I recently watched a Netflix series called “Physical: 100”. It was an experiment on the subject of “What is the limit of human physical strength?” Contestants with exceptional stamina were selected from South Korea and competed against each other, showcasing to viewers the extreme levels of physical strength that human beings can attain.
After seeing their perfect bodies, I couldn’t help but look at my own and feel a sense of pity. One of the contestants effortlessly slung a 400-pound rock over his shoulder and held it for almost two hours, while I doubt, I could have even lifted it for five minutes, let alone held it for that long.
Now, let’s move on to the main point and leave behind my impressions of the Netflix series. Today, I want to talk to you about limitations, but not physical ones. Instead, I want to discuss limitations in a spiritual sense, which is closely related to our church’s Lent theme of “Little Things.”
As humans, we are inherently weak, and our capabilities are extremely limited. This limitation extends beyond the physical realm and affects us spiritually. The Bible portrays humans as being bound by unhealthy forces, just as a prisoner is tied to a rope. Our desires, hearts, and thoughts are not free, but rather limited and constrained.
The Apostle Paul vividly captures the power of this eerie force in his confession, “For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:15, 18). This confession is reminiscent of the desperate pleas of someone battling addiction to a powerful drug.
As Paul so eloquently put it, we are all bound by something. It could be ignorance, where our unhealthy desires blind us to the signs and signals of our lives. It could be a hopeless situation that we cannot overcome on our own, or it could be a psychological force or an unhealthy desire that has taken hold of us.
When we are bound by that evil aura, suffering becomes an inescapable reality. We cannot break free from its chains with our own strength. However, there is a person who has managed to break free from this cycle of suffering – Jabez.
Jabez had a difficult life from the very beginning. His name, which means “sorrow,” is a testament to the hardships he endured. Unfortunately, the Bible does not provide many details about his birth. It simply states that “his mother bore him in pain.” Perhaps it was a difficult and complicated birth.
Well, what kinds of pains the Bible talking about? Does “pain” only refer to physical pain in this context? Maybe not. It’s possible that Jabez’s birth was complicated, resulting in birth trauma or dystocia. Perhaps as a result of the dystocia, he was born with a disability in one of his legs, which could have been a source of discouragement for his mother.
Alternatively, the “pain” that Jabez’s mother experienced during his birth could have also been emotional or psychological. Perhaps there were unresolved issues within the family dynamic, or some sort of personal tragedy or crisis occurring at the time of his birth. It’s also possible that he was born during a period of great turmoil, such as a national crisis or war.
Despite all of these possible explanations for his difficult birth, what stands out is that Jabez was able to rise above his circumstances. In contrast to the meaning of his name, the Bible notes that “his character and life were more noble than his other brothers.” So how did he manage to do this? According to the Bible, he achieved it through prayer. He prayed to God to expand his territory and protect him from all evil and harm. And amazingly, God answered his prayer.
This is a tempting thought for real estate investors, isn’t it? What a sweet sound it is! If you pray, you can acquire all of Seattle’s expensive and luxury buildings. If I preach this way, the number of our church members would easily become double. But if I were to preach this way, it would be a gross distortion of the true meaning of Jabez’s prayer.
Long story short, Jabez serves as a reminder of our own vulnerability and fragility, but he also reflects the life of Jesus. Jesus lived on this earth as a young man, taking on our sins and eventually dying at the age of 30. We can see Jabez’s prayer in a new light by comparing it to the prayer that Jesus taught. Jesus didn’t just offer a simple prayer, but rather he summarized his entire life in that short prayer.
Jesus has freed us from the power of any curse that binds us, limiting our lives and causing us to obsess over futile things. This obsession often leads to despair and sadness.
Let’s stop dwelling on sorrow and instead focus on the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is all about liberation, growth, love, joy, and even eternity. Doesn’t that sound like the gospel? Jesus spent his life fighting against injustice, striving to apply God’s noble, complex, and mysterious will to a distorted and wounded relationships and social systems. He healed the wounded, brought joy to those in deep sorrow, and gave encouragement to those in despair so that they could rise again. He walked alongside them on the path of life until they achieved victory and restoration. Jesus himself was the kingdom of God. He expanded his kingdom with infinite mercy and love.
Jabez and Jesus prayed for deliverance from evil. When we apply this prayer to ourselves, we can pray in the following way: “God, give us the strength to resist the temptation of choosing evil. Let us follow your path only and not make choices that lead us away from you. You are our Master, and we will live according to your will.”
When we truly desire to live according to God’s will, we pray earnestly and frequently, seeking God’s guidance for every decision, whether big or small. Through constant inquiry and research, we come to know God’s will and discover His plan for our lives. As someone who has experienced this firsthand, I can confidently declare that those who seek God’s Will diligently will find it. This is not a mere intellectual pursuit, but a journey of faith and discovery. As God says through the Bible, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Let’s pray for the expansion of our faith together. Even though only God would know that, while I am 99.9% certain of going to heaven when I die, I don’t want to limit myself to this belief alone. My faith needs to broaden and encompass the power of God’s kingdom on earth. What about you? Are you content with the idea of going to heaven? Do you care about what others are going through? We should pray for our children who are exposed to various addictions and for God’s children who struggle to find shelter and food. Let’s pray for the expansion of our ministry and for God’s kingdom to reach those in need. Lord, expand the boundaries of our ministry!
Third Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2023, 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
Pr. John Kim, Lakeridge Lutheran Church