Praying for the hand of God


When I was a child, I remember spending the summers often with my grandparents in Tennessee. My grandfather, in the later years of his life, left his grocery business to serve as a church-planting missionary in the area between Nashville and Knoxville in that state. One of his strategies for starting a new church was to go into a town to see if there was a church building that for whatever reason had closed down.

Granddaddy would find the owners of the building and ask them if they would allow him (free of charge, if possible) to use the building for one week to hold a Vacation Bible School for the kids in the area. More often than not, he and my grandma would spend the next week visiting neighboring homes in that area and inviting kids to come to VBS. They would then hold the VBS the week after that. I remember kids coming out of the woodwork during that week of VBS. Then on Friday night there was a closing program and my grandpa would always invite the parents and kids to return for a church service on Sunday morning. During his 30 years of ministry, there were close to that many churches that reopened by that means.

One question that always has plagued me after seeing this phenomenon was what a church did wrong that would cause them to close in the first place. Maybe they hadn’t done anything wrong, given the decline of rural communities. In fact, as one pastor shared with me some years ago, it may be that God raises up churches “for a season” and after their season is past they simply fade into the landscape of a growing bustling society. But when I hear of churches that have lost their way, that are defeated or dying, my first thought is always, I wonder if they were praying. Did those believers gather to pray specifically and persistently for the blessing of God on their church, fortified by his promises?

The books of Chronicles were written for Jews who had returned from the Babylonian exile to remind them of their God-given promises and priorities. Now, reading those books of the Bible can be a tedious, boring task, but if you are looking for it, a bright and shining light will appear. Amidst plodding genealogies is a breath of fresh air, a tiny, short story about Jabez saying, whose very name, meaning “Oh, the Pain”, surely resonated with the returning Jews. “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 Chron. 4:9-10)

As with all the best prayers, Jabez drew life from God’s covenant promise to bless his people. His three specific petitions grew from that rich soil, the second being, “Let your hand be with me.” Jabez was using the language of the Exodus where God’s “mighty hand and outstretched arm” was the oft-repeated reason for their deliverance. When the tribe of Judah (to which Jabez belonged) went first into the Promised Land (Judg. 1:1-11), I imagine they sang the song of Moses with lyrics like, “You stretch out your right hand, and the earth swallows your enemies” (Ex. 15:1-18).

God’s hand connotes something more active than God’s presence. God’s hand “shattered the enemy.” It is also our hiding place. When Moses blessed Israel for the last time he said, “All the holy ones are in your hand” (Deut.33:3). Jesus promised, “no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).

I am convinced that when defeat has seemingly overcome us, and pain is our name, we should simply pray for the blessing of God’s hand. I greatly admired my grandpa and grandma for what they did to plant churches back when I was young. But when I ask for the guidance and protection of God’s hand, I think not of them, but of my Dad, their oldest son. One of my most treasured memories is of his hand upon my shoulder whenever I faced a trial growing up.

My friends, do you pray for God’s hand to be with you and to keep you from harm? God wants you and me to continue to experience those treasured moments — even today!

Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area minister who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

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