A question for you.  If you had the opportunity to take an all-expense paid vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?  Would you go to Hawaii or the Bahamas or maybe take a fishing trip to Alaska or a shopping trip in Paris.  If you could afford to purchase whatever your heart desired, what would you buy?  A brand new car, a boat, a cabin on a lake?  If you could afford to retire today, and do whatever you want, what would you do?  Now, don’t tell me, “I don’t know, Pastor, I’ve never thought about anything like that.  I’ve never had the “if only I could afford it” dream.  Really?  Chances are, we’ve all had some dream about what we might do, or be or have some day.

The trouble is, as we think about our future, as we think about like to have in life, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking like the world thinks.  You realize, our world is infected with a disease called materialism, the worship of stuff.  There are a lot of people who have contracted a strain of materialism known as “affluenza,” the insatiable desire to become affluent, that is to have lots of money.

Well, in his Word, God gives us some advice about how to maintain a healthy attitude toward the gift of material possessions.  And that attitude is actually found in the form of a prayer, a prayer offered by the Old Testament believer named Agur.  We might call it

The Financial Prayer of a Wise Man

Actually, Agur’s prayer consists of three requests:

  1. God, don’t make me rich
  2. God, don’t make me poor.
  3. God, give me only my daily bread

In Proverbs, chapter 30, Agur begins his prayer with the words, “Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die:  Keep falsehood and lies far from me;”  (In other words, make me an honest man).  And then, …give me neither poverty nor riches.”  Let’s take the second part of that prayer first.  In effect, Agur prays, I. God, don’t make me rich.

Tell me, how many of you offer this prayer every night before you go to bed?  “God, please don’t make me rich.  God, whatever you do, don’t let me pick the winning number in the Powerball.  Don’t let some long lost relative make me the heir of his entire estate.  Don’t let me hit the jackpot at the Oneida Casino.  God, if you’re asking me, ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?, I’m telling you, ‘Not me!’”  Is that what your prayers sound like?  “God, don’t make me rich”? Yeah, me neither.  And yet, that’s what this wise man was praying for.  The question is, “Why? Why does Agur ask God to not make him rich?

Could it be that Agur recognized the spiritual danger that comes with material wealth?  Think of the temptations that come with money.  The more money I have, the more opportunities I have to, first of all, spend it foolishly.  Think of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.  It’s not until the son receives his inheritance that he has the “freedom”, the luxury to squander it in “wild living.”

Secondly, the sudden influx of money creates the temptation to hoard up for myself and not share it with God or others.  Isn’t that what happened in Jesus’ parable of the rich fool? The man said, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘  But then what happens?  “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ {21} “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:17-21) 

Yes, with riches comes the temptation to 1. Spend foolishly, 2. Hoard selfishly, and worst of all, 3. to put our trust in our riches, rather than God.  Isn’t that was Agur is concerned about here in our text?  He says, “God, don’t give me riches.  Why not? Because…Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’  In other words, Agur is worried that his riches might take the place in heart that should be reserved for God.  It happens, doesn’t it?  It happens all the time.  When a person achieves financial success, suddenly that person has no time for God.  His desire for more money causes him to abandon his faith in the God who gave it to him in the first place.  Isn’t that exactly what St. Paul was taking about in our epistle lesson for today?  “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

            My friends, is it any wonder that Agur prays, “God, don’t make me rich”?  Agur recognized that Satan can use money as such a weapon in his arsenal.  Agur recognized that financial wealth can be a real stumbling block in a person’s spiritual life.  The question is, “do you and I recognize that same danger?  Are we listening when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24)?  Are we listening when the Apostle Paul writes, People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:9)?

My friends, if you realize the spiritual trap that riches can be, if you recognize how spiritually weak we are by nature, then you see the wisdom of praying with this wise man, “God, don’t make me rich, lest I have too much and disown you and say, ‘who is the Lord?’”

Now, at the same time, you realize that even if you offer that prayer, “God, don’t make me rich”, that doesn’t mean that God is automatically going to answer it for you.  God sometimes says “no” to our prayers.  In this case, that would mean that even though you asked not to become rich, God might give you riches anyway.  Does that give you an excuse to sin?  (e.g. “God, you gave me all this money.  You set this trap for me.”)  No. What does Scripture say? When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone (James 1:13).  No rather, when God grants us material wealth, he does so not to set a trap for us, but rather to give us another avenue through which we can honor God.  Or to put it another way, the more money God gives to us, the more responsibility we have to manage what he has given.  How did Jesus put it?  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48).  The point is this: whether God decides to make you rich or not, a truly wise man or woman understands that material wealth has the potential to either hurt your faith, or give you the opportunity to exercise your faith.  In either case, it gives you and I something to pray about.

Which of course, is what Agur does here in our text.  But notice, Agur doesn’t just pray, “Lord, don’t make me rich.”  He prays, “Lord, give me neither poverty or riches.  In other words in this Financial Prayer of a Wise Man, Agur doesn’t just pray: I. God, don’t make me rich.  He also prays: II. God, don’t make me poor.

Now, I expect that this is a prayer that we’re far more familiar with.  We’ve maybe all prayed, “God, please don’t let me lose my job.  Don’t let the economy go in the tank.  Don’t let my social security run out.”  Granted, sometimes those prayers are motivated by my sinful nature.  Given the choice, my sinful nature will always choose luxury over poverty.

And yet, here in our text Agur’s prayer is not so much him giving into his sinful nature, but rather, him acknowledging that he has a sinful nature.  He’s afraid of what his sinful nature might lead him to do.  What does he say? “I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God.”

My friends, couldn’t the same thing happen to you or me? While it’s true that it’s not just poor people who are guilty of stealing (Think of Bernie Madoff, a millionaire who in turn stole millions more from others.  Or think of the number of people who have in their pocket the money to buy the item they just got caught shoplifting.).  Still the fact is, the lack of material wealth can make a person more susceptible to the sin of obtaining things illegally.  Let’s face it, if my kids are starving, the temptation to grab that loaf of bread and run becomes all the more powerful.

Friends, that’s what Agur is acknowledging here in our text.  He’s praying, “God, don’t put me in a situation where my poverty makes me more susceptible to sin.  Now again, remember that God doesn’t always give us what we ask for.  Sometimes we do lose our job; sometimes the stock market goes in the wrong direction; sometimes the medical bills erase our life savings.  Does that give us an excuse to steal from others?  Of course not.  Instead, financial hardships give us the opportunity to once again put our trust, not in our IRA but in our God.  An opportunity to trust that the same God who clothes the flowers of the field and the birds of the air will give us what we need to survive on a daily basis.

In fact, isn’t that what Agur is counting on?  In fact, it’s what he’s praying for.  What does Agur say?  “Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”

What is the Financial Prayer of a Wise Man?

  1. God, don’t make me rich (so that I disown you)
  2. God, don’t make me poor (so that I steal and dishonor you)

But rather, III. Give me only my daily bread

My friends, isn’t that the perfect attitude to take toward God’s distribution of material gifts?  “God, give me what you know I need.  Give me enough for today  In fact, isn’t that what Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer?  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

And exactly what is our daily bread?  Well, how did Martin Luther define our daily bread?  Remember your catechism?  Daily bread includes everything that we need for our bodily welfare, such as food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, land and cattle, money and goods, a godly spouse, godly children, godly workers, godly and faithful leaders, good government, good weather, peace and order, health, a good name, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.  Hmmm.  That’s quite a list.  Is it any wonder that when it comes to our bodily needs, a wise man prays, “God, give me only my daily bread?

My friends, the bottom line is this:  We live in a world that has a lot of wrong ideas about money, as in “the more you have, the better,” and “the one with the most toys wins” and “what’s mine is mine.”  And because we live in this sinful world, and because we all have a corrupt sinful nature, we start thinking that way too.  We get caught up in that “I want more” attitude.  We covet things the things we don’t have and refuse to appreciate thank God for the things we do have.  We take what we should be putting in the offering plate and we spend it on ourselves.  For all these sins and more, God should banish from his presence forever.  But he hasn’t done that, has he?  Instead he takes all our faults and failures, and he lays them on his Son.  He says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed your transgressions from me.”

And in place of our sins, he gives us Jesus’ perfection.  You realize what that means?  It means that in God’s eyes, we now look just like Jesus.  It means that God, in effect, says, “Hey, do you remember that guy who was so fixated on his new truck, and that girl who couldn’t get enough new clothes, and all those Mount Olive members who in one way or another were in love with money?”  Well, now God says, “in Christ, that’s who you WERE.”  But not anymore.  Now God has washed you in the blood of his Son.  God says, “In Christ, you have a new identity.  In Christ you have a new attitude, including a new attitude about worldly wealth, an attitude which can offer with a genuine heart, the simple prayer: “Lord, give me neither poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread.”  God grant it, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.