan is not a stupid adversary, he is cunning. He will sprinkle the counterfeit with enough truth to make it seem genuine. If all the false teaching out there was totally without truth it would be easy to spot, but when there is some truth people tend to quickly accept the whole thing as truth.

Guard yourself. Ask God for discernment. (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV) Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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