1 Chronicles 4:9–10 (ESV): 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.
These two verses are hidden in lengthy lists of genealogies revealing insights of a life lived beyond it’s projected limitations. It’s a short memory of someone who changed the trajectory of how life is and pursued of how life ought to be. Most times we hear these verses quoted to support that we can pray for personal gains. But these verses are not about gains; they are about growth. They are about living beyond the limitations of our past. Jabez lived a life that elevated him from the list of names and made him memorable thousands of years later.
A name carried meaning and granted identity. Jabez’s was pain, sorrow, grief. Not a good start in life. His mother wanted him to remember the pain his life caused. Every moment when someone called him by his name, he was reminded of who he is: someone whose existence caused pain, grief and sorrow.
Yet, he journeyed from pain to honor. He became more honorable than his brothers. He left behind the limitations of his beginning. The identity imposed on him (“born in pain, causing sorrow”) didn’t enslave him.
His prayer reveals his determination.
- “Keep me from harm that it might not bring me pain.” His birth-identity was pain. He didn’t want to be who he was born to be: pain. His arrival to this Earth set him on a trajectory. He knew that he will need outside source and power to change that rut. Our past can’t be changed, but by God’s power our future can. Born into a broken home in a broken society without any hope for a healthy, productive future, I’ve witnessed how God can change the future regardless of our past. Jabez didn’t want to relive his past and to live by his old identity.
- “Enlarge my border” is a cry for taking him beyond his potential, beyond his inherited opportunities, beyond his comfort zone and abilities. Even beyond the imaginable. That is a prayer of growth. It’s a desire to grow beyond his limitations, comfort and control. Expanded borders come with scary exploration, risky endeavors and stretching resources. Growth or expansion is always costly. It’s fearful, tiring, risky and expensive. It requires enormous capacity of learning, flexibility and adoptability. When you go to new territories, you are loosing control of many things you have relied on before. Growth comes with a price. The higher the price tag, the more valuable the growth is. When you pray for growth, make sure that you are willing to pay for it, too.
- “Bless me… and your hand be with me.” He prayed for God’s guidance, protection and provision as he embarked to enlarge his borders. Growth, expansion, exploration of new territories is so hard, so fearful, so risky, so costly that if God’s protective and providing hands are not with us, we are doomed for failure. As we embark in the journey of expanding our own ‘borders’ we’ll need nothing more than God’s guidance, provision and protection.
A life that’s worth living, that becomes impactful and memorable (like Jabez’s) is a life that is not stuck in the curse of the past, but with a God-trusting heart embarks into the unknown future. God granted Jabez such a life.
Jabez was born in pain and lived in honor. He didn’t take the rotten path of self-pity over his unfortunate arrival to this Earth. But he has embarked the risky, costly, yet more glorious path of growth.