Where Jabez Doesn't Cut It

'I had to repent,' says Bruce Wilkinson, when he realized he hadn't followed God's command to help people in need.

Bruce Wilkinson became a household name in 2001 with the publication of The Prayer of Jabez, the fastest-selling book of all time. The book examines two sentences in 1 Chronicles 4:10 about a man named Jabez and his simple prayer to "expand my territory." Popular though it was, the book also had many critics, who believed "Jabez" played on people's selfishness, using verses buried in the Bible as a religious excuse for wanting money and material goodies. The book's success eventually led Wilkinson to reexamine his entire life--which ultimately led him to move to Africa. His recently published book, The Dream Giver, combines his experiences in Africa and his belief that everyone has a dream worth pursuing.

You've said you had to repent when you got to Africa, when you realized you had been disobedient to God by not taking care of people in need. Tell me about your process of repentance.

Repentance means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you. It's not just that I changed how I thought-I am now changed. I went to Africa without the perspective of a balance between teaching people the truth, which has been my calling, and helping people who have physical problems, like AIDS and orphans and hunger.

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I started looking at the passages of the Bible that would help me as I live in Africa. And I centered on Isaiah 58, and I read it over and over and began to change my mind about what I should be doing, what I

should have been doing

all this time. If you really don't run away from it and don't let it be intellectual and you process it in your heart and you think about the implications of-if I'd been doing this what could it have meant to people?-you feel sorrow, genuine grief. To truly repent of a big thing, you have to go into it with your heart open and force yourself to deal with it at that level and to apologize to God. I'm almost through that.

When you decided to go to Africa last spring, you were in the process of moving to California, but you couldn't find a house. What had you planned to do in Los Angeles?

I'd been with the organization I'd founded,

Walk Thru the Bible Ministries

, for 25 years. In 1998 I launched an organization with a 15-year goal: get a [Bible] teacher for every 50,000 people, in every country of the world, in 15 years' time. And after five years we were in 82 countries. That's a new country every 3 weeks. We had 33,000 trained Bible teachers.

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Interview by Deborah Caldwell
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