Praying in an Epidemic

Every day my Facebook account brings me reminders to pray, biblical prayer promises, and some heart-wrenching prayer requests. The worldwide virus pandemic has become a call to prayer for many people.

How are we to pray in such a disruption? We find ourselves praying for protection for medical professionals and for first-responders. We pray for healing for those afflicted with the coronavirus. We pray for an end to the plague and for the speedy development of effective vaccines.

It does us good to pray. Prayer is an acknowledgement that we are not, after all, in control. It keeps us in our place. It seeks the will of God in our own lives and in the lives of others. It recognizes God’s authority in all circumstances of life.

The story of Jabez illustrates this. He was one of those obscure personalities tucked away in a long genealogical list in the Old Testament. There is a short historical notation about him that stands out: he is noted for his prayer.

“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 Chronicles 4:9-10).

We are told little about Jabez. His brief story is found in the family history of the tribe of Judah and the allocation of their inheritance in the Promised Land. His immediate family ties are obscure, but we are told that his mother bore him in pain. Thus he was given a name which means, “he causes pain.” How would you like to be introduced with that name on your first day of school? This was, apparently, a bad omen from which he wanted to be freed.

We can learn from the prayer of Jabez. For one thing, it was bold. Jabez dared to ask God for a personal blessing. The Bible encourages us to “approach God with freedom and confidence” through Christ (Ephesians 3:12). “Ask,” promised Jesus, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). There was a sense of bold urgency in the plea, “Oh that you would bless me!” When we pray this way in the name of Jesus, we will pray as Jesus prayed: “Your will be done.”

We are living through a time of pain and sadness. What are your needs? Healing? Protection? Financial provision? Boldly commit them to God the way Jabez did.

Also, the prayer was specific. Jabez asked God to enlarge his territory. He was asking the Lord to increase his usefulness, responsibility, and productivity. If we want this for selfish reasons, at the expense of others, it’s wrong (James 4:3-4). But if we ask God to enlarge our resources and influence to bless others, it’s a good thing. Lately we have all been hearing stories of neighbors helping neighbors, and people sacrificing for the greater good. They are being blessed in order to be a blessing.

This reminds  us to be specific in our praying:  confessing sin, giving thanks, interceding for others, and in asking God to make us fruitful in his service in this world. He knows what we want before we ask. But it pleasures him when we are transparently honest in our praying.

I am impressed by something else. Jabez was seeking God’s direct  involvement in his life. “Let your hand be with me,” he prayed. This was a familiar Hebrew idiom referring to God’s strength and presence. (See how the Lord’s “hand” was with Elisha in 2 Kings 3:15 and with the Christians in Antioch in Acts 11:21.) Jabez knew God’s purpose in his life could only be accomplished through God’s strength. 

Our present circumstances may be baffling, inconvenient and complicated. We need now, more than ever, God’s direct involvement and his strength.

The name “Jabez” was a daily reminder to him of pain and misery. We are being reminded of the same things every day. He prayed that he would be spared. Did his prayer also imply that he didn’t want to inflict pain on others? Perhaps. These are prayers we can pray in an epidemic.

The Bible tells us that he was honorable, more honorable than his contemporaries. Surely this was because he cried out to God in bold dependency. What would happen in America if believers cried out to God as Jabez did, boldly and specifically, for God’s powerful intervention in this present crisis?

Matthew Henry observed that in his prayer, Jabez was devoting himself completely to God. It was as if he was giving God a blank sheet of paper letting him write on it whatever he pleased. “Lord if you will bless me, do with me whatever you will. I will be at your command and disposal forever.”

“And God granted his request.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner