Give Me Neither Poverty Nor Riches

August 2, 2009 / No. 3474

Dear Radio Friends,

The economic woe that God has brought upon our country is intended by God to show the difference His grace will make in a believer’s life. The difference will be shown in how we respond. How do you respond? And how is your response as a Christian any different from the response of those who know not the Lord?

In Luke 21, when the Lord is speaking to us of the signs of the last days and of those events that take place just before His second coming, when He is speaking of the collapse of all that men hold dear and precious, then our Lord describes the world this way: “Men’s hearts failing them for fear,” He says in verse 26, “and looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” The Lord says that the hearts of men who know not Him will sink. Their eyes will be filled with anxiety and utter dread when all the things upon which they had trusted and for which they had lived are destroyed and taken away. And then in verse 28, speaking of His children, those who belong to Him by the holy covenant of love, speaking of them who trust in Him, He says, “And when these things [that is, the same things] begin to come to pass, then…lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” He pictures His children under the same situation and circumstances with uplifted head, confident of gaze, hopeful of heart, seeing that the Lord God omnipotent reigns, and brings to the child of God, through such woe, his eternal hope in glory.

So, how have you responded to the depressed housing industry, to layoffs, to downsizing? God desires that He be glorified within His children in how we respond to such things, and that the response of faith stand out in the midst of this world to His glory.

We have looked in the last month upon these things, and the Christian’s response. We have heard five words from God. The first: God will certainly supply our needs. Jesus said, “My Father knows what ye have need of.” Number two: We saw that we were stewards of the Lord’s goods—that all things are owned by Him and we are responsible stewards, never owners but always responsible for the things that He gives. We saw, number three, that work is a divine calling. It requires diligence. We must avoid all sloth and laziness. Number four, we saw that we were to give to the kingdom out of the experience of grace—that there was a grace of giving, and that we were to see God as the great Giver, not as the great Taker from us. And finally, last week, we heard from the Scriptures the admonition that we must labor not to be rich, that our goal in this life is not simply to accumulate more of the things of this life, but that we must work always to be rich toward God.

Now we conclude our series with the call to prayer. For, certainly, prayer is the response of the child of God to every event and every situation of life.

Do you pray? Do you pray under these circumstances in which we find ourselves by God’s providence? Do you, through prayer, submit when the Lord removes, when you receive notice of a layoff? Do you go to God in prayer?

Or has the prosperity of the last twenty or thirty years so worked upon our hearts that we now love and depend upon the earthly? Have we become loose in our spending? Is the greatest thrill of our life to buy new things and to have new things? Or is the greatest thing and thrill of our hearts God, Christ, the church, our spiritual life? Have we come to believe that it is OK to be deeply in debt? Or do we rather rejoice in the face of Jesus Christ who has brought us out of the debt of our sins? Do we have our priorities straight?

The answer to many of these questions is to be found in the answer to this question: Do you pray? And do you pray daily about all of these matters of earthly bread, possessions, earthly things, work? Through prayer, do you keep your priorities in earthly things straight?

In the book of Proverbs, chapter 30 we have the proverbs of a man called Agur. Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, gives not only the proverbs that he himself wrote by inspiration of the Spirit, but also other proverbs that he had collected. And he had collected some from a man called Agur. In chapter 30, the verses 7-9, Agur makes the following prayer: “Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: 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.”

Here a child of God says that he is close to death. He is asking for something that the Lord would give him before he dies. He prays with the earnestness of a dying sinner. The prospect of death is before him and he wants something yet from God.

What does the thought of death cause you to pray for? In the world: “Lord, let’s have one last fling. How about a few more material things so we can experience what it is to be wealthy and have everything—more pleasures, three nights free and a four-day free vacation in Las Vegas?” The child of God prays for these two things. First: “Remove from me vanity and lies.” Vanity is the empty love of earthly things, and lies are deceit or delusion that hides or covers sin from one’s own awareness and consciousness so that he, first of all, is praying for increased sanctification—that he might live a richer, fuller life, dependent upon God’s grace. And then, secondly, he prays: “Give me neither riches nor poverty; feed me with food convenient for me.”

He is a very spiritual man. He knows his own heart. What he really prays for is contentment. He knows, as he faces death, that all his life long he had to struggle with regard to material things. And now he asks the Lord, “Lord, remove from me greed and materialism, remove from me anxiety, and let me be free of fret and worry about earthly things. Let me rather live in contentment for Thy glory, trusting Thee every day. Before I die, give me to enjoy the secret of contentment, the secret that all those who are brought into the embrace of the Savior, Jesus Christ, are given to taste.”

He prays very simply then. The heart of his prayer is “Feed me with food convenient for me. Give me what I need.” Literally, he speaks of “my allotted portion,” so that he is saying, “Lord, You determine the amount and You measure that out for me and give it to me each day.” Notice with me that he is asking, “Lord, feed me.” He does not say, “Lord, pay me that Thou owest. I’ve worked for this. I have this coming. I’ve a right to it.” No, he understands the proper relationship. He knows that God supplies our needs, that we do not have a right to them. Do you know that? Do you look at earthly things as something that you deserve, that you have a title to, that you have earned, that you own, that you have them coming? The grace of God corrects us and reminds us that it is God who has graciously given, and will faithfully give every day, what we need.

We read in I Corinthians 4:7: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” It does not matter how much you have, how hard you have worked. Yes, you are to work hard but, nevertheless, God is the sovereign owner and dispenser, and so we pray, we ask, not because the Lord owes us but, based upon our Lord’s own mercy, for Jesus’ sake, we pray: “Give me the amount that I need today.”

Note, also, that Agur is teaching us that it is the Lord God almighty who determines the amount that we require. God determines, then, our need and not we ourselves—what we need today. Agur says, “Lord, not too much, not too little, as Thou dost see all things from Thy heavenly wisdom and might, grant unto me exactly what I need.” His prayer is spiritual. He is asking not only for the physical things, but for the emotional needs, the spiritual needs—the allotted portion for me as a child of God today.

So often is it not true, beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, that you and I are great stockpilers, that our inclination of flesh is to stockpile? We need, we say, to see the provisions for a long way off. We can trust the Lord, we say, when the pantry is full, when the cupboards are full, when the portfolio looks good and it seems sufficient for any possible contingency. Agur is praying different than that. He is saying, Lord, give me the allotted mercy and grace, the necessary earthly bread, for my work and life today.”

But you ask me, “How much then is enough? What is this allotted portion?” And the Bible responds that this allotted portion varies from day to day, from person to person, from situation to situation. You remember Jacob when he left for Haran because his brother Esau sought to kill him and his father and mother directed him to go to Haran. What he needed that day he carried in a backpack. But when he returned some twenty or so years later, he had a great company of children and herds and possessions. His needs had become greater with a family.

But the answer to your question, What is this allotted portion? is “We don’t know.” Yes, we are stewards. We must make projections and estimations. But all of this is subject to the Lord’s will. We do not know what we have need of this year or this month. We make out our budget, correct. We seek to live responsibly. That, too, is correct. But we do not know. The Lord may send cancer or sickness. And then we have need of much more. Agur prays, “Lord, Thou knowest me today, Thou knowest me tomorrow, Thou knowest me the next month. Give me what I have need of. Give me what Thou dost deem best. Remind me every day that I am not the one in control. I am a responsible steward, for sure, but I can’t provide for myself. I cannot estimate what I will need for tomorrow because I don’t know. But Thou, Lord, knowest. Give me today what I need.”

It means, then, that through prayer we come to learn to trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not upon our own understanding. Every day, at morning, evening, noon—three times and more during the day—we lay all of these things before God. Prayer is the laying of all of our care and our worry and our anxiety upon God. The response of prayer, of course, is not, with respect to the earthly things, that we sit down and do nothing. Slothfulness, we saw, is a great sin. Laziness leads to ruin. God uses means. But Jehovah is the provider. That means that we are praying for contentment with all of our heart. Contentment is the sweet and restful knowledge of the power of God, and it is to trust that God will take care of me. It is the opposite of a fearful, anxious, and lusting life—always afraid or always wanting more.

We always want more…of God? No. We always want more of the earthly, of the things that cannot satisfy, of the things that will addict and corrupt us. Here we are praying for contentment: “Give me to trust in thee, my Father, what Thou wilt give me each day, what Thou knowest to be best for me.”

The prayer is this: “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” What does that mean?

Poverty, in the Bible, is not having less than somebody else. It is not falling under a certain economic level set by the government. It is not measured by twenty-first century American standards. It is not measured by an index to find out if you are poor or not. Poverty, in the Bible, is having threadbare clothes, no heat, and one does not know where the next mouthful is coming from. It is having children going to bed hungry. It is having nothing. It is something very few today know—at least very few in this country. Throughout the world, in many places, it is a living reality. In many places it is a living reality that the next mouthful is not known. Children go to bed in hunger and live in famine. And, along with the famine, comes illness and the requirement to beg for one’s daily food.

Now, in a sense, poverty can come to us as children of God, too, in this country. We must not be proud to say, “Well, I’m poor.” Our Lord Himself was a poor man. He said once that “Foxes have holes, but the Son of man has not where to lay himself. He has nothing.” His disciples would open their houses to Him and they would minister to Him His earthly needs. Our Lord was, from that point of view, a poor man. And we too can fall under a certain level and say that our income cannot handle this: an injury, hospital, an accident, a layoff, expenses go up. We fall behind in what we will need to make it through this month. That is a trial. That is painful. And how wonderful it is when the Lord places us within our church home and family and we have deacons, servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, who come to minister not their goods, but the goods of our Master and His mercies.

What are riches, then? Riches, according to the Bible again, do not fall into our standards. It is not determined by the world. It is not a European car. It is not a penthouse on Fifth Avenue in New York. You say, “Well, I’m not rich. I’ve been successful, but I’m certainly not rich.” The Bible says that riches are having more than the needs of one day. Riches are not only having potatoes and gravy. You say, “Well, we’re poor. We garage-sale. The kids have some toys, but they came from a garage-sale.” They have toys? They have a bike? They are rich.

I believe that most who hear this message in this country (the United States), even in the economic downturn, must confess, in the light of the Word of God: We are rich. Is your child sick? You can get what you need. You have more than enough, you have more on your plate than you can eat today. You are rich. The Lord has opened His tender mercies to you. He has provided for our daily needs.

Now the prayer of Agur is this: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, lest I be full and deny thee, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ and lest I be poor and steal and take the name of God in vain.” He prays, then, as we saw, for contentment. He says, “Lord, when I think of poverty, I see that this would be a great trial of my faith. And I am praying that I not be led in that way. It would be too much for my faith to endure. I am praying, Lord, that as Thou knowest the faith that Thou hast given to me, that I be kept in such a way that I remain faithful to Thee in every moment of my life.” Agur knows his own heart. He knows his weakness. He knows his sinful nature. He knows exactly what would happen to him—both in poverty and in riches. He knows all the temptations that he would face. He knows that under poverty there would be resentment and bitterness and envy. Like an animal, he would begin to fight over his food. He would envy others over clothes and looks and land.

And he sees that if there is riches he will be tempted to boast. It will go to his head. He will begin to trust in those riches. He will become conceited. He will say, “Look at all that I have done because of my great powers and worth.”

In other words, Agur is afraid of himself. He sees what his sin will do in poverty or in riches. He is praying, “Lord, give me contentment.” And his reason is most profound, because he is thinking of the honor of God. “Lest I say, Who is the Lord? in my riches, or lest I take His name in vain in my poverty.” He recognizes that when everything is said and done, how we look to earthly things has to do with honoring God’s name. If he, in his riches, forgets God, in his pride he will say, “Who is God? Who needs Him?” Then he will bring dishonor upon his God. And in his poverty, if he becomes bitter and takes the name of God in vain, then again he dishonors his God. He is saying, “God doesn’t know what He is doing.” He will accuse God.

And so he desires contentment. For he sees that, in his receiving whatever the Lord gives him today, and in his seeking to use it to God’s honor and to His glory, it is God who is glorified.

Contentment is a precious jewel, the most precious jewel of all earthly life. It is to say, looking at the cross, “I have enough.”

I do not know your checkbook balance, or your finances, but if you have Christ, you have enough. You have more than enough. “Lord, then grant me contentment. Give me my allotted portion.”

Let us hear the Lord’s words: “A man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses, but in being rich toward God,” and let us trust in the Lord, whose purposes are true, whose faithfulness is unbroken. And let us seek His kingdom in the confidence that He cares for me.

Let us pray.

Father, we pray that Thou wilt bless this word of God to our hearts, and that in the midst of all situations of life we might be found a praying, dependent, and contented people of God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.