Names are important.
Unlike most important things in your life--such as where you will live, who you will marry, your school, your career, etc.--you don’t get to choose your name. When you’re born, someone gives you your name. When I was born, I was named after a local broadcaster, Martin Karant, in Kingsport, Tennessee. My brother, Joey, was named after Joey Bishop, a famous singer my parents loved around the time he was born.
Recently, I was given a CD with family pictures. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents--everyone was in there. We came across a picture from the late 1800s of my great-grandmother Grubbs with her triplet boys, one of whom is my grandfather. The triplets were named JB, JC, and JD. And their older brother--you got it--was JA. You can’t make this stuff up. That’s the gene pool from which I came. So, I was thrilled with the name Marty.
You may have heard that George Foreman named all five of his sons the same name: George Edward Foreman. He also named one daughter Georgetta and another Freda George. While I’m sure this makes it easier to call the kids to dinner, I’m still surprised his wife went along with it. I can’t imagine naming my two sons Marty and my daughter Martina! The reason Foreman gives for this naming strategy is that he wanted to put the pressure of good behavior on his sons. On his website, Foreman says, “If one of us goes up, then we all go up together, and if one goes down, we all go down together!”
In biblical times, names carried more significant meaning than they do today. For instance, Abraham means “father of many.” He went on to be the father of many nations and is also called the father of our faith. Daniel means “God is my judge” and he is known as a man of integrity. The name Elizabeth means “my God is an oath.” She was promised she would give birth to a son who would be the forerunner to the Messiah named John the Baptist.
However, some people didn’t end up with such positive monikers. For instance, Jabez, whose name means “sorrow,” had a mother who named him saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” But look at what it says in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10:
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.”
Jabez didn’t let his name form his character or his future. He was more honorable than his brothers. He had a relationship with God and prayed bold prayers to Him to keep him from living a life predetermined by his name--a life of pain and sorrow. Jabez knew that he wasn’t constrained by human boundaries or family norms and he could achieve great things because his God was bigger.
And he prayed faithful prayers.
Prayers for abundance. Prayers for presence. Prayers for freedom from a branded life.
And God granted him his request. 1 Chronicles 4:10
God heard Jabez and answered him.
What would it look like if we prayed like Jabez? What if we weren’t constrained by our family dynamics, financial status, choices made in the past, or current circumstances? The God who watched as Jabez was named out of pain, the God who then heard and answered Jabez’ faithful prayer, is the same God waiting to hear and answer our prayers today.