It’s been No.1 on both the New York Times and USA TODAY best sellers’ list. It has sold more than 4 million copies.
For many readers, Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life is a godsend. Still, the book has met with more than just praise since being published last year.
The book is built upon the prayer of an Old Testament Judean, Jabez, who is briefly mentioned in a genealogical list in I Chronicles.
“Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain,” the prayer reads in I Chronicles 4:10 (NKJV), going on to say that God answers the prayer favorably.
A May 24 USA TODAY article said critics have charged that the book “encourages prayer for material gain and other selfish reasons.”
Wilkinson said in the article that he thinks “God doesn’t want you praying for a pink Cadillac, but he may not say no if you say, ‘I need a new car.’ I ask the Lord for what I would like and trust his judgment, because he can easily say no.”
Wilkinson, an Atlanta, Ga., evangelist, is the founder of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries.
Tom Eliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., told USA TODAY Wilkinson is “saying if you obey God, there is nothing wrong with asking God to bless your ministry, your work, your family. Bruce is in no way authorizing (the attitude that) ‘if I’m more spiritual and righteous, I’m going to get more stuff than anybody else.'”
But not everyone sees the book as divine inspiration.
Seattle bookstore co-owner Nancy Marshall doesn’t stock Jabez in her store. “There’s nothing wrong with asking God to help you, walk with you and support you, but this goes over the edge,” she told USA TODAY.
For Phyllis Tickle, contributing religion editor for Publishers Weekly, it depends on each individual’s point of view.
Tickle told USA TODAY she’s “overjoyed to see a religion book do that well.” However, as a Christian, she’s afraid people may perceive the prayer as “some divine insurance policy so they can get everything they want. There is a self-centeredness in the prayer that is alarming. It smacks of something close to magic.”
The book has proven popular in bookstores around the country.
“We’re happy with its performance so far,” Roger Toone told the Salt Lake Tribune. Toone is retail sales vice president for Deseret Book, a chain owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Many of our customers are interested in inspirational books by non-LDS authors. This one appeals to many denominations,” he said.
Another bookseller in Maine told the New York Times she “couldn’t keep them on the shelf.”
Don Jacobson, president of Jabez’s publisher Multnomah Publishers, told the New York Times that he’s astounded at the sales. Initially, he said, he expected the book to sell 30,000 copies.
“I think people are responding to the smaller book format,” he added. “We’ve gotten so used to fast food, we need things in smaller bites. People are reading this book, praying this prayer, and they’re seeing God work in their lives. When that happens, it kind of shocks them, so much so that they go out and buy books for other people.”
New York Times book critic Judith Shulevitz wrote that the book’s appeal is in its resurrection of the “once ubiquitous and now mostly forgotten genre of the published Sunday sermon.” She added that Wilkinson seems “snake-oil salesmanish–he promises that if you take these steps, results will be yours within days.”
Shulevitz said, “Wilkinson makes God’s will awfully easy to accept, since he says God wants us to be successful.”
Jared Porter is BCE’s reporting intern.