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A Book Spreads the Word: Prayer for Prosperity Works

New York Times, May 8, 2001
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/08/national/08JABE.html Off-site Link


Buried in what many religion scholars agree is the least read and most boring section of the Bible, among the interminable genealogies where one ancient "begat" another, are 73 words about a mysterious character named Jabez.

Little is said about Jabez except that he was "more honorable than his brothers." He prayed to God javascript popup window to "bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory," and, the Bible says, God granted his request.

Now, thanks to a small book and spinoff coffee mugs, bookmarks and plaques Jabez's prayer is being murmured in many parts of America: businesspeople say it has increased their profits; single women say it has found them boyfriends; and pastors say it has enlarged their congregations.
"The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life," by an Atlanta evangelist, Bruce H. Wilkinson, has sold 4.1 million copies, most in the last three months. It is No. 1 on USA Today's best-seller list, No. 1 on The New York Times's list of advice, how-to and miscellaneous best sellers and No. 1 on Publishers Weekly's list of hardcover nonfiction best sellers.

The slim volume, little more than a sermon, is one in a large field of religious self-help books. At first glance, the book appears to be spreading the "prosperity gospel" popular in the 1950's and 1960's, which taught that there is no shame in praying to God for a red Cadillac. With its blatant materialism, the prosperity gospel eventually became an embarrassment for evangelicals.

But "The Prayer of Jabez" offers a new view of the prosperity gospel. It preaches that it is perfectly fine to ask God for personal success, as long as that success has a godly purpose.

"Jabez prayed for more property," the author, Dr. Wilkinson, said. "He was a farmer or herdsman, and he was asking for more business. When I talk to business owners or managers, I tell them that if their business is honoring the public and they're treating their employees well, it's right to ask God to bless their business."

Jeffrey H. Mahan, professor of ministry, media and culture at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said: "It fits with the narcissism of the age. Religious life is focused on me and my needs."

Dr. Wilkinson said he had recited Jabez's prayer daily for 30 years, since he learned it from a teacher in seminary. It has been his signature prayer in his hundreds of preaching appearances all over the world. His ministry, Walk Thru the Bible, has expanded to more than 40 countries proof, he says, that the prayer of Jabez (pronounced JAY-bez) works.

The prayer itself, from First Chronicles 4:9-10, goes, "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain." (The book uses the translation from the New King James Version of the Bible, though some merchandise uses other versions.)

The whole book is built around the prayer. Each chapter offers a motivational lesson from overcoming personal challenges to how to share the Gospel. Jabez's story, the book says, is "proof that it's not who you are, or what your parents decided for you, or what you were 'fated' to be that counts. What counts is knowing who you want to be and asking for it. Through a simple, believing prayer, you can change your future."

The book, slightly larger than a hand-held computer, sells for $9.99 or less, and can easily be read in one sitting. Dr. Wilkinson had written a 270-page version years earlier, but it was never published.

"I think people are responding very well to the smaller book format," said Don Jacobson, president of Multnomah Publishers in Sisters, Ore., the book's publisher. "We've gotten so used to fast food, we need things in smaller bites."

Mr. Jacobson said he had expected the book to sell about 30,000 copies. The sales of more than four million copies have astounded him.

Apologetics Index advises Christians against buying into formula teachings like the ''Prayer of Jabez.'' (''Ten steps to holiness,'' ''Six steps to overcoming sin,'' ''Four steps to growing a megachurch,'' and so on). Christianity is a relationship - not a business plan, a success formula, or a get-rich-quick project.