Yesterday, as I was working on my study of the book of Proverbs, I came across this beautiful prayer in Chapter 30, verses 7-9:
Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
This passage is actually the only prayer in the entire book of Proverbs, and if you read the book, you could see how this entire prayer encapsulates all of the wisdom found in this book. The speaker here (that is, Agur, son of Jakeh) petitions God to do two main things (protect his spiritual life and provide for his daily needs) with one main goal in mind: honoring and glorifying the Lord.
You see, falsehood and lying can present itself in a number of different ways to the believer: being blinded by our own pride, being preyed upon by the enemy, failing to diligently study our Word, and the general effects of sin and the flesh. This stuff can have a physical impact in your life (i.e. being caught up in a scam or taken advantage by others), but its primary impact is on your spiritual life. Consider the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. When you look at Christ’s explanation in verses 18-23, you find that our spiritual life should always be a matter of great concern for us. The seed of the gospel that is sown in our hearts can be taken away by the enemy if we fail to understand it properly, come to nothing because we are not rooted and grounded in the faith and can’t endure difficulty, and become unfruitful simply because we are caught up in the cares of the world and the deceitful lies of chasing after riches and material wealth. The only time the seed of the gospel is able to bear fruit is when it is received into a person who 1) hears it and 2) understands it before he/she is able to bear fruit. So, this prayer in Proverbs is a prayer that we should all be praying that the Lord would keep us from all falsehood and lies from within (coming from our flesh and sin) and without.
Secondly, he asked for neither poverty nor riches but just enough to meet his needs. He wanted God to give him his “daily bread”, but he could also see the deceitfulness of his own heart. He knew that if he had too much in this life, he would be tempted into either denying God or trusting in his own strength and ability to get what he had. And he knew that if he had too little in this life, he would be tempted to profane the name of God by trying to meet his needs in a deceitful and wicked manner. Let’s be real here. Asking God to just meet your daily needs takes a lot of trust and intentionality because we live in a day where people hoard, are prone to worry, stockpile things out of fear, and the just want more and more things. People struggle with being satisfied and saying “enough”, and they find that their security is in their money or in their own strength, ability, and power to get what they want, not in God. So Agur’s prayer is extremely counter-cultural, and it is still counter-cultural today.
But you can see that his ultimate desire from this prayer is to live a life where he is always honoring and glorifying God….living in the fear of God. And he wants to glorify God, not just when he worshipped on the Sabbath, but also as he lived his life every other day of the week. He knew he was thoroughly wicked and evil within, that he had the ability to corrupt even the very best things God could give him in this life, and he prayed that God would keep him from sin, from that innate ability to pervert and dishonor God with the good things that He has blessed us with to enjoy. And truly, God is the only one who can redeem us. He alone can give us a new heart and a new mind that seeks to honor and glorify Him. He alone keeps us until the very last day, and we need Him to keep us! Really! We NEED HIM to keep and protect us, and I believe that the most honest Christians can quickly recognize their need to pray this prayer.
My husband and I are celebrating today because we met our financial goals for the year and paid off both cars and a credit card. Now, that may not seem like much, but we paid off about $10,000 of debt in the past 14 months. We are thanking God for keeping us and giving us wisdom and grace to cut corners and be frugal all while living in the city of Charleston where spending money seems to be everybody’s pastime here. Yet, looking at this prayer reminded me to thank God but to proceed cautiously and circumspectly into the future. Yes, we have a lot more to pay off, but it’s easy to get discouraged. Even more realistically, it’s easy for me to find things to spend money on because the pinch isn’t as hard as it was before. And it is that pinch that I see here in Agur’s prayer.
If we are honest with ourselves, we need a God-given pinch in our lives, and even if we aren’t honest, God provides those pinches for all of us. Whether it is going through never-ending health issues, parenting troubles, financial stress, job issues, family drama, unmet dreams, unfulfilled desires, and whatever else, the Lord is gracious to provide a pinch for us to be mindful of Him at all times in every season of our lives. That truth is one of the many things I’ve learned by having Bible study with the older women at my church, God gives pinches no matter how old you are, and they always hurt! But, they are meant to keep us focused on Him, looking to honor Him, glorify Him, trusting in Him, seeking to apply our hearts to wisdom. The pinches are meant to keep us from “forgetting ourselves”, from drifting too far away from Him, to keep us humbly on our knees before Him, and living in the constant reverential fear of Him. The pinches don’t promise to bring all of those things we have ever wanted in our lives to pass, but they do demonstrate God’s unfailing love towards us and His promise to keep us in this life.
So, as my husband and I move forward in trying to pay off more debt, my prayer is that I will always feel and remember this pinch. As we have learned over the past 3+ years of our marriage, our trust and security is fully in the Lord, and I pray that we would never be tempted to stray from Him. But because we are “prone to wander”, I pray that the Lord faithfully continues to keep us and pinch us where we need it and when we need it so that we never step a foot in the wrong direction. I pray that you also see the beauty of Agur’s prayer too and continue to trust in God’s loving, yet sometimes chastising, and pinching hand, praising Him even, especially when it hurts. Oh, and if you are interested, here’s a great sermon by Joel Beeke on this prayer (click on the second link).
Come, thou fount of ev’ry blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above; praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of God’s unchanging love.
O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be; let that grace now, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to thee. Prone to wander – Lord, I feel it – prone to leave the God I love: here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.