Digging in Deeper: Proverbs 30:7-9

“Two things I ask of you; don’t deny them to me before I die: Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me. Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny you, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Last fall I saw the news that one of the largest PowerBall jackpots ever had been won by a single person. The total prize was just north of $2 billion. The lump sum prize payout was a shade less than $1 billion which seems like it would be a major letdown minus the fact that it is still more money than the vast majority of the world will ever see in their entire lifetime. No one wants to be poor. That’s part of why so many people play the lottery. Nearly all of them lose, of course, because the lottery is a game for people who can’t do math. (Unless your name is Jerry Selbee – this is worth a read – in which case just the opposite is true.) What we want instead, though, as amply demonstrated by the tens of millions of people who nonetheless bought tickets in hopes of winning this particular prize, is to be rich. But what if neither of these paths were the wisest to take through life? Let’s talk this morning about the wisdom of a third way.

The whole premise of these few weeks we are in right now is that it may be that God in His infinite wisdom deigns to allow us the privilege of being rich someday, and that should that day ever arrive, we want to be practiced up and ready for it. We want to be good at being rich. Yet before we get much further into our journey, let’s pause for a moment this morning and reflect on something fairly important. It is important enough that it got some attention given directly to it in the Scriptures. Do we really want to be rich?

Now, the obvious answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes!” Everyone wants to be rich. Just look at the culture around us. Pay attention sometime to the number of advertisements you see in a single day – including all of the ads you see online – for products or services that are designed to either help you get rich or to enjoy once you are rich. I suspect it won’t be a short list. You should want to get lots of money. And then, once you get all that money, you should do everything you can to hold onto all that money no matter what. That’s simply how our world thinks and operates. That’s how the world has always thought and operated. Money is power. We want power. Therefore, we want money.

Once upon a time, though, there was a man who brought a different mindset to the table. His name was Agur son of Jakeh. We don’t actually know anything about who this was. All we have is his name. But, whoever he happened to be, he was someone to whom God gave a great gift of wisdom that He deemed worthy of preserving for future generations to benefit from.

In this case, Agur had two requests to make of God. He really didn’t want a lot. These aren’t particularly lavish requests either. In fact, they are the opposite of lavish. The first request we’re not going to talk about much except to mention it, although it contains a great deal of wisdom in and of itself. He asks for a life rooted in truth. There’s probably a sermon or two (or three!) waiting to be preached in just that request alone. Think about how much better our lives would be if we lived consistently with the truth.

It is his second request that I want to make sure we don’t miss on this journey. He asks for God to give him neither poverty nor wealth. Now, we surely understand asking God to not give us a life of poverty. As I said a second ago, nobody wants to be poor. Now, yes, there are some monastic orders that require their members to take a vow of poverty. And I understand the thinking behind that. They want to eliminate all distractions to their full and total service of Christ. Possessions can indeed be a great distraction, and so by eliminating those, they are taking a huge potential roadblock to their being fully available to go as He sends. But for the rest of us, we don’t want poverty. We don’t want to have to worry about where our next meal is going to come from. We don’t want to have to be concerned about keeping a roof over our heads or clothes on our backs. We don’t want to live with the constant anxiety that if some medical emergency hits, we could lose everything or else not be able to get the help we need to deal with it. We don’t want poverty.

But the second part of that request? Don’t give me wealth either? We’re not quite so quick to join him in that one. The reason for that is simple: We do want wealth. We’ve talked about some of the reasons for that over each of the last couple of days. Yet look at his reasoning behind his request. He doesn’t want poverty so that he isn’t tempted to steal and abandon his trust in the Lord. He doesn’t want wealth, though, so that he isn’t drawn into the very temptation we have also mentioned each of the last couple of days.

If he doesn’t want wealth, and he doesn’t want poverty, then, what does he want? He doesn’t spell that out here, but I think we can fill in the gap with just a bit of critical thinking. He wants enough. To put that in other word, he wants contentment. There are some folks who, filled with a misplaced piety, ask God to make them poor so that they learn to depend more fully on Him. I get where they are coming from, but unless you are intentionally putting yourself in the context of a community that will help you do that by meeting the needs your poverty renders you incapable of meeting on your own (like a monastic community, for instance), that’s an unwise request. At the same time, the temptation to depend on our stuff instead of God when we start to accumulate enough of it is real. What we really need to learn is contentment.

When we are content, we are aware of what we have and what we need. We are aware of where our provisions have originated. We are not looking for more, but neither are we being unwise with what we have. We are not jealous of others, nor are we prideful in our thinking toward them. We are able to rest peacefully and quietly in the loving arms of our Savior, receiving with gratitude what He has given, and sharing generously with those around us who are in need where we have an abundance.

Here’s the thing about contentment like this: It is not a state of being that is connected with a particular amount of money. You can be perfectly content with a little and perfectly content with a lot. Contentment is something that comes from inside you, and not from a particular set of circumstances. In other words, being content is something that can ultimately make you really good at being rich. A content rich person doesn’t fall prey to the temptations we have talked about that are associated with lots of stuff. Neither does she fall prey to the temptations associated with poverty. A content person is just that: content. If you want to get better at being rich, pursuing the practice of contentment is an important step to take in that direction.

So then, how content are you? What kinds of things are currently getting in the way of your being content? They could be external to you, but the truth is that the vast majority of them are inside of you. The more you learn to trust God and not worry, the more content you will be. The more you learn to not be taken in by what others have, but to instead celebrate their successes with them, the more content you will be. The more you learn to give generously and sacrificially from what God has given you to manage for Him, the more content you will be. The more you learn to live in an active posture of forgiveness toward those who have hurt you whether those wounds were incurred in the past or present, the more content you will be. Start pursuing the goal of contentment today. You will most certainly be glad that you did. And, should the day ever arrive, you’ll be a whole lot better at being rich.

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