Prayer and Integrity

“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse 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” (Proverbs 30:7-9). This prayer resembles the prayer Jesus taught his disciples in its requests for daily bread and deliverance from evil. It also demonstrates the challenge of prayer: How hard is it for us to surrender our will and our desires to God? This prayers appears in a section of the biblical book of Proverbs identified as the “sayings of Agur son of Jakeh – an oracle” (Prov. 30:1). As Agur’s sayings proclaim the power, wisdom and creativity of God, he confesses in his prayer in contrast his own mortality and moral weakness.  How does a (post)modern man reconcile this prayer with the prayer of Jabez, another biblical prayer that gained both popularity and notoriety in recent years.  Should we pray only for what we need, or should we ask God to “enlarge our borders?”  Should we be satisfied with what we have or “name it and claim it?” Or, to introduce still another biblical option, should we sell all that we have and give it to the poor?

  We  miss the point of Agur’s prayer. Agur prays that he will remain faithful to God. He knows himself well enough that he can envision himself as a wealthy man believing that he does not need God. On the other hand, he suspects that if poor, he might steal in desperation and  dishonor God. Like Agur, we must reflect on God’s identity and our relationship with Him.  Like Agur, we must  inventory our dreams, our lusts, our fears and our hopes and determine how they may damage our relationship with God. We may pray the prayer of Jabez if we know that our desires align with God’s and that we have the moral strength to resist the temptations that will result from the granting of our requests. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13). We serve a God of integrity. He invites us to be people of integrity.  Let us pray with Agur that we will remain faithful.

About Michael Summers

Michael Waymon Summers has preached in twenty-seven of the United States as well as seven other countries. Michael earned a Master of Theology degree. He also has done graduate work in international studies. Michael likes to run, loves to sing, and reads voraciously.
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5 Responses to Prayer and Integrity

  1. Derek Ambrose says:

    I find the 2nd appeal by Agar interesting. In an environment like Agur’s, where, if poor, one’s only options are: starve or steal; and, if rich, one’s likely option is to disown God, he still asks the Lord to keep him focused on the virtues of his faith life, essentially. But is Agar a model of faithfulness?

    He may not pray for more money, but he also does not pray for work that can get him more money. Agur’s prayer could reflect him as a lazy man, or, an afraid man laden with the trails of his time, but we can only draw those conclusions if we forget we too are like Agur.

    Agur’s prayer shows us a transparent view of ourselves. Though he asks God to bypass the trial of contentment with poverty, he also shows us what integrity can do for those who follow financial greed, and desire to live more than comfortable lives, lives without poverty in it.

    Agur is like so many who do not want to be poor or live with the poor, because if so, he might steal, he might subscribe to a way of living based on his environment or perception of it. And if rich, he might disown God. Agur reminds us in a comparing and contrasting view of faithful reflection of self and world, that we should have integrity about our desires, and with it, the courage to ask God for specific help with our most(ly) challenged areas. This for Agur, I believe, was an answered prayer from God simply because God is pleased to work though human desires with faithful desires.

    • Agur’s reply may reflect the perspective of a court wise man who, employed by royalty, observes the temptations that befall the wicked. For the same reason, he may have a prejudiced perspective of poverty that skews his prayer. As you note, his prayer may reflect the prejudices and desires of us all. His quest for faithfulness stays steady throughout the prayer.

  2. Derek Ambrose says:

    I really appreciated this blog entry. I’ll read more.

  3. Allen Black says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post.

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