Some of the health and wealth cognoscenti may recognize the title of this blog as the last line from the Prayer of Jabez. Ten or twelve years ago I read the Christian best-seller by that same name and memorized the prayer:
O, that You would bless me indeed; that You would greatly increase my territory; that Your hand would always be with me, and that You would keep me from sin, that I might not cause pain.
Those are the words that I carry in my memory, but they may not be exactly what Bruce Wilkinson wrote in his book. I have always found that last line the most fascinating part of the prayer, and a bit mysterious. I gave the book away many years ago and so I don’t have it to refer back to, and I haven’t read any commentaries on Jabez and so I’m forced to rely on my own experience, my memory and the Holy Spirit’s illumination. Most translations of the Jabez prayer render the last verse as: “. . .that I might not be grieved.” What I committed to memory most resembles the NKJV version, and is quite different than most renditions.
And I confess, part of why that prayer became a regular part of my prayer-life for a few months was so that I would be blessed like Bruce Wilkinson, the guy who wrote the best-seller and likely became very affluent in the process. But I also have to say that about that same time situations in my life started to turn around–perhaps just coincidence. In any event I found Jabez’s prayer both fascinating and rich in content.
The Bible I use the most is an NIV, and in the NIV the last line is rendered: “. . .and keep me from harm, so that I will be free from pain.” There is a big difference between that and what I committed to memory. Just looking at the various translations is for me a cautionary lesson in exegetical scholarship itself. It strikes me that the various translators were putting in a little of their own prejudices (eisegesis)–but what do I know– I don’t read Hebrew, paleo-Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. Heck, I know more words in Yiddish than all of those other languages combined.
Nevertheless, something I do know very well is that keeping oneself from pain is what makes an addict, an addict. We push the little dopamine button in our brain and for a few seconds all the angst and ache goes away–and so, “Yes Lord, keep me from pain by all means.” –and, btw, from the pain of addiction.
And so we have asking God for us to be free from harm, and thus free from pain, versus not sinning and not causing ourselves and others pain. Everyone wants to be free from harm and pain–that’s a no-brainer, but the idea that our sin causes pain to others is a little more sublime.
Some of our sins are secret sins that seemingly hurt no one but ourselves, and some sins, like child abuse, cause irreparable harm to others, and I had thought about including this blog as a part of my previous one on misplaced empathy–the empathy (and thus enabling) some have for child sex abusers. It was working on that blog that kept bringing the prayer of Jabez back to mind.
I have heard it said that when we sin we cause the Lord pain. I’m sure that is somewhere in scripture, nevertheless it is difficult for to me imagine the ruler and creator of the universe being in pain over something I did. Yet I know that the Jesus part of the Triune God felt enough pain over our fallen state that He endured even more pain to lift us up. So praying to be free from sin so as to not further grieve the Lord is maybe the best prayer anyone could pray.