By Pr Ay Nee Ng
Can ordinary folks like you and I live a life greater than ourselves? What about if you haven’t even started out but you got such a name that doesn’t amount to much but a reminder of such sorrow and pain in life? What can you do about it? What about if you started on the wrong footing in your new job, in your social life, in school, in university or in a relationship? Can you turn things around so that they are in your favour? How can we live a life greater than ourselves? One person came out of such a dire conviction of what his name meant and wanted a change to live a life greater than himself.
What do we need?
Firstly, we need to live without any pretence or falsehood, face the facts of what is happening in our life, and realise that even the so-called “bad situation” in life is to bring about the best purposes for us through none other than our God Almighty. We need to realise that every good thing in our lives is not by our own effort, chance, or coincidence but by God’s blessings on us due to His unmerited favour. We need to count our blessings and name them one by one!
Now, if we choose to be disobedient, rebellious, and independent of God, we will find that everything done will be by virtue of self. We will open doors to negative activities and give way to pride and arrogance, which don’t please God. We will realise that none of those things bring us joy, comfort, or peace; there is a hunger in our soul for something that lasts. We will have a seeking soul, and hopefully, turn to God and away from our past.
The song “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” remind us that there are so many reasons to bless God, but we will experience even more if we only know how to ask and receive. Matthew 7:7 (NLT) teaches us, saying: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you”. Luke 11:9 says it in other words: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”.
At the recent Hillsong Conference, Joseph Prince from New Creation Church shared a story. One day one of his members, a top salesman from a multinational company, asked him: “Pastor, how do you know that what I have (i.e., a string of good references in his line of sales) is not by my own effort and hard work, and not just God’s grace (favour) and blessings?” Very clearly, Joseph Prince told him: “What if I pray for you and ask God to take away His grace and blessings from you for a month, and at the end of the month, you can come back and tell me if all your effort, and not God’s blessings, has brought you that far? That salesman wisely walked away.
What can we do to rise above others and our bad situation?
It takes more than just wanting to get on in life professionally and socially. We need to be in tune with God. We need to pray for the situation to change, and in most cases, for us to change. But the most important thing is to love God, to draw near to Him, and to humble ourselves before Him as we pray and fast. As we are all having our prayer and fasting, I just want to draw your attention how important to fast and to pray with a humbled and contrite heart. The end result is to love God even more!
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:19).
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22).
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).
1. A contrite and broken heart
a. God honours humility and brokenness. God honours that we take this time to fast and to pray, and He is able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or think. Psalm 51:16-17 says, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise”. David says that there is nothing we can offer God to appease Him when we have sinned. God wasn’t looking for more animal sacrifices or more piousness because God desires true repentance and a humbled heart in us. Church, do you realise this? Rather than repenting, we try to clean up our act, to give more, to pray more, or to make ourselves busy with other religious activities, hoping that God will finally “get over” being mad with us. In Psalm 51, David says God wants none of that.
b. External religiosity (i.e., religious activities) can’t replace internal, heartfelt contrition (1 Sam. 16:7). Psalm 51:17 points out the one thing God desires more than any other: brokenness over our own sin. When we agree with God about how bad our sin is and cry out to God, we take the first step toward reconciliation with Him. As long as we try to justify, to excuse, or to rationalize the evil of our own hearts, we will never find our way back into God’s presence.
c. Repentance is the doorway to freedom. We need to repent to stay in His presence and to receive His blessings! David reminds us that the only path to forgiveness is a broken heart and a humble/contrite spirit (Matt. 5:3). When we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, He delights to lift us up (Luke 18:13-14). True repentance is when we openly acknowledge our sin against God, turn away from it completely, and cry out for cleansing. God promises that He will hear us and forgive us (1 John 1:9).
a. Fasting reveals the things that control us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but when fasting, these things come to surface. We must be able to bring those things (e.g., anger, pride, fear, hostility, gluttony, and avarice) to an easy place where they don’t control us. It is a blessed release to have these things out in the open, so that they can be defeated and we can live with a single eye toward God (Richard Foster).
b. “Humility is the heart of fasting” (Richard Foster). Humility is a quality that manifests itself in how one acts in relation to God and others. It is to lower one’s estimate of self by elevating one’s estimate of others. And because fasting carries this quality of humility into the tangible, physical realm, it brings about brokenness before God that can come in no other way. Such brokenness not only honours God but makes the intercessor’s heart more pliable to hear from Him. He is thus more useful in carrying out God’s Kingdom plans”. Church, we need to regularly fast and pray. “Fasting produces spiritual introspection, spiritual examination, spiritual confession, and spiritual intercession” (Elmer L Towns).
Why does God answer your prayers at all?
Now let us turn to a person who wanted to make a difference in his life. He called out to God and God answered his prayers? Why? Let us now turn to the Prayer of Jabez. “Jabez was more honorable 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” (1 Chr. 4:9-10).
The prayer of Jabez is found in a historical note within a genealogy. Little is known of Jabez, other than he lived in southern Israel after the conquest of Canaan and during the time of the judges. He was a descendant of Judah and an honourable man who later became the notable head of a clan. His story begins with his name, Jabez. His mother named him Jabez (in Hebrew, sorrowful or sorrow-maker) because his birth had been painful. With such a name, it doesn’t sound like the start of a promising life, does it?
There is a certain amount of pain in child birth, but something about Jabez’s birth went beyond the usual. The pain was so much so that his mom chose to memorialise it in her son’s name. Why would we memorialise a situation that caused us pain? What situation did she face that she wanted to keep a living memory of pain? The pregnancy or delivery of Jabez may have been so traumatic. Perhaps, the baby was born breech or the mother’s pain was emotional. Maybe Jabez’s father abandoned her when she was pregnant. Maybe the family was in financial strains. Maybe a beloved one had died. Only God knew the cause of this anguished mother’s pain.
Church, don’t we go through traumatic experiences that somehow are etched in our minds and hearts? We may not label it the way Jabez’s mother did, but we know that pain is still real in us just Jabez’s mom felt. In Bible times, one’s name defined one’s future. A name was often taken as a wish for a prophecy about the child’s future. For example, Jacob means supplanter, trickster, and heel-grabber. He was called Jacob when he lived in rebellion. Later, God changed his name to Israel, which means “strives with God”, when he was no longer in rebellion with God.
Jabez wanted to get out of the connotation of his named; he wanted to live a life that was worthwhile. The heaviest burden of Jabez’s name was how it defined his future. Despite his dismal prospects, Jabez found a way out by praying to God to change his life to live a life greater than himself. Praise God! We also have a hope and a future in God even if we didn’t have a good start in life or if we faced a traumatic experience. We can find a solution just like Jabez. It doesn’t need be etched in our memory of pain anymore.
Have you grown up all your life with Christian parents, grandparents, or relatives and friends telling you about God and Bible stories? Jabez had heard a lot about the God of Israel who had freed his forefathers from slavery, rescued them from powerful enemies, and then established them in a land of plenty. By the time he was an adult, Jabez believed and fervently hoped in this God of miracles and new beginnings. Thus, Jabez prayed the most improbable request ever imagined: to break free from a life of sorrow and to live life larger than himself. Church, don’t we all want a fresh start again in our relationships, in our finances, in our work, in our school, and in our community? Then believe in the God of miracles and new beginnings, and like Jabez, ask God. In his prayer, Jabez cried out to God for protection and blessing. Using a play on words, Jabez, the man of sorrow, asked God to keep him from that sorrow which his name both recalled and foreboded.
Do we ever get urgent need of something that we need an urgent request of help? Jabez did. The prayer of Jabez contains an urgent request for four things:
- God’s blessing. Jabez acknowledged that the God of Israel is the source of all blessing, and He asked God for His favour. No doubt, this request was based, at least in part, on God’s promise of blessing to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 22:17).
- An expansion of territory. Jabez prayed for victory and prosperity in all his endeavours and that his life would be marked by increase.
- God’s presence. Jabez asked for God’s guidance and strength to be evident in his daily existence.
- Protection from harm. Jesus taught His disciples to pray in this way: “Our Father in heaven… deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:9, 13). Jabez looked to God in confidence as his defender.
Jabez’s goal in his prayer was to live life larger than himself meaning free from sorrow. God heard and answered his prayer. Like Solomon’s humble prayer for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-14), Jabez’s devout prayer for blessing was answered. The success Jabez enjoyed outweighed the sorrow of his beginning. The prayer of Jabez overcame the name of Jabez. But why God answered Jabez’s prayer and why does God answer our prayers? It is because His nature is to bless his children as He sees our love, adoration, worship, thankful heart, and humble spirit. The very nature of God is to have goodness in abundance that it overflows into our unworthy lives.
Church, it is so important to ask God for His blessings. In the Biblical sense, to bless, means to ask for or to impart supernatural favour (Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez). When we ask for God’s blessing, we’re not just asking for more of what we could get for ourselves. We are crying out for the wonderful, unlimited goodness that only God has the power to give. This kind of richness is what the writer was referring to in Proverbs 10:22 (TLB): “The Lord’s blessing is our greatest wealth. All our work adds nothing to it!” Jabez requested for blessings, but it is God who decided what the blessings would be and where, when, and how Jabez would receive them. The prayer of Jabez focuses on our wanting for ourselves nothing more and nothing less than what God wants for us.
To live a life greater than ourselves is to ask God for His blessings upon us and never water down the use of the word “God bless you” and “blessings” as if to just give lip service. It holds a whole lot of significance and meaning! When we seek God’s blessings more than anything in life as the ultimate value in life, we are throwing ourselves entirely into the river of His will, power, and purposes for us. All our other needs become secondary to what we really want: to become wholly immersed into what God is trying to do in us, through us, and around us for His glory.
As Bruce Wilkinson puts it: “There is a sure guaranteed by-product of sincerely seeking His blessing: your life will become marked by miracles”. Attested by Bruce Wilkinson himself, “Because He promises it, I’ve seen it happen in my own! God’s power to accomplish great things suddenly finds no obstruction in you. You’re moving in His direction. You’re praying for exactly what God desires. Suddenly the unhindered forces of heaven can begin to accomplish God’s perfect will- through you”.
There is a catch to live life larger than oneself. “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2). Even though there is no limit to God’s goodness, if you did not ask Him for a blessing yesterday, you won’t get all that you were supposed to have. If you don’t ask for His blessings, you forfeit those that come to you only when you ask. God’s bounty is limited only by us, not by His resources, power, or willingness to give. Jabez was blessed simply because he refused to let any obstacle, person, or opinion loom larger than God’s nature, and God’s nature is to bless His people. God’s kindness to Jabez in the Bible is proof that it is not who you know, who you are, what your parents decide for you, or what you are “fated” to be what counts. The important thing is to know who you want to be and to ask God for it. Through a simple, believing prayer, we can change our future. We can change what happens one minute from now and live a life greater than ourselves.
Church, let us make it a lifelong commitment to ask God every day to bless us, our families, and our church and to expand our territories. Let us continue to put our trust in God by inviting Him to come into our lives and be our loving Saviour.
Live by choice, not by chance. Make changes, not excuses. Be motivated, not manipulated. Work to excel, not compete. Listen to your own inner voice, not the jumbled opinions of everyone else. —Skarleth Hdz