There was a time when I thought it was selfish and improper to pray for a blessing on myself. I should pray for others. I should put others first. God would bless as it was deemed appropriate.
I can thank Bruce Wilkerson’s book The Prayer of Jabez for changing my mind about that. Not that I’ve read the (little) book. I never did. I didn’t need to. It was once quite popular — a Christian fad. I used to hear about the book continually. People would quote from it, and summarize it, and refer to it. Other people denounced the book and it’s sudden popularity.
I got curious. So, I looked up the actual prayer of Jabez in the Bible. It’s in 1 Chronicles.
“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 NIV.)
All right. This may not be the most exemplary prayer in the Bible, but it’s not bad. And, it really is an example of something that was missing in my prayers: both the prayer for God’s blessing and the expectation of God’s blessing. I decided that the whole Prayer of Jabez phenomenon of the time was (on balance) a good thing — and that I needed to make the prayer for and the expectation of God’s blessing a part of my own prayer life.
And, I’m glad I did. When I first began to pray this way, I saw more of God’s blessings around me. My focus changed. And, I think, my prayers were being answered. (Maybe before I had been unconsciously expecting misery or punishment or indifference from God. I don’t know. But, when I began to pray for a blessing, my focus and my experience changed.)
And, that brings me to the theme of Psalm 106:4,5.
זָכְרֵנִי יְהוָה בִּרְצוֹן עַמֶּךָ פָּקְדֵנִי בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ
לִרְאוֹת בְּטוֹבַת בְּחִירֶיךָ לִשְׂמֹחַ בְּשִׂמְחַת גּוֹיֶךָ לְהִתְהַלֵּל עִם־נַחֲלָתֶךָ
“Remember me, O LORD, in Thy favor toward Thy people; Visit me with Thy salvation, That I may see the prosperity of Thy chosen ones, That I may rejoice in the gladness of Thy nation, That I may glory with Thine inheritance.” (NASB)
Notice the opening phrase.
זָכְרֵנִי יְהוָה בִּרְצוֹן עַמֶּךָ
“Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people….” (NRSV)
I am immediately reminded of the frequent prayers of Nehemiah: “Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.” (Nehemiah 5:19). “Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.” (Nehemiah 13:14). “Remember me for this also, O my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.” (Nehemiah 13:22). “Remember me with favor, O my God.” (Nehemiah 13:31).
The word “remember” (זָכַר) is such a rich theological term.
Israel was called to remember it’s deliverance from Egypt. They were called to remember who they were. And, this same call to remembrance continues ritually in the Church of Jesus Christ. “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Remember your baptism.” Remembering the story brings us hope.
But, here the call is for God to remember us. Is it individual or corporate?
It is stated as a prayer for personal blessing — but, in the context of the blessing of all God’s people (עַמֶּךָ).
It is a personal prayer to a personal God. God is known by name (יְהוָה).
This is, of course, a problematic concept philosophically. The very phrase “personal God” seems strange at that level. Yet God was known to Israel by a name. The great, incomprehensible God of all Creation chose to be known in a personal way.
I recall reading an article once about the issue of using the Divine Name (יְהוָה — commonly thought to have been pronounced “Yahweh”) in Bible translations. When Christians include “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in their translations it is offensive to the Jews, who believe the Divine Name should not be spoken. I seem to recall a quote in the article from a Christian Old Testament scholar who deplored the use of “Yahweh” in modern Bible translations.
But, I think something was lost when people no longer pronounced the Divine Name. And, something is lost in translation. Our translations hide the startling commonness of the Divine Name. Many translations use capitalization to alert us to its appearance. It is translated as “LORD.” Once you know this code, you discover that the Name is frequent.
And, the prayer is to be included in the blessings that fall on God’s people. It will happen in this life. “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13.) It is promised for the next life. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you….” (1 Peter 1:3,4 NIV).
As Isaac Watts wrote:
“The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
Or walk the golden streets,
Or walk the golden streets.”
Remember me, O LORD,
revealed as a person in Jesus Christ,
remember me with favor,
for I know it is your desire to bless your people
to give us hope
to give us enjoyment in this brief life of ours.
Grant that I remember You,
the continuing power and guidance of Your Spirit.
LORD, God of Israel,
I want to acknowledge You in all I say and do
today — and always.
Grant this desire.
May I experience Your peace.
Through Christ I pray. Amen.