In the Bible, we find many promises. Some promises are conditional and some are unconditional. Some promises are to specific people and then other promises are for anyone to claim. How do we know what promises we can claim as our own? Certainly, the promises that anyone can claim can be identified because they are addressed to “whosoever.” These types of promises can be found in familiar passages such as John 3:16 (whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life) and Romans 10:13 (for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved).
A few years ago, a book was written about the prayer of Jabez found in I Chronicles 4:10:
And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.
The book written about this prayer told us that we could pray this prayer and be blessed as Jabez was – that we could claim this as a promise for ourselves. Is this one of those promises that we can claim for ourselves? Before answering that, let us look at one more popular passage:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
This passage is frequently invoked as a means for the United States to return to a more godly nation. We are told this promise is one that we can claim for our own nation. However, this “promise” is in reality an answer to Solomon’s prayer from chapter 6 of II Chronicles. God was answering Solomon’s prayer. Big deal, you say? After all, God is no respecter of persons and so we can expect Him to answer our prayer in the same way so you think. But that is not necessarily the case. Just because we pray the exact same thing as someone else, that is no guarantee that God will answer it in the exact same way. In fact, one person, David, prayed the same thing twice and he received two different answers from God:
And when the Philistines heard that David was anointed king over all Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek David. And David heard of it, and went out against them. And the Philistines came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of God, saying, Shall I go up against the Philistines? and wilt thou deliver them into mine hand? And the LORD said unto him, Go up; for I will deliver them into thine hand. So they came up to Baal-perazim; and David smote them there. Then David said, God hath broken in upon mine enemies by mine hand like the breaking forth of waters: therefore they called the name of that place Baal-perazim. And when they had left their gods there, David gave a commandment, and they were burned with fire. And the Philistines yet again spread themselves abroad in the valley. Therefore David inquired again of God; and God said unto him Go not up after them; turn away from them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when thou shalt hear a sound of going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt go out to battle: for God is gone forth before thee to smite the host of the Philistines. David therefore did as God commanded him: and they smote the host of the Philistines from Gibeon even to Gazer. 1 Chronicles 14:8-16
Notice that David was faced with the same situation twice and inquired of God twice. Also notice that God answered David with two different commands. If God doesn’t always answer the same prayer from the same person in the same way, why should we expect that He would answer the same prayer from two different people in the same way? It is presumptuous on our part to think God would do so. Praying the prayer of Jabez is no guarantee that God would grant our request as He did for Jabez. And if Christians in the U.S. would humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways, that is no guarantee that God will heal our land. That is what God promised to Solomon. It is not a general promise to whosoever wants to claim it. The answer to Jabez’ prayer is the answer for Jabez. It is not a general promise to whosoever wants to claim it.
We need to be careful about the context and we need to be careful about claiming promises for ourselves that are answers for someone else’s prayer.