Right in the midst of 12-ish chapters full of names in 1 Chronicles is a verse that has become known as The Prayer of Jabez. I remember the book with that title being very popular around the time I was in high school. I think it was so popular because people like the idea of bold prayers granting a pain-free life. It’s so tempting to latch onto the “health and wealth” movement only to be disappointed when life doesn’t go the way we pray. I was very turned off by this story for awhile but now I see a deeper meaning.
“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother 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 pain.’ And God granted his request.”- 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
I don’t know why God granted Jabez’ request but not the requests of countless other people who prayed this prayer during the Prayer of Jabez craze. That’s not the point of this particular post. What I find so interesting is that right there in the middle of a myriad of names is Jabez, a name that literally sounds like “pain” in Hebrew. His name was “pain” and he asked God to free him from pain… to free him from his own name. And God did.
Several times throughout the Bible God changes people’s names to mark significant events in their lives. When Jacob wrestled with God, God gave him the name “Israel” (Genesis 32:28). I wonder if that’s why Jabez “cried out to the God of Israel”, or if I’m reading too much into it. Maybe he was thinking something like ‘God, you changed the name of Jacob when He met you face to face. Please change mine too. Let me see You. Bless me like You blessed Jacob/Israel. Give me a new identity.’
So many of us walk around with pain as our identity. Guilty! I grew up in the church and gave my life to Jesus at age 13, but I’m not sure I placed my identity in Him for a long time. Prior to my illness, my identity was in my job. I was Karina, the Social Worker, and I took great pride in doing my job well. I thought it was my purpose in life until it was taken away. After that, sickness and pain became my identity. Without even realizing it, I became Karina, the Chronically-ill, and I’ve continued to arrange my life around my sickness. While I’ve been aware of this mistaken identity for awhile now and have been working on it with God, I still haven’t shed my identity of pain and illness. Pain is certainly not the identity God has for me and He is working to help me believe the freedom He gives me from that identity, the freedom that Jesus gifted to me on the cross. I wonder if that’s why God granted Jabez’ request. He wanted to give him a new identity, one that has nothing to do with pain and everything to do with Him.
God does want to bless us and enlarge our lives. Jesus said he came to give us life to the full. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). A life trapped in a painful identity is definitely not full. An identity placed in Christ is a life of fruitful purpose and possibility, of service and blessing, connected to the heart of God. It is a life of freedom and expansion.
An identity placed in anything other than Jesus steals, kills, and destroys the full life of freedom God has for us. It cheapens what Jesus did for us. Oh, that we would place our identities in the One who gives us life… He would bless us indeed! I want to be Karina, Child of God. And I want that for you too. Let us pray along with Jabez and Jacob…
Bless me, Lord. I will not let go. Keep Your hand with me. Enlarge my life. Free me from the pain of placing my identity in anything but You. Help me embrace the new name You gave me. In the most beautiful name of Jesus, Amen.