“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.” (ESV)
If you could ask anything of God, what would it be? Agur here asks for two things. He firsts asks for God to make him honest, to take all falsehood and lying away from him. We can understand that. Now, that may not be the first thing we would think of if we had a blank check from God, but it’s a pretty good thing if you think about it. He’s basically asking for God to help him live a life that is consistent with reality all the time. Most of us could probably use a little more reality in our lives. Living with fantasy may feel nice for a while, but eventually it runs out and usually leaves you lower than you were before you sought the fantasy high in the first place. This is a good thing. We get this one. The other thing…after the beginning…not so much.
The other thing he asks for is for God to not let him experience poverty. This one we’re definitely good with. Nobody wants to be poor. Nobody wants to live with not enough, to have to worry about making ends meet, or making sure the basic necessities of life are covered. Indeed, such a person, as Agur notes a bit later, might be tempted to steal, thus profaning the name of the Lord. (Now, while stealing profanes the name of the Lord is worthy of some attention for what it says about the positive view of private property in the Scriptures, but that’ll have to be for another time.) None of that is the hard part.
You see, this second thing is a two-parter. The second part is that Agur asks God to not make him rich. At this point, most of us slam on the breaks. “Hold on, Mr. Wise Guy! What do you mean, ‘Don’t make me rich?’ I may not want to be poor, but don’t you go lumping me in with you on this last one. I want to be rich. I ask God to make me rich all the time.”
And yet…this may not be such an unwise ask as it first seems to most of us. Think about why. What group of people often have the hardest time trusting in God for all things? Which group tends to be the least generous, percentage-wise? Which group is the most likely to place their trust in what they have rather than what God is able to provide? Is it not the rich? Is it not those who are thoroughly convinced that they have enough resources at their disposal to get them through rough waters should they come?
Being rich is a great idea. For those who don’t feel rich (although, if you are reading this on a cell phone from the comfort of your house or apartment, you are pretty rich by the broader standards of the world), we can quickly and easily think of all the things we could do with a lot of money that would seem to make our lives much easier than they currently are.
But, if in having great wealth we learn to trust in it instead of in God, what have we gained in the end? Nothing. In fact, we have experienced a net loss.
Now, God isn’t against people being wealthy, nor is having great resources at our disposal necessarily a bad thing by any measure. But, some people are gifted at managing a great deal of God’s stuff…and some aren’t. Some people are terrible rich people. For example, if you’re rich and in debt, you’re doing it wrong. It you’re rich and you live like it all belongs to you, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re rich and you aren’t also generous, you’re doing it wrong.
So, what do we do? We learn to be content with what we have, but develop the practices that will make us good rich people should God ever see fit to make us rich so we’re ready for it. We practice generosity. We give sacrificially. We store up good works that both cost money and don’t cost anything. We actively pursue activities that require us to trust the Lord more than we trust our stuff. In short, we become good at being rich while we’re poor so that we can reap the benefits of such a lifestyle even if we never actually live it. Then we don’t have to ask for riches. We’ll already be rich in the ways that matter most.
So, yes, Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches lest I be tempted to trust in myself and what I can provide more than in you and what you can do.