First Mennonite Church
February 15, 2015
More Than a Philosophy, A Godly Prayer
Texts: Proverbs 30:1-9; 1Timothy 6: 2c-10
Once there was a young Chippewa woman who was tired of the big city. She decided to return to the Indian Reservation in Northern Canada. Life was simpler there. But before she left, she gave three-week’s notice to the boss, collected her last paycheck, and began to pack her belongings. What a job that turned out to be! Pictures, bedding, rugs, clothes, china, books, pots and pans — box after box until they almost reached the ceiling of her living room. She could almost see the envious looks of her friends on the reservation! Packing made her so tired she fell asleep. She dreamt that she had arrived on the banks of the Red River with her big pile of boxes spread around her. There she waited for her brother, who would bring a canoe for her journey home. Finally her brother arrived. At first he seemed a little surprised at her pile of belongings, but he said nothing. He just went to work, carefully loading box after box into the canoe until it was nearly full. But the stack of boxes on the shore seemed no smaller. “Why didn’t you bring a bigger canoe?” she cried. Her brother answered quietly, “It’s the biggest canoe on the reservation. Besides, Grandmother said she was sure it would do.” At the mention of her grandmother, the young Indian woman became very quiet. She had just remembered what her grandmother had said to her: “Remember, my dear one, when you come back home if you have more things to move than can fill one canoe, then you will know that you have become greedy. You will have taken more than your share, and others will not have enough. Don’t let that happen to you, my granddaughter.” When the young woman woke up she found herself crying tears of shame. She had become greedy. She had taken more than her fair share. She knew she had to give away all her extra belongings and return to the reservation with only what she could carry in one canoe.
Proverbs 30 are the words of Agur, the son of Jakeh. The first four verses came from one who seemed to admit he was not a scholar, nor someone who possessed knowledge about the mysteries of the world or of God. Agur humbly recognized the immense gulf between human knowledge and God’s wisdom, which led him to an open confession:
“Every word of God is flawless;
The humble attitude of Agur is quite a contrast to the attitude promoted in our culture today. In every context we stroll about in life, whether at work or among friends; at church or in school, etc. there is the constant expectation that we must be assertive, knowledgeable, and connoisseurs of everything to an almost superhuman degree of knowledge and certainty. At this level of proud human knowledge, people argue most anything, including things about God. In the context of church, pastors are expected to know everything about the Bible, which is impossible. I have told you before and am telling you again: I do not know everything there is in the Bible and am not ashamed of admitting it. And I take the words of Agur who warns: Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. Solomon also gave this advice: Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you upon the earth (Eccl. 5:2).
What we must do is to accept the words of Agur: He (The Lord) is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Agur worried not that he did not know the complexities about the cosmos or the mysteries of God, but found comfort in knowing that the Lord is a shield to everyone who finds refuge in Him.
After Agur admitted his lack of knowledge of the cosmos, his admiration at God’s perfect word, and his confidence in the security of God’s protection, he said a modest prayer. Agur’s prayer is the only prayer found in the book of Proverbs. He humbly prayed to the Lord for two seemingly unrelated requests to God. He plead with God to not deny his requests before he dies. Agur considered his two requests as being the ultimate essentials for a godly life. Therefore, I want us to look at his prayer carefully because it reveals the godliest of prayers we can ever make before God. Let us listen to Agur’s prayer:
“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not deny them to me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me;”
The first request the writer made to God is that he would be protected from falsehood and lies. Agur desired to be found truthful in his words. He prayed to God to keep him away from all falsehood. Agur was aware of the dangers of thoughtless remarks or hasty words coming from his mouth. He desired to be found truthful in the eyes of the Holy One.
The second request reveals the writer’s honest view about dangers of wealth and poverty: give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
The Hebrew version for this part of the prayer reads: give me the portion that is fitting or appropriate to my situation or need. The writer of this proverb realized the danger there is of having riches, which according to him will lead him to say like Pharaoh, “And who is Yahweh that I should heed his words? I do not know Yahweh!” (Exodus 5:2). Time and time again, we have seen that when people become wealthy, pride crawls into their heart. Job knew so well the dangers of wealth when he said,
“If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security,’ 25 if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained, 26 if I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendor, 27 so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage, 28 then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high” (Job 31:24-28).
Yes, for many, wealth and its consequent comfortable life are the greatest obstacles to see their need of God. But the danger of wealth does not only happen after people become rich. Paul cautions that the danger begins at the very desire to become rich. “But those who want to become rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and in their eagerness to become rich some have wandered away from the faith,” Paul warned Timothy (1Timothy 6:9, 10).
Agur was also aware of dangers of grinding poverty. Let me throw in here a pinch of social justice concern. It seem at times that people can readily tolerate and even rescue the lords of Wall Street, the huge corporations, and the greedy bankers more than those who have fled abject poverty and came here to earn a piece of bread to survive. As for Agur, he was fully aware of how far poverty can push anyone even to the point of compromising his or her sense of morality when overwhelmed by desperation. Agur knew so well the compelling power that poverty can have over anyone under the constraint of misery. And so he prayed to God to be spared from the grips of poverty and to give him what he needed for his situation. He knew that poverty can lead to stealing and so dishonor the name of Yahweh. Poverty can break the person’s moral principles and lead to stealing, which Proverbs compares to dishonoring the name of the Lord. How many people have cheated in order to earn more money? How many people have doubled their expenses to get more refund? How many people have had to literally steal in order to provide for their children’s needs? I believe all of us have known of cases like these. The prayer of Agur should be a model prayer for us.
The other day I read a poem that in part says:
Man wrecks his health for wealth
Then wrecks his wealth for health
And in the end loses both.
Let us search our heart before God regarding our view of money, the material world and the topic of poverty. This passage in Proverbs 30 touches two broad and touchy issues: wealth and poverty. From the perspective of Agur, and for that matter of the entire Bible, these two topics are not outside the scope of God’s people, we who are called to follow Jesus. And so some of the questions we need to ask ourselves are:
When I pray about matters of money, needs, and wants, how do I pray? Do I pray as if God is indebted to me and has to give me my every want and whim? How do I use the money God blesses me with as the fruit of my labor? Do I give to the church and help the needy as a way to honor God?
Regarding the topic of poverty, leave aside all the political rhetoric, can you still see the humanity in those who are poor? Are you able to understand why people can stand all day, under the scorching sun, in the cold wind, or rain by the streets begging for money? From a humanitarian perspective, with all the political rhetoric and legal implications aside, have you given thought as to why peoples of the Southern hemisphere risk their lives seeking to ease their poverty and misery?
When we pray, let us pray with Agur: “Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not deny them to me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”