- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Although its only seven chapters and 92 pages long, "The Prayer of Jabez" is the hottest religious fad since the "What Would Jesus Do" bracelets of a few years back.
This $9.99 gift book has risen to top-seller status on lists posted by USA Today, the New York Times and Publishers Weekly. The item keeping inventory managers nationwide in a frenzy is based on two verses: 1Chronicles 4:9-10 in the Old Testament.
The Rev. Bruce Wilkinsons "The Prayer of Jabez" dissects a one-sentence prayer hidden amid the endless genealogies that simply ask God for blessing, expanded territory and safeguarding from evil. Obscure verses are not the stuff multimillion-dollar sales are usually made of, but "The Prayer of Jabez" has surprised everyone by selling 4.5 million copies.
Four million of those copies have sold just since January. But Mr. Wilkinson, founder of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries in Atlanta, has been preaching about Jabez for 25 years.
David Kopp, an editor at Multnomah Publishers in Sisters, Ore., did the legwork to convert Mr. Wilkinsons sermons, papers and tapes into a book on the topic. His name has been left off the books cover, although he was mentioned in the acknowledgements and on the cover page of later editions.
Multnomah officials offered little comment on the extent of Mr. Kopps contribution to the work. Its popularity took them completely by surprise. "We had been hoping to sell 30,000," President Don Jacobson said. After all, Mr. Wilkinsons previous books had never sold more than 20,000 apiece.
That was then. Now, Mr. Wilkinson is trying to market his sequel, "Secrets of the Vine," which has sold 800,000 copies since its April 2 release.
Mr. Wilkinson has some influential fans. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, mentioned the "Jabez prayer" May 1 at a House Government Reform Committee meeting. On May 4, the National Day of Prayer, President Bush included Mr. Wilkinson in a meeting with religious leaders.
Both secular and Christian bookstores report sales are brisk.
"It really started booming, I would say, a couple months ago," said Christine Parnell, manager of Family Christian Stores in Falls Church. "Literally, we could not keep it on the shelf. Id be going home with 30 or 40 on the shelf and think wed be covered. Id come in the next morning, and theyd all be gone. Wed have 70 one day, two the next."
The B. Dalton bookstore at Union Station reports the same thing. "Over 350 sold in the last 13 weeks," assistant manager Sean Dibble said. "Thats a lot, especially for a Christian inspirational book, to sell that many that quickly."
Fairfax resident Jim Daffron, a computer programmer, claims his life has turned around since he started praying the prayer. Insurmountable difficulties at work and home quickly eased.
"I do believe that when we get down on our knees and pray, when we really seek an answer from (God), he does answer us," he said. "I think that this was a way of me getting down on my knees."
The book is small, a quick read and inexpensive enough to buy multiple copies for friends and family. The two key verses are as follows:
"Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, 'Because I bore him in pain.
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, '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! So God granted him what he requested." (New King James Version)
Mr. Wilkinson shares stories of blessings in his life and tells readers that God has blessings waiting for each of them, too. He encourages readers to say the prayer of Jabez daily for 30 days and see if God answers it.
Many readers apparently have done so, praying the prayer morning, noon and night in hopes of finding the blessings of a spouse, a house, a new car or a vacation getaway. Web sites, such a PrayerOfJabez.com, are crammed with people talking about what they believe the book has given them.
The author counters this mentality, explaining that Jabez was not making a selfish request for personal affluence, but rather a heartfelt petition to be shown ways to serve God. The "blessings" and "expanded territory" were not what would equate to a new house or a new car, but rather the honor of an expanded ministry and more opportunities to be used by God, he says.
But after receiving 12,000 e-mail messages raving about answered prayers, the publisher says the book is onto something.
"[The book] is about doing more for God, being large in his kingdom," Mr. Jacobson says. "People are praying that God would use them, and they start praying this prayer, and you know what? God is using them. That excites them."
But John Wilson, editor of Books and Culture and editor at large for Christianity Today, notes Mr. Wilkinson is merely cloaking a success-oriented gospel in "more pious language."
"Im somewhat appalled by its success," he said. While it is exciting to see so many people snapping up a bit of Christian culture, "its very often wedded to the notion that if you become a Christian youre going to have a Mercedes."
Miss Parnell disagrees, saying the book changes peoples attitudes toward and expectations regarding life.
"I think people dont realize how much God can bless us if we just pray and ask," she said. "Were not saying, 'Lord, give me a mansion. Were saying, 'Lord, were trying to help people, help increase our ministry. And were just seeing incredible results with God just blessing and changing lives."
The Rev. Michael Easley, senior pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, says any book can be misunderstood.
"I think with any publication you have people who are going to misunderstand, misinterpret, misapply," he said. "Thats where the local church has to come along and guide and instruct. We want to bring people back to .
"The question to ask about any prayer is, 'If God answered this prayer, would it glorify Christ?" he said. If one prays the Jabez prayer correctly, he said, it passes the test. If one prays it selfishly in search of personal prosperity, it does not.
Douglas Groothuis, a philosophy professor at Denver Seminary, says people cannot always expect blessings.
"The book appeals to the typical American perception of blessing as health, wealth and prosperity, while it might be sacrifice for God," he said. "I wonder what a Christian in China, in an underground church there, might make of a book like this."

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