In the past year a great deal of attention has focused on prayer. Books about it have made the bestseller lists, national leaders have called for national prayer, and we’ve read reports of increased interest in the topic. Yet while the trend in general is a good one—certainly God invites us to a life of communion with Him—I wonder about some of our priorities in prayer. Frankly, it seems that most of our prayers focus on our own safety and prosperity.
Yet consider the priorities we find in a prayer offered by an Old Testament character named Agur:
“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” (Prov. 30:7–9).
Agur’s sincere words reveal a heart that places material prosperity and success in their proper places, well below the highest task of honoring God. Granted, as this is not a prayer that resonates with contemporary culture, most people would not consider it a model prayer. But I must ask myself, “What is my greatest need as a Christian?” and “Where do success and prosperity fit into God’s plan for my life?”
It would seem that Agur’s words answer these questions. In fact I see three reasons why the prayer of Agur serves as a model prayer for us.
First, the setting of the prayer of Agur in the wisdom writings of the Bible indicates it is intended to be an example for believers. The prayer is included in a collection of wisdom sayings in Proverbs 30, the entire chapter of which is attributed to Agur, son of Jakeh. We know nothing about Agur outside of the passage that names him, but we do know the purpose of this collection of writings in the Book of Proverbs. This is wisdom literature, and along with Job and Ecclesiastes it emphasizes the skill of living on this earth as God intended.
Proverbs 1:1–7 introduces this collection of writings with a clear statement that its purpose is to shape our priorities:
“for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding 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”
(Prov. 1:2–3, 5).
Second, the context of the prayer of Agur reveals a humble man, whose implicit trust in God leads him to be content with whatever He provides. As noted above, the general context of wisdom literature leads us to see Agur’s words as an example, and so does the specific context preceding the prayer (30:1–6). Agur’s reference to ignorance and lack of understanding of God (vv. 2–3) is a poetic way of saying his human wisdom is lacking when contrasted to the greatness of the God of heaven (v. 4). This is simple humility and it leads Agur to an attitude of implicit trust in God’s will and His protection:
“Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (v. 5).
This is more than humility. This is trust that the all-knowing God has insight into our lives that far surpasses our own. Why would I not trust Him? Why would I assume that I know better? His plan for me becomes my refuge and my security.
I find the third and most significant reason as I reflect on our culture in light of the New Testament teaching.
Third, the focus of the prayer of Agur is God-centered rather than self-centered; it shows his commitment to bring honor to God in all he does, and the desire that his own self-pursuits may never become a barrier to that relationship.
This prayer exemplifies New Testament priorities, but it also addresses a major need among Christians today.
Agur made two requests: that God would protect him from dishonesty (v. 8a) and keep him from the temptations of riches or poverty (v. 8b). He stated two reasons for his second request: prosperity might lead him to self-reliance and denial of God’s role in his life, and poverty might lead him to a life of desperation that involves stealing from others (v. 9). Most importantly, Agur’s greatest concern was not his own welfare, but that his life may continually bring honor to God.
Why is the prayer of Agur such an excellent model for Christians today? This prayer honestly brings personal needs to the Lord, but does so with a spirit of contentment and trust in God’s plan. Agur openly confessed that integrity, prosperity, and success had the potential to become hindrances to his relationship with God. He was willing to live more simply in order to maintain that relationship and bring God glory. The prayer captures the essence of New Testament teaching about contentment, including Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33).
Similarly, the apostle Paul wrote:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain … For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:6, 10).
Jesus’ model prayer, the Lord’s prayer, reflects precisely the priorities of Agur:
“Give us today our daily bread ….
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:11, 13).
As a Christian, I too must be honest about my priorities. Do I live in contentment with what God has graciously given me, or have I allowed the world to “squeeze me into its mold”? The choices involved are often subtle, but the biblical principles are clear. My greatest need is not to pray for more prosperity, but to pursue God and let Him provide the life He has chosen for me.
John Hutchison (PhD, 1981), is department chairman and associate professor of Bible Exposition at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.