First of all, here's the prayer of Jabez straight from the Bible:
"'Oh that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! Help me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!' And God granted his prayer." (1 Chron 4:10)
According to Bruce Wilkinson, a Protestant minister and the author of the best-selling book, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life, if a person repeats this prayer exactly the way it is written every day for two weeks it will change their life.
This is how the prayer is hyped on the book's back cover: "Do you want to be extravagantly blessed by God? Are you ready to reach for the extraordinary? To ask God for the abundant blessings He longs to give you? Join Bruce Wilkinson to discover how the remarkable prayer of a little-known Bible hero can release God's favor, power, and protection. You'll see how one daily prayer can help you leave the past behind—and break through to the life you were meant to live."
In the Preface to the book, Wilkinson writes: "I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief—only one sentence with four parts—and tucked away in the Bible, but I believe it contains they key to a life of extraordinary favor with God. This petition has radically changed what I expect from God and what I experience every day by His power. In fact, thousands of believers who are applying its truths are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis."
Of course his website is full of glowing testimonials because everyone who claims to have some kind of special insight into the workings of God - aka Gnostics - always manages to accrue a legion of faithful followers.
But as you can probably guess, there is a whole lot wrong with Wilkinson's concept, not least of which is his very faulty interpretation of scripture.
First of all, Scripture tells us nothing more than that Jabez was an honorable man who asked God for help and received it. It does not even remotely imply that Jabez used the right combination of words and said them the right number of times in order to induce God to do his bidding. Prayer just doesn't work that way, as we all know. God wants us to ask Him for our needs, but we're to leave the granting of those desires up to the will of our Creator.
Second, if Jabez's prayer was so magical, why isn't it mentioned anywhere else in Scripture? Why didn't Jesus teach this prayer to his apostles when they asked Him to teach them how to pray? Why did He teach them the Our Father instead, a prayer which specifically calls upon us to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"?
Wilkinson claims the prayer of Jabez is "a brilliant but little understood strategy for . . . a blessed life" (pg 63) which Jabez was able to figure out. Again, nowhere is this supported in Scripture.
The book contains other worrisome claims, such as telling people that when they take "little steps, you don't need God" but when you take big steps which are beyond our ability to accomplish, then "you release miracles" (pg. 44). This sounds a whole lot like tempting God to me.
According to Wilkinson, your success in life depends upon whether or not you've figured out the formula of Jabez. "You can hang the Jabez prayer on the wall of every room in your house and nothing will happen. It's only what you believe will happen and therefore do next that will release God's power for you and bring about a life change. But when you act, you will step up to God's best for you."
Again, none of this has any basis in Scripture.
Additionally, believing we can achieve all kinds of blessings and success just by repeating a set formula every day for a designated amount of time wreaks of superstition. There's a much finer line than most are comfortable with between religious devotions and superstitions. For example, we really don't need to plant a St. Joseph statue in the front lawn to sell our house - a simple prayer to him will do. Putting a statue of Mary in the window won't ward off bad weather - but we can certainly ask for her intercession for a nice day. One action represents superstition, the other faith.
So what about the prayer of Jabez. Can Catholics say this prayer?
" . . . (S)ure," writes Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers. "There isn't anything wrong with the prayer itself. The problem is Wilkinson telling people they should say it daily, expecting God to uniquely reward this prayer. There is no such thing as 'the Jabez blessing.' God made no such promise, and inflating a microscopic Old Testament character with modern, Madison-Avenue, Evangelical ad-speak does not create one."
Send your New Age questions to firstname.lastname@example.org