FRESH – The Prayer Out of Nowhere

Our new series at Gateway Church in Austin focuses on prayer as we start the year with our Pray First Initiative.

Step into a brand-new year with our series, “Fresh.” Just as many of us aim for healthier choices in January, we’re exploring various prayers from the Bible as revitalizing “recipes” for a transformed life.

Each prayer serves as a distinct ingredient in our spiritual journey, offering the reality of forgiveness, renewal, strength, and guidance. Embracing the desire for a fresh start, we’ll unpack these prayers, each one a potent tool for igniting change within.

This is an exploration of these spiritual “meals” that go beyond mere words, shaping and infusing our lives with purpose and vitality. Together, let’s discover the transformative power of prayer and embark on a journey towards an enriched life.

The prize of prayer is not health and wealth; it’s God Himself.

Discussion Questions:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

DIGGING DEEPER

Message Video:

Message Notes:

What were you doing in 1999? Maybe you weren’t yet alive! Maybe you were a kid playing on your Nintendo DS or a teenager and enamored by Dawson’s Creek or The Matrix? Maybe you were listening to the Miseducation of Lauren Hill on your Sony Walkman? Maybe you were stocking up in preparation for Y2K?

Deborah and I were going through LaMaz classes getting ready for the birth of our first child. All was going so well – until the day he was born.

Since Deborah was the one about to do all of the work and our maternity room included a tv and vcr, I let her choose the movie. She chose Sleepless in Seattle. All was going fine – Tom Hanks was falling in love with Meg Ryan when all of a sudden an alarm started going off.  Suddenly nurses and our doctor came running in and tried to determine why Caleb’s heart rate was dropping. Was the cord wrapping around his neck? Or was there something worse going on?

They rushed Deborah out of the room so they could take her to a room for an emergency c-section. When Caleb was born, there was no sound. I wanted to hear the sound of a baby crying, but he wasn’t crying. He wasn’t even breathing. One of the nurses began to perform CPR on his little body. With great relief, he started to breathe and cry, but it was the faintest cry I had ever heard. Something was not right.

The doctors assured us that it was probably just fluid on his lungs. They needed to send him to a different hospital that had a Neonatal Intensive Care Unity to make sure, but all should be fine. I’ll never forget seeing Caleb in the incubator as they brought him into Deborah’s room so she could see him and say goodbye. She would continue to recover at the first hospital while Caleb was being sent to the 2nd one.

After making sure Deborah had all that she needed, a little later that day I drove to visit Caleb at the 2nd hospital. It was then that I found out our only son was in grave danger. The doctor explained to me that Caleb had a heart condition. Without surgery, he would not survive.

I was in shock. How could this be happening?!?!  As I drove back to tell Deborah that our son may not survive much longer, I prayed a very angry prayer. I shouted at God. “How could you do this to us?!? We have given our lives to serve you! We moved across the country to serve you. We’ve tried to honor you in how we live! Why would you do this?!”

I could hardly see the road in front of me as bitter tears filled my eyes. Finally, pausing to catch my breath and wipe my tears, a Bible verse crashed into my mind, It was my favorite verse, a verse I had shared with our youth leaders and teenagers and others many, many times.

“The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” – 1 Corinthians 4:20

The verse took me off guard at first. What did that have to do with anything?

Once again: it came crashing into my mind:

“The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” – 1 Corinthians 4:20

It was then I realized, my faith was being tested. It is easy to trust in God when everything is going great! Very little faith is required! A deep faith is necessary to trust God when things are not going well.  Shallow faith gives up.

I had a choice to make: will I just talk about trusting God or will I actually trust Him and experience His power?

What we discovered is that in the midst of suffering, we can feel God’s presence even more. He cares for us, and sometimes we will not know how much until we are in the midst of painful times.

After driving to the hospital to tell Deborah about Caleb’s heart condition, my mind was racing. What can I say to Deborah to help her through this? How do you tell a new mom her child may not live?

I held her hand and told her the situation. The calmness she exuded in the face of such adversity calmed me until I realized she was still heavily medicated. 

As the days went on, and Deborah came home from the hospital we visited Caleb every day. The plan was to let Caleb grow as big as possible before having the heart surgery. The goal was two months. When he turned two weeks old, the doctor’s feared he wouldn’t make it to two months. He needed the surgery the next day. 

Caleb looked so fragile as we held him for the last time before the surgery. He seemed barely alive with all of the tubes coming in and out of his little body. 

As we prayed for him, hugged him, and kissed him – we placed him on the little metal table that he was going to be laying on during the surgery. I felt like Abraham in the Old Testament who was about to sacrifice his son Isaac thinking that was what he was supposed to do. We prayed God would take care of our son, and if he would allow us to do so, we would be honored to raise him.

A few hours later we received word that he made it through the surgery and was responding well! He was going to make it!

Two weeks later I was talking with doctor. Caleb’s heart was surgically repaired, but he still had to eat with a feeding tube. The doctor explained to me that if a newborn doesn’t eat within the first few weeks of life when it was instinctive then he would have to learn how to eat. Learn how to eat? How do you teach a baby how to eat? He explained: “To teach him how to eat, you are going to need an occupational therapist who understands sensory integration.”

My jaw dropped! Deborah had just graduated with a degree in occupational therapy and her concentration was in sensory integration. Tears came to my eyes. Suddenly the fog of the last few weeks had been blown away. It all made sense to me! This little baby needed this mommy. God wasn’t punishing us. He was blessing us with one of the greatest miracles of our lives! Not only did God prove He cared for us. He proved He cared for our helpless son.

Now Deborah works with children as an occupational therapist. These kids are alot like Caleb who is 24 years old now!

Through the trials, we learned that we could bring our pain to God in prayer, finding comfort and experiencing His presence even in the darkest moments.

We all face challenges. There are good days and bad days. There are great days and tragic days.

This month we are exploring various prayers from the Bible to have ready when we need them.

Our hope is that you will discover the transformative power of prayer and embark on a journey towards an enriched life. If you have missed any you can go back and listen to the podcast, watch on our website, or watch on YouTube.

As always, check out the Digging Deeper to help you apply these messages to your life.

In week 1, we looked at The Prayer for Screw-Ups. In week 2, we looked at The Prayer When You Don’t Have Words. Last week, we looked at The Prayer for Living, Not Dying.

In this season of our Pray First Initiative and as we begin a new year, we don’t want you to default into seeing prayer as a last result, but instead see prayer as your first priority!

Today, we are looking at The Prayer that Came Out of Nowhere. It’s a prayer that came out of a place of pain.

There is a prayer that jumps off the page in the middle of genealogies and lists of kings and tribal rulers of Israel’s history. Take a look at what I mean…

In the middle of all of this comes what is known as the prayer of Jabez.

Nestled among a list of genealogies in the beginning of 1 Chronicles, we find this odd break in the list where the chronicler highlights a man and his prayer. While it seems out of place, the chronicler is intentional. The chronicler often inserts narrative within the genealogies in order to highlight an important theme. Prayer is one of those themes. Each theme is meant to remind God’s people that, though He may seem absent, He is has not left them and He’s worth seeking with all their heart. The Prayer of Jabez is one of those important reminders.

This little prayer we find is situated in the book of 1 Chronicles. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are often overlooked because they are a re-telling of the story of the kings and Kingdom of God’s people. Chronicles was written during the final period of the Old Testament- long after Israel’s hey-day as a powerful Kingdom, the split of this kingdom, their exile and subsequent return from exile. They are no longer the great nation they once were and they are not experiencing the blessing of the promised land and most of all the blessing of God’s powerful presence and rule. In the midst of this pain and longing, Chronicles was meant to keep their hope alive that, though their true King, the Messiah, had not yet come, God is faithful to His promise, so keep waiting, keep looking and keep hoping for His arrival.

Now if you’ve been in Christian circles over the last couple decades you probably have some familiarity- good or bad- with a book by the same name. But my guess is most of us have probably never come across this prayer.

So what was his prayer?

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 Chronicle 4:10 

Things to note that help us recapture and reclaim this prayer:

  • Jabez is a royal son of Judah. Is israelites would’ve known that blessing (Gen. 49:9-12)
  • Jabez is fatherless In a genealogy listing fathers and sons, Jabez has neither.
  • When it says “more honorable than his brothers” it is referring to the other men of Judah. Some who in fact forfeit their land and possessions due to their evil choices- Onan (1 Chron. 2:3), Achan (2:7), Hezron and Jair (2:21-22) This detail is super important as a premise to J’s prayer. It speaks to his character.
  • A Bible Commentary explains something very important about this random man mentioned only once in the Bible:

“Jabez means “pain,” and though we don’t know the cause of his (mother’s) pain, we know he’s without a father—a profoundly painful situation in ancient Israel (or anywhere for that matter). Living at the time of the Judges, a time renowned for its chaotic anarchy, Jabez’s father may have been killed or his mother raped. Regardless, his plight stands in stark contrast to the father-son pattern found in 1 Chronicles 4.”

– GC Commentary

Much like we talked about last week, Jabez did not let whatever his relationship was like with his earthly father derail him from understanding the character and nature of our Heavenly Father.

There are some important takeaways that will help us understand God and the relationship He wants to have with us.

1. We can come to God in prayer with our pain.

Jabez’ name meant pain. It could be the emotional/physical pain of his mother. Or the pain of being fatherless which was a shameful and harsh life in the ancient world. It’s not good when your name is Pain.   That is…unless your global superstar T-PAIN…because then all you do is win.

    Think about that for a moment. Jabez’ mom gave him the name “Pain.” That would be like you naming your child “C-section” or “Epidural” or “Preeclampsia.” Can you imagine? “Come here, C-section! You need to help your brother with the dishes!”

    Regardless of his name, Jabez did not want to be defined by his worst moment. Nor did he seem to believe that he needed to resign himself to that—how often do we simply resign ourselves to the narrative that says, “This is all I’ll ever be…”

    His name may be “Pain,” but he wanted to be known as “Blessed.”

    He cries out to God in faith. His trust in Yahweh is deep because He knows the abundance God offers, even when He has nothing. 

    Jabez “called upon the name of the God of Israel”. This is a major premise of his prayer (along with the mention of Jabez’s character as honorable- that he appeals to this God who is in covenant relationship with Israel. This name encapsulates the very promises of God that they are clinging to. And, it shows that He knows the character of the God He’s praying to.

    Have you allowed yourself to be defined by your worst moment?
    Have you begun to consider that your life in God’s hands has unlimited potential?

    2. God desires to bless us.

    I know preachers and some televangelists have ruined and skewed this concept. That if you buy this bottle of spring water they prayed over for $59.99 God will double your bank account. Or that being a Christian means if you have enough faith you won’t experience financial, marital, or physical hardship. And this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    We have to take this blessing of Jabez in context. God desires to bless us and to see us prosper, both spiritually and physically. Psalm 1:1–3 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

    Here, we see that those who delight in the Lord and follow His ways will be blessed and will prosper. This includes both spiritual blessings, such as peace and joy, and physical blessings, such as health and abundance. The Bible is full of scriptures on blessings and favor.

    To be blessed by God means to receive His favor, provision, and protection. It means to experience His love and grace in our lives and to have a relationship with Him. Being blessed by God does not necessarily mean that we will be free from trials or hardships, but it does mean that we can trust in His faithfulness and goodness even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

    The blessing is the presence of God that lavishes his love, forgiveness, peace, joy, etc.

    This is not to say that God doesn’t take care of us and “bless” us physically, financially, etc., of course that is still the case. But those things alone are not proof positive of a life close to God.

    When God does bless us in this way it is ALWAYS so that we can help and bless others. Remember the Israelites point to Abraham as their spiritual father. To Abraham God made this promise:

    “I will make you into a great nation,  and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3)

    It is ok to ask God for His blessing. But we need to constantly check our heart and ask “Why? Is this for my gain alone, or is it for others to know God and see Him through me?”

    Implied in this is learning to trust God even if what we asked for in prayer does not come to pass.

    Also implied is a level of gratitude for all the ways God has already blessed us even if what we ask for does not come to pass.

    3. We can pray for influence

    Jabez asked “enlarge my territory.”

    We can ask God to expand our influence not for selfish gain, but to grow his kingdom. So others may experience his goodness through us.

    Ephesians 1:17-18- 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,

    Paul is saying I pray God would open your eyes to a bigger vision than what you currently have.

    But God will only entrust to us when we show we are faithful with what we currently have.

    When I was going to school at Baylor and 19 years old, I had the opportunity to meet a man named Henry Blackaby. He wrote a book called Experiencing God that was quite impactful in my life. A few of my friends met him the day before me, and they shared with me how amazing it was to meet him. One of the girls actually started crying as she shared how meaningful her time with him was. She went on to say: “I felt like I was talking with an angel from God.”

    You can imagine, after that kind of description, I could not wait to meet him!

    My opportunity finally came, so I approached him with a question I had carefully crafted. This was my moment to have a word from God through his messenger Henry Blackaby.

    I said to him: “I am 19 years old, and I really want to make a difference in the world: what advice can you give to me?”

    I’ll never forget his response. He looked at me and said: “If you are faithful in the little things, God will give you more.”

    I was so excited! Henry Blackaby had promised me an amazing future! I hurried back to my apartment to tell my roommate (and best friend since 7th grade) what Henry Blackaby had said! I burst into the apartment and told Craig: “Henry Blackaby just shared with me an amazing promise, an amazing prediction! He told me that if I was faithful in the little things, that God will give me more!”

    Craig started laughing! That was not what I expected or what I wanted. Through his laughter he said: “That’s a verse in the Bible! Jesus said that! That wasn’t a specific message for you! I learned that at church in elementary school!”

    In the parable of the talents, Jesus said these words:

    ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!

    Craig was laughing, but I wasn’t. 

    Rather than feeling hopeful for my future, I felt embarrassed, but I also felt convicted. I was helping at a church as a youth pastor. I was making $70 a week to invest in a handful of teenagers, but I wasn’t really making an effort. After a few months, we had shrunk down to one youth. I was no longer a pastor of youth, I was a pastor of A youth. This little youth group was beneath me. I had bigger things to do after I graduated.

    Henry Blackaby’s message was exactly what I needed. I didn’t deserve more responsibility when I wasn’t faithful with what I had. Over the next several months I changed my behavior. I began to prepare for each time together with the students (well with the student, at first). I actually began to work really hard at what I had been given. Our little group began to grow and make a difference in the lives of some of the kids in the neighborhood. After graduating, I was invited to help start the youth group at a church plant in Seattle – an opportunity I would probably not have had if I had not decided to be faithful with what I had been entrusted with at that time.

    In what areas, are you letting things slip? In what areas have you stopped making the right decisions no matter how small they are?

    4. We can ask God for protection

    Jabez said “…keep me from harm”

    If you grew up going to church, maybe you have heard people pray using words and phrases in prayer that don’t make sense in real life. Christian comedian Tim Hawkins has a great bit on praying for a hedge of protection. What’s a hedge? Why not pray for a cement wall of protection? A hedge? We act like the devil’s Kryptonite is landscaping!

    As always, to understand the Bible start with Jesus. What does Jesus say about protection?

    In the Lord’ prayer, Jesus taught us to include:

    Matthew 6:13- “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

    We can ask God for victory in the middle of attacks and temptations, but also ask him to thwart the plans of the enemy

    “The devil wants you to focus on your pain- to focus on escaping it, comforting yourself from it, and wallowing in it as a victim. But when you focus on what God wants, then you can trust that your pain will no longer be the center of your life.” – Chris Hodges, “Pray First”

    5. Our prayers find significance ONLY in His presence

    We’re not meant to see this prayer as a magical mantra to get God to do what we want, rather, what this prayer demonstrates is that God hears the prayers of those who seek Him, it is a reminder to God’s people (and to us) to not give up praying during difficult circumstances. Finally, it’s a call away from self-sufficiency to dependence on God. He wants to be asked. He wants us to bring our needs and concerns to Him and trust that He will answer according to His perfect will.

    Jabez prayed “Let your hand be with me…”

    God’s presence in your life as you walk with Him and trust Him, no matter the results, will bring a humility that ultimately He is in control.

    He gives and takes away. His presence will allow us to trust his heart, even when we don’t understand

    Restarting Now for 2024

    So we are one month into 2024. 
    How are you doing so far? 
    Have you been able to be faithful to the little things you felt God calling you to do this new year?
    If you dropped the ball or have found yourself slipping, start afresh. Ask God for forgiveness and help to be more faithful.
    Maybe you didn’t have goals, have you considered God may want you to dream with Him about the future He wants for you?

    What if God has more for you so that you can bless more people?

    How has He already blessed you? How are you passing on that blessing to others?

    We are invited into something supernatural!

    The Creator of the Universe loves you! He wants you to know Him and experience His presence, His peace, His blessing!

    And by the way, He can blow your mind with what He can do in and through you!

    Another one of my favorite passages of Scripture comes from Ephesians when Paul prays for those he was writing to who follow Jesus:

    Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3:20

    God can do immeasurably more than what we ask or imagine!

    And His power is already at work within us!

    We can experience His presence, His power, His peace right now! We experience heaven on earth and bring more of heaven everywhere we go as we bring His power, presence, and peace with us into our homes, our place of work, our neighborhoods, and to our friends!

    God wants to bless you so you can bless others. He wants to give you more influence so you can bring more heaven to your part of the world. He wants to guide you so that you might know His love, presence, and wisdom. He wants to protect you because this world is broken and there is evil that opposes God’s ways and His people. 

    This week I was reminded of Mike Papale who was the Care Pastor at Gateway South Austin before he died from cancer at the age of 54. In the midst of the pain and suffering he was experiencing and in the midst of saying goodbye to his wife and 3 kids who are teenagers, I will never forget in one of my last conversations with him he said that he was experiencing God with Him like never before. It was like the atmosphere between heaven and earth was thinner. He explained that he had been asking God to help him out of the pit he was in, and instead he experienced God coming into the pit to be with him in the midst of it all.

    Have you invited Jesus to join you in the pit?
    Have you asked God to forgive you for going your own way?
    Have you asked Jesus to lead you, to guide you, to be the One you follow?

    You see, God loves you so much that He sent His Son Jesus to give His life for humanity, and all who call on His name will be rescued. He willingly died on the cross taking upon Himself the sins and evils of humanity so that we might experience forgiveness and new life and find purpose in bringing more of His presence to earth wherever we go.

    If not, you can do so right now. It’s as simple as praying in your heart and mind: “Dear God, please forgive me. I need what Jesus did on the cross to count for me. Lead me. I surrender myself to follow you.”

    If you prayed this for the first time, we want to help you in that journey! In fact, next week we will be celebrating baptism which is a beautiful symbol of discovering forgiveness and being raised to live a new life! So let us know if you started this relationship with God today through the connect card or come and share this with the prayer team. 

    Or perhaps you prayed this as a marker for restarting your relationship with God or recalibrating your relationship with God to making Him and His guidance more of a priority. For you, your next step is to join a group. You cannot become all God is calling you to be without community. Use the connect card or the connect spot to join a group – we have new groups just about to start, and we even have a Groups Expo today so you can find the best group for you.

    Free Consultation

    If you're interested in a free 30-min consultation with me, simply fill out this form and I'll contact you!