Do you all remember “The Prayer of Jabez” ? It was really popular about 18 years ago. Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book, “The Prayer of Jabez, Breaking Through to the Blessed Life”. It became so popular that someone even gave me a “The Prayer of Jabez for Little Ones” book to read to my little kids.
I always had a problem with The Prayer of Jabez. The prayer is supposed to be understood in 4 parts. The first part Jabez asks God to bless him. The next part he asks God to increase his territory, the third part he prays God will be with him, and the fourth part he asks God to keep him from harm. That is my very simplistic explanation. While I’m sure that this prayer and the book about it has been a blessing to people, I would always get hung up on the “Increase my territory” part. (Which I interpret to mean, increase my circle of influence.) No. Please don’t increase my territory. My territory is quite large enough thank you. In fact my territory feels so large right now that I actually feel a bit like I’m drowning. In fact, I’m a little overwhelmed that there are people walking around who actually feel like rising to the challenge to ask God to increase their territory. It makes me feel like a loser, an underachiever.
Along the same line, there’s another story in the Bible that Jesus tells. A parable about the “talents” (a measurement of money). So, a man goes on a journey and he entrusts his property to his servants. He gives each servant the number of talents that he thinks they can handle. One gets 5 talents, another gets 2 talents, another gets one talent. Each servant takes the money, invests it, and manages to double the amount, but the servant with one talent goes and hides his talent in the ground and does nothing with it. The master returns, the good servants show him how they’ve increased his money, he’s happy and he says, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Except for the servant with one talent who gets punished for not even trying to do a little with the talent. This story also disturbs me. If I’m going to be honest, I would kind of rank myself as a two talent kind of person. I’m not going to hide my talent, I really do want to achieve something, but I’m not overly ambitious. I am often not a very hard worker. I don’t see myself as one of those super-successful people who just push themselves really hard until they become CEO of the company. That’s not me. If I were to join the business world I would find a low-stress job that kept me happy enough and I would call it good.
Sometimes. Just sometimes. I kind of feel like God made a mistake and slipped a couple extra talents to the low-talent girl. I feel like saying, Hey, you made a mistake, here, you can have those talents back. I’m good with just one or two.
Here’s what I mean. I feel like God went ahead and increased my territory, loaded on the talents, when I wasn’t asking for him to do it. I want to stick with my tiny circle of influence. I want to just a keep a talent or two to fool around with, and maybe just coast my way on through life. Of course, some of you may be scratching your head and saying, Umm Esther, I think that’s what you have already. And yes. It’s true. I’m not leading any big ministries. I’m not a public figure. I don’t have any titles attached to my name. Haven’t written any books. Lead any online groups. But here’s the thing. I have TEN children. 10. Ten souls that have been entrusted into my care. Ten people who will one day look back at their childhood and either bless me, curse me, or find me so inconsequential that they won’t even think about me. Whether I like it or not, what I do with my kids is going to have a life-long influence on them. Either an influence that will bless them throughout their life, or an influence that they will struggle to heal from for the rest of their lives. Or, more realistically, maybe a mix of both. I feel like God said, hey, I know you just wanted to take care of your own yard, but instead I’m going to put you in charge of Knox County. Or, I know you just wanted one or two talents, but here, I’m going to give you ten instead.
Overwhelming. Sometimes to the point of panicking. Sometimes I want to just hide from the responsibility. I can’t do it. Doesn’t God understand that I’m not “That Person”. “That Person” is the lady I know who writes out thirty minute incremental schedules for her entire large family and then makes sure that everyone follows the schedule. I’m standing here scratching my head, saying, hmm, what should I do today? “That Person” is the lady I know who plans out her entire menu a month in advance, pre-cooks everything over one weekend, freezes her meals, and feeds her large family quickly, efficiently, and with a super-small budget. And I’m standing in front of the fridge at 6 o’clock at night, still not sure what to make for supper, and often just running down to Little Caesars to get cheap pizza instead. “That Person” is the one who has her children reading through the entire Bible every year, memorizing whole books of the Bible at the age of five and leading hour-long sessions of praise and worship and intercession with her children while they use their interactive-map to pray for unreached people groups. I’m over here, bribing my children with candy to memorize verses, stopping in the middle of my prayers to yell at the 4 year old to be quiet and sit still, having family devotions when I can make it happen, but certainly not on a strict schedule. I am not “That Person”. Doesn’t God understand this? How on earth am I going to not majorly fail at this undertaking called Motherhood???
There’s one more verse in the Bible I guess we should talk about. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul is talking about a “thorn in the flesh” that he was asking God to remove from him. God didn’t remove the thorn and instead said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Over the years, that verse has ministered to me in many situations. I am the definition of weak. Not overly disciplined. Not a poster-child of anything. And yet, somehow, God’s power is made perfect in me. When things happen in my life that are good, when things amazingly turn out right, that was not me. That was God’s power being made perfect in my weakness. Let Him get all the glory. Let people scratch their heads in amazement and say, well, the Esther I know isn’t capable of pulling off those results, that HAD to be God.
Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is the other verse I cling to. When I was giving birth to my 9th child, it was time to push and he got stuck. I was pushing and nothing was happening. This went on for a while and the doctor was starting to get concerned, especially since my typical deliveries usually saw me pushing only a couple times before the baby came. I started to panic. What if they decided that I couldn’t deliver and we ended up with a C-section, what if there was something wrong? By this time I was deep in that place where the world faded out and it was just me and my body, trying to conquer this Herculean Feat. That verse popped into my mind. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It became my mantra. In my head I repeated it over and over again as I pushed again. And this time something shifted, the baby started moving again and soon he was safely delivered. Tears of relief. Thank you God, thank you. Your strength, not mine.
Yes. I will remind myself of this again. I am weak, but because of it, I’m a perfect vessel to bring glory to God. God has overwhelmed me with the responsibility that he has placed on my shoulders. But he’s also promised to be with me, to strengthen me.
Listen. If you ever see something admirable about me, you can just start giving praise to God, because I can’t think of anything good I’ve ever done in my own strength. I will continue to stagger along with my over-large territory, my heavy burden of talents, and I will continue to remind God that I am weak, I can’t do it. And he will continue to remind me that it’s His Power, His Strength that’s going to make it happen. May my weak, inadequate life bring Glory to God.