In recent years a lot of public attention has been focused on prayer. Our courts have banned prayer from the public schools, public functions and public display. On the other hand, some books on prayer have made the nationís bestseller lists. Our present president and other national leaders pray daily and have called for national prayer, and there are often joint prayers by two professional sports teams after the game on Television is over.
Sincere prayer is good and God certainly invites it, and the believer can have wonderful personal communion with God through prayer.
I liked the story we heard last Sunday evening about the converted biker who said he liked to just get by himself and he and God would talk things over.
I wonder about some of our priorities in prayer. It seems that most of our prayers focus on ourselves and our safety and prosperity. Christian cartoonist, Bil Keene, drew the Family Circus comic strip. One scene I remember was set in heaven and the angels were listening to prayers from people on earth. One angel was all excited and the caption said, ďQuick, get the Big Guy, I want Him to hear this. Hereís someone who isnít asking for anything!"
Thereís only one prayer in the book of Proverbs. Itís by Agur and itís short and to the point.
First, look where we find this prayer.
Itís surrounded by the wisdom writings of the Bible.
Itís in the midst of a collection of wisdom sayings that include Job and Ecclesiasties
and that tells us itís intended to be an example for believers.
The second thing weíll see in his prayer in Proverbs 30
will be that Agur is a humble man who asks God to help him to trust in God
and be content with whatever He provides.
The entire chapter is attributed to Agur, son of Jakeh. We donít know anything about Agur outside of the fact that he is named here, he trusted God, and he prayed wisely. Can you think of anything of more importance that we need to know about him?
We know that God put these writings in the Book of Proverbs for instruction and wisdom for us, too. One man described the Proverbs like this: "This is wisdom literature, and along with Job and Ecclesiastes it emphasizes the skill of living on this earth as God intended.Ē
Proverbs 1:1-7 states what we can expect to find in this book and itís purpose.
Proverbs l:l-7. "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
2: To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
3: To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
4: To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
5: A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
6: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
7: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."
To me, this clearly indicates that the purpose of these writings is to shape our priorities: Paraphrase it like this:
"Itís for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding and for words of insight;
for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair ...
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance."
Turn to Proverbs 30 and letís read verses 1-6. These verses precede his prayer and pretty well identify what our place is in the grand scheme of things as compared to Godís place.
Proverbs 30:1-6. "The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,
2: Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
3: I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.
4: Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?
5: Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
6: Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar."
Agur admits his lack of understanding of God in Verses 2-3. Itís kind of a poetic way of saying his human wisdom is pretty feeble when you contrast it with Godís wisdom.
In verse 4, his statements about Godís omnipotence indicate that he has implicit trust in God's power and protection, and in verse 5 he says, "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.Ē
This is more than humility, itís trusting that the all-knowing God has insight into our lives that far surpasses our own. Why should I assume that I know better than God what His plan is for my guidance and security?
Now we come to Agurís prayer:
Proverbs 30:7-9. "Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
8: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
9: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain."
When we compare this with our culture today, thereís something very significant here. Our culture today is very self-centered but the focus of Agurís prayer is God-centered rather than self-centered. It brings out his commitment to honor God in all he does, and his honest intent to never let his own self interests become a barrier in his relationship to God.
Agur asks two things of God, one covers his spiritual life and the other his physical life.
First Agur wanted to live a worthwhile and honest life. He didn't want to waste it on trivia. He didn't want to major on minors, and he didn't want to deceive others or to be deceived.
His second request dealt with the physical. He asked God to deliver him from the extremes of both poverty and riches. He would be satisfied if God provided His daily needs. He was saying, in effect,"Give me this day my daily bread."
He also gave good reasons for wanting to avoid the extremes of affluence and poverty.
If God allowed him to accumulate a lot of material wealth, he might neglect the Lord or deny Him by not feeling any great need for Him. He might be tempted to think that he had made his gains by his own strength, skill, or intelligence. If he had less of this worldís goods at his disposal, he would depend more on God.
Then he asked that he be kept from poverty too. He was afraid that in his need he might steal and then try to cover it up or deny what he had done.
Itís obvious that Agur had a sincere desire to keep his heart in the proper place. He put honoring God far above material prosperity and success.
Success and prosperity play such an important part in our contemporary culture that this would not be a prayer most people would consider a model prayer for themselves today.
Ask yourself, and Iíll ask myself, "What is my greatest desire as a Christian?" and "Where do success and prosperity fit into God's plan for my life?"
Agur's words give us a pretty good answer to these questions and I see three reasons why his prayer serves as a model prayer for the believer today.
The first reason is that this prayer really points out a major need among Christians today. This man is asking God to protect him, first from dishonesty (8a. Remove far from me vanity and lies:) and second, that He would keep him from the temptations of either riches or poverty (8b. give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:).
Then, in verse 9, he gave two reasons for his second request: (1) prosperity might lead him to self-reliance and denial of God's role in his life, (9a. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD?) and (2) poverty might lead him to a life of desperation that involves stealing from others. (9b. or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.)
And the third, and really important thing in his prayer, is that his greatest concern was that his life might continually honor God.
He brings his personal needs honestly to the Lord, but he does it with a spirit of trust in God's plan and he promises to be content with whatever God provides him. Thatís why this prayer would be a good pattern for Christians today.
Agur is asking God for help to trust Him more and to be content with whatever He provides. He makes no bones about the fact that prosperity and success have the potential to hinder his relationship with God and he would rather live simply if that will help him to obey God and maintain his good relationship with God.
The prayer just further reinforces the New Testament teaching about contentment, including Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:21: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." And, in verse 33 of that chapter, ďBut seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.Ē
In 1 Timothy 6:6-10, The apostle Paul wrote: ďBut godliness with contentment is great gain.
7: For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8: And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
9: But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10: For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.Ē
As a Christian, I have to be honest about my priorities and ask myself, Ďam I content with what God has so graciously given me, or have I allowed the world to Ďsqueeze me into its moldí? Sometimes the choices involved are subtle, but the biblical principles are clear.
My greatest need is not to pray for more prosperity, but willingly and faithfully seek Godís will and let Him provide the life Heís chosen for me.
One old timer said, ďWhen you got a good thing going, donít mess with it.Ē And Iíve got a good thing going with God!
I want to close with a motivation for prayer. Philippians 4:6-7. ďBe careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7: And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.Ē
I donít put much faith in opinion polls and I doubt there has been one taken on the number one incentive for prayer, but after the September 11 incident, anxiety levels went way up with fear of flying, tall buildings, terrorists posing as fellow passengers, and anthrax, just to name a few reasons.
When anxiety gets hold of us, we can find peace by going directly to God in prayer. But sometimes the problem that drove us there still has its grip on us and we lose the peace we found in prayer. God doesnít take that peace away, we let go of it.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to anxiety. He sat helpless in prison, he knew fledgling churches were in trouble, false teachers were coming into them and he had his own legal matters to deal with. His prescription for anxiety was to talk to God in prayer AND thanksgiving.
Sincerely thank Him for what weíve got. I donít want anyone to get the idea God will be more inclined to give us what we want if we butter Him up with compliments. True thanksgiving leads to inner peace.
When we give thanks we can focus on God and think about His character and His ways. It has a reassuring effect like a hospital patient has before surgery when you discover that your surgeon is a Christian who depends on God for his or her skills and has a superb success record.
God always hears my prayers. I know that for sure. My part is to wait on the Lord for His answer, be it "yes," "no," or "wait a while." That last one is the tough one. It takes patience, which I have a lot of, but I donít often use it when I should.
Patience doesnít come cheap and the apostle Paul explained how we learn to become patient in Romans 5:3-4. ďAnd not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4: And patience, experience; and experience, hope:"
That last word in that verse, "hope", refers to our hope, or trust, in God and it means that God is good and holy and that He rules over all that troubles me, and that Heís already at work for my good and His glory.