Free from Harm

My Dear Shepherds,

I shouldn’t be telling you this, but we have a false security system at our house. We have some little decals on our doors that warn potential intruders that we’re “Protected.” There are vestiges of a sophisticated system around the house, but nothing’s actually connected. The house came this way. I’m hoping any potential robbers will see the signs and leave us alone.

I suspect we pastors tend to approach church security this way. I don’t mean our buildings. They may be better protected than the congregations they shelter. I mean our own hearts and the well-being of our flocks.

A false security system got Israel in deep trouble. “They were taken captive to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness” (1 Chron. 9:1). When God eventually allowed them to return to their homes they needed to reconnect to his protection. That’s why the Chronicler taught them Jabez’s prayer:

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 [evil, wickedness, disaster] so that I will be free from pain [grief, distress].” (1 Chron. 4:10)

I realize now that I didn’t pray this kind of proactive, protection-pursuing prayer very often during my years shepherding a church. I seldom thought of it, to be truthful. Nor, looking back, do I remember hearing a prayer like this in worship services or prayer gatherings. Perhaps we’d have avoided a lot of the conflict and turmoil of recent wilderness years if we had.

The Chronicler reminded the Jews of two specific disasters that would’ve been prevented if they and their leaders had prayed well. The first was the sorry story of Israel’s rout by the Philistines and Saul’s devastating response:

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the LORD. (1 Chron. 10:13-14a)

David’s army-counting debacle is retold in chapter 21. No prayer there either, until David pled for God’s mercy. Neither Saul’s nor David’s defeats were at the hands of enemies but were the consequences of failing to pray, even when warned, as sin crouched at their doors.

Jabez’s prayer sounds like the prayer Jesus taught us, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This short petition requires us to pay attention to God’s klaxon horns and bright red warnings to turn from our sins and take stock of our vulnerabilities. God will not tempt us, but he will remove temptation’s roadblocks if failure is the only way to bring us to our knees. Prayerless, we leave our gates ajar, our flocks unguarded, and ourselves dozing at our posts. “Watch and pray,” Jesus warned, “so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Jabez prayed for God’s blessing to offset the dismal name his mother had given him, which meant, “Oh, the Pain.” When we and our people pray, personally and congregationally, “deliver us from evil,” we will sense and see the safety God gives. We will not be characterized by the pain of guilt and regret. “No harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

Standing before your people, you can raise your hands upward and send them out with this:

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory ….

Be ye glad!

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