Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. – 1 Chronicles 4:10
When you pray “Lord expand my territory,” enlarge my border, get ready to be stretched …This is that Prayer of Jabez that Bruce Wilkerson wrote about and made the bible verse popular around 2000.
Everybody preached, sang, and danced to this theme. This obscure scripture became the Christian fad of the day. I prayed like Jabez, in my imaginations, but not even thinking in the wildest of them that God delights in fulfilling our heart’s desire. God listens. So my territory was expanded because the Lord heard and answered my prayer.
It expanded into a new home – a church in the garage – three years of intense ministry. We might have done as much or more than some well established churches. I’m just saying! But this was only the first leg of the journey outside of my comfortable territory.
It expanded into a different church establishment. Ministry multiplied, even as friction became a factor. This was new. I experienced up close what envy and antagonism looks like in the House of God. A revelation for me and, maybe for you, that broken people bring themselves and their baggage right into the church; and they never go to the Potter for mending, nor cast their burdens upon the Lord. They remain miserable, and want you as their unhappy companions. Ah, but a wise and beautiful church member, who is now deceased, told me these situational dramas are only tests to make me stronger. I endured this expanded ministry for eight years, commuted 400 miles each week, and experienced the pleasure – and pain – of pastoring.
Many times I thought of quitting, but the still voice in my head said that he who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is not worthy of the kingdom. I got inspiration from the stories of the early apostles, who travelled to the “ends of the earth,” on foot, to proclaim the gospel. I preached to others and myself about John Wesley, the patron saint of Methodism, who had ridden on horseback across England, and had braced the stormy Atlantic on ships bound for America to preach revival. The old time hymns inspired, and kept my feet on fire.
” If you can’t stand a little trouble sometimes … Just remember … Must Jesus bear the cross alone … There is a cross for everyone … There is a cross for me … No cross, no crown.”
When I think things over … All of my good days outweigh my bad days … So I won’t complain.
Social media pundits often post some variation of this quote: in school you are taught the lesson, then given the test. But in life you are given the test to be taught the lesson. What did this experience teach? I learned that I love people, even the ones who are a royal pain. This is not the love in me, for certain, but it’s a gift from God. I learned to love Hyundai SUV’s – they were reliable, two of them, both clocked almost 200,000 miles. I had one accident that totalled my first Tuscan, not on the highway, but about five minutes from home, hit from behind and rammed into a car in front.I learned to pay attention to my body for signs of fatigue on the highway, to pull over in a fast-food parking lot and take a 15-minute break, instead of pushing along with deadly pride. Most of all, as the kind-hearted church lady had said, I learned that I was stronger because of the journey into expanded territory.
When I look back over my life, I now know what Mama wanted me to understand when she implored, Don’t be local minded. She had moved from a remote island to the capital city, and had breathed inspiring words into us children to get education and to further ourselves in life. Shortly after her premature death I enrolled in University abroad, and came to America. I moved out of Nassau – even though I was born there, I did not stay there. For me the schools and neighborhoods of Texas and Pennsylvania were alienating and cold [notwithstanding my first experience of snow, because it was followed by grey slush, then slippery clear ice]. I never quite adjusted to the people or the climate.
However, it was during this time that the concept of an African identity and a global citizenship blazed in my consciousness. And as maturation descended upon this island boy through the hardships of life and the inevitability of aging, I learned to resolve life’s journey in this simple catch phrase – bloom where you are planted. Memories of home were fond, but, sadly it was like a class reunion. None of us can be teenagers again – even if we can undo some of those regrets and injustices of youthful error and arrogance. I am sure the homely girl who is now a beautiful woman does not desire to return to those awkward years. And the alcoholic former athlete cannot return to his glorious splendor; his redemption is to pick up his butt, dust it off, and get back on track to salvage whatever chances are available. Yes, we keep moving on, remembering yet not returning.
This may not be the place, but it’s a good time to jump into this immigrant conversation. Go back to where you came from. That is the complaint from those who first got to “this place” concerning those who just got here. My father, like Mama, came from a remote area of the Bahamas, an Out Island, to Nassau City. He recalled that the Nassau natives derided them, the newly arrived, “Boat bring you here!” Translation – You don’t fully belong, and we are better because we got here first. But how can you go back to where you came from – it is no more. The boat crossed an horizon of no return. To my recollection, my father never returned to his birthplace, not even to bury relatives that died. Instead, as a builder and as a Christian, he laid many foundations that built structures and characters in his new home.
Don’t get me started. Where should the displaced people go to? Look at the word, and what it means, they have no place. Should Haitians return to their eroding and leeching coastlines? I don’t think so. The Irish did not return to their failing potato farms, even though the unwelcome signs said No dogs and No Irishman. That is enough!
Moving on with my story, I retired from my secular job and resigned the ministry assignment that was 50 miles from home. Others told me to rest – they saw a burn out coming. I listened. Rest came, but also restlessness.
In response to prayers for new purpose, another ministry claimed me, presenting new challenges to test my resolve and resilience. My options quickly became NONE. God had a divine grip on me, and who can grapple with the Almighty One? Now this one question persists – to where shall I go next? I do not know.
Threfore, let us depart in such an uncertain peace as we sing along to this hymn, inspired by the call of Isaiah the Prophet.
Here I am Lord. It is I Lord. I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord If you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.