************ Sermon on Proverbs 30:7-9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 3, 2002
"Give Me Neither Poverty Nor Riches"
Subtopic: How Much is Needed
Once there was a young Chippewa woman who was tired of the big city. She decided to return to the Indian Reservation in Northern Canada. Life was simpler there.
But before she left, she gave three weeks notice to the boss, collected her last paycheck, and began to pack her belongings. What a job that turned out to be!
Pictures, bedding, rugs, clothes, china, books, pots and pans -- box after box until they almost reached the ceiling of her living room. She could almost see the envious looks of her friends on the reservation!
Packing made her so tired she fell asleep. She dreamt that she had arrived on the banks of the Red River with her big pile of boxes spread around her. There she waited for her brother, who would bring a canoe for her journey home.
Finally her brother arrived. At first he seemed a little surprised at her pile of belongings, but he said nothing. He just went to work, carefully loading box after box into the canoe until it was nearly full. But the stack of boxes on the shore seemed no smaller.
"Why didn't you bring a bigger canoe?" she cried.
Her brother answered quietly, "It's the biggest canoe on the reservation. Besides, Grandmother said she was sure it would do."
At the mention of her grandmother, the young Indian woman became very quiet. She had just remembered what her grandmother had said to her: "Remember, my dear one, when you come back home if you have more things to move than can fill one canoe, then you will know that you have become greedy. You will have taken more than your share, and others will not have enough. Don't let that happen to you, my granddaughter."
When the young woman woke up she found herself crying tears of shame. She had become greedy. She had taken more than her fair share. She knew she had to give away all her extra belongings and return to the reservation with only what she could carry in one canoe.
Few of us have ever attempted to fit all of our belongings into one canoe – or even one pickup truck. In a society obsessed with things, most people are so busy gathering more and more that they seldom step back and take an honest look at the pile of boxes on the shore.
Many years ago, Agur, the author of the text in front of us, learned the lesson taught so painfully to the young Indian woman. So he offers a prayer to God:
(Prov 30:7-8) "Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: (8) Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.Imagine praying that God will give neither poverty nor riches. Imagine praying that God will give only daily bread. Imagine praying that God will give no more than will fill one canoe. Yet, that's exactly what Agur prays for.
This leads me to ask, what do you pray for? What do you want God to give you? Are you willing to settle for only daily bread, for what will fill one canoe?
I A Prayer for No Poverty
A The first thing that Agur prays to God for is no poverty. "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me no poverty." He is talking about real poverty here, a grinding poverty that involves difficult choices, a poverty that leaves you with few or any options.
Topic: PovertyImagine, having a nanny, a chauffeur, and a butler and still thinking you are poor. This little girl, I would say, has no idea what poverty is. This certainly is not the kind of poverty Agur is thinking of.
Title: Poverty Perspective
In Hollywood there is an exclusive school attended by children of movie stars, producers, and directors. Asked to write a compostion on the subject of poverty, one little girl started her literary piece with: "Once there was a poor little girl. Her father was poor, her mother was poor, her nanny was poor, her chauffeur was poor, her butler was poor. In fact, everybody in the house was very, very poor."
What does Agur mean by poverty. When I attended Calvin Seminary most of my classmates were poor. They would go for weeks without any meat in their diet. On the way to school one morning one of my friends began to cry. His newborn daughter was going to be baptized the coming Sunday and they had nothing for her to wear except an old worn-out sleeper. A recent article I read said that real poverty means hard choices. Some months the poor have to decide whether to pay the rent or buy food, go to the doctor or purchase school clothes, put gas in the car or walk to the grocery store. Can you imagine being forced to make such choices? Agur must have known the trials and agonies of poverty. So he prays, "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me no poverty."
Poverty can happen so quickly in today's world. A devastating illness combined with inadequate health insurance can leave you in the poor house. A law suit or poor financial management can leave you with a pocketful of nothing. Declining milk and commodity prices combined with the cost of borrowed money can leave farmers destitute. A massive and extended layoff at a major company like Boeing or GM or IBM can put many people into poverty. Becoming a single mom either through pregnancy or divorce generally means poverty. This too Agur must have been aware of – that poverty can happen so quickly. So he prays, "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me no poverty."
B Agur knew the trials and agonies of poverty, but that is not why he offers his prayer. Agur has a religious, theological reason for offering the prayer that he does. He prays, "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me no poverty ... or I may steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."
Someone told me the story of a man, a poor man with a wife and hungry children at home. His poverty drove him to desperate action. He stole a loaf of bread from a grocer. He was caught. As a Christian, this man bore the name of Christ. His theft dishonored the name of God. So a few Sundays later he had to stand in church and confess his sin. This is the sort of thing Agur has in mind when he prays for no poverty.
Or, consider someone who is so desperate, so hungry, so impoverished that he or she doubts that there is a God, or that He cares, or that He is able and willing to help. Or consider someone who becomes angry at God for his or her poverty and curses Him and despises Him and attacks Him. This too is the sort of thing Agur has in mind when he prays for no poverty.
C What is the answer, the solution, to poverty? Just about every government thinks that the redistribution of money is the answer to poverty. So they set up a social safety net of welfare, unemployment, Social Security, Medicare, WIC, ADC, and so on. Yet, no problem has ever been solved simply by throwing money at it.
Topic: PoorAs Christians we know there is only one answer to poverty: Jesus. As we meet the physical needs of the homeless and poor, we are to also give them the bread and water of life which will truly set them free.
A little over a century ago, Leo Tolstoy tried puzzling out a plan to rid Moscow of the poor and homeless. The famed novelist and wealthy aristocrat first went to the worst hovels in town and gave money to beggars. He realized, however, that he had been "cheated by men who said they only needed money to buy a railway ticket home" when he spotted them still in town days later. Next, Tolstoy spent several months helping take the Moscow census, searching for the "truly" needy. But Tolstoy saw the homeless could not be helped merely by "feeding and clothing a thousand people as one feeds and shelters a thousand sheep." At last, he sadly concluded: "Of all the people I noted down, I really helped none ... I did not find any unfortunates who could be made fortunate by a mere gift of money."
II A Prayer for No Riches
A The second thing that Agur prays to God for is no riches. So he prays, "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me no riches." Everyone, I dare say, wants to be rich. Everyone wants to have money, and wealth, and an abundance of possessions.
Topic: MoneyIn asking for money these students don't know what they are asking for.
College students know what they want. Money. According to a survey conducted by the American Council on Education in 1987, 75 percent of the 200,000 incoming freshmen who were polled felt that being well-off financially is either an "essential" or a "very important" goal. And 71 percent said the key reason they were going to college was so they could get high-paying jobs when they graduate. There's something else: The percentage of freshmen who thought it was vital to develop a meaningful philosophy of life was at an all-time low -- only 39 percent.
B The Preacher of Ecclesiastes warns us that money is addictive, that no matter how much you have you never think you have enough. He says,
(Eccl 5:10) Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
We saw that first-hand in what is now being known as the roaring 80s. I think of Michael R. Milken. In the early 80s he was earning millions of dollars a year. But this was not enough. In 1987 Michael earned $550 million – the biggest paycheck in history; but to earn this he had to engage in conspiracy, fraud, giving false information to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and filing false income tax returns. Ivan Boesky is another one who was not content with millions either and engaged in insider trading to get more and more money. Finally, I think of the Hunt Brothers of Texas. They were multimillionaires who wanted more, more, more so they tried to corner the silver market. Today they are in bankruptcy court and by 1996 all of their personal assets had to be sold. Agur knows that when it comes to wealth there is never enough; so he prays, "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me no riches." If he was living today, Agur would pray, "I ask of you, O LORD ... do not let me win the lottery or the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes."
Jesus has a warning for people like Milken, Boesky, and the Hunt Brothers; and, it is a warning for you and me too:
(Lk 12:15) "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Life, in other words, involves so much more than money and wealth and possessions. Have you ever thought about what money can and cannot buy? Here is a partial list:
Topic: RichesAgur knows this too, so he prays "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me no riches."
Money will buy a bed; but not sleep;
books but not brains;
food but not appetite;
finery but not beauty;
a house but not a home;
companions, but not friends;
medicine but not health;
food, but not an appetite;
luxuries but not culture;
amusements but not happiness;
religion but not salvation;
a crucifix, but not a Savior;
the good life, but not eternal life;
a passport to everywhere but heaven.
C Agur knew the danger of always wanting more, of never being satisfied; he knew what money could and could not buy; but that is not why he offers his prayer. Agur has a religious, theological reason for offering the prayer that he does. He prays, "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me no riches ... otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?'"
Subtopic: Dangers of
Title: Spoil taste for Word
Jenny Lind, the great Swedish soprano, disappointed many of her friends because she turned down so many big contracts that would have made her world-famous. One day a friend surprised her sitting on a sunny seashore reading the New Testament. The friend rebuked the singer for not seizing her chances. Quickly, Jenny Lind put her hand over her Testament and said, "I found that making vast sums of money was spoiling my taste for this."
Agur knows that those who are rich can develop a self-sufficient attitude. Agur knows that those who are rich can think they don't need God. Agur knows that those who are rich see no reason to pray for daily bread or for any other need because they already have all that they want. Or, to put it in the bluntest possible terms, Agur knows that the souls of those who are rich can so easily be lost. I think here of the words of Jesus:
(Mt 19:23-24) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (24) Again I tell you, 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."Many try to explain away these verses. Explain as they may like, Jesus is talking here about a real camel and the real eye of a sewing needle.
Topic: RichesIn his dying days this man admitted the danger of riches to one's soul.
Subtopic: Perils of
A wealthy church member was dying in his mansion, and his family gathered round to ask him his last wish. "Before I die," he said, "I would like to take a ride." And they asked the rich man what he required for that final ride before entering the kingdom of heaven. And he said, "I would like a very small camel and a very large needle."
D What is the answer, the solution, to the dangers of money and riches? As with poverty, the only real answer is Jesus and a right relationship with Him. Jesus says, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Mt 6:33). In other words, it is okay to be wealthy, as long as it isn't the most important thing in your life; it is okay to work hard and prosper as long as Jesus comes first in your life; but that's hard, terribly hard, when you have money and wealth.
III A Prayer for Average Means
A The third thing that Agur prays to God for is average means. So he prays, "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me only my daily bread." Agur doesn't want poverty. Agur doesn't want riches. Agur wants only what he needs, enough to live on, enough to fill one canoe.
How much do you need to live on? Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story entitled, "How Much Land Does a Man Need."
Topic: RichesBack to the title of this story: "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" Tolstoy answers that by saying, "Enough for a grave – six feet from his head to his heels was all that he needed."
Subtopic: How Much is Needed?
There was a rich man who was never satisfied. He always wanted more. He heard of a wonderful chance to get more land. For a thousand rubles he could have all the land that he could walk around in a day. But he had to make it back to the starting point by sundown or he would lose it all.
He arose early and set out. He walked on and on, thinking that he could get just a little more land if he kept going on. But he went so far that he realized he must walk very fast if he was to get back in time to claim the land. As the sun got lower in the sky, he quickened his pace. He began to run. As he came within sight of the starting place, he exerted his last energies, plunged over the finish line, fell to the ground, and collapsed. A stream of blood poured out of his mouth and he lay dead. His servant took a spade and dug a grave. He made it just long enough and just wide enough and buried him.
B "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." It is hard, not easy, to pray this. You can pray this only when you have settled for a certain kind of life – a life in which not you but God is central, a life in which you seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness. You can pray this only when you trust God to provide all your needs. You can pray this only when you recognize that both riches and poverty can become obstacles to your relationship with God. You can pray this only when you realize that neither those proud about their riches nor those bitter about their poverty can serve the Lord with joy.
Agur, the man of wisdom, makes a request of God. He prays, "I ask of you, O LORD ... give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."
Are you able to pray this? Let me tell you, for the sake of your relationship with the Lord, for the sake of your soul, I hope that this is your prayer.
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