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Neither poverty nor riches? Making God our priority in prayer

People prefer to be rich rather than poor. It’s therefore striking that the Bible gives us a record of this prayer in Prov. 30:8:

…give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me.

Agur, the person expressing this, isn’t asking for much: just an allotment of bread, a fixed portion. He leaves it up to the LORD God to establish that portion.

A humble petition

This Old Testament prayer is echoed in the petition that Jesus taught his disciples: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Does this idea, especially seen against its more explicit setting in the Old Testament, make you feel uncomfortable? Do you find it difficult or easy to pray like this? Or don’t you pray about your daily needs at all?

What’s the further biblical context of this request? Although the LORD may give us earthly riches, he teaches us to focus not on them, but on his Kingdom. God is our Father, the King of his people. He lovingly directs our lives and calls us to respond to him by relying on him to provide for us while serving him gladly (Ps 100:2).

Pray confidently to our all-powerful and merciful Father for daily food! By praying in this way, you oppose the spirit of the world. You reject the idea that people are self-sufficient. People often think they can take care of themselves. They cherish the illusion that they are in full control of events. But God gives sunshine and rain. Without his blessings, crops will fail and ultimately all endeavours will amount to nothing that has eternal value.

It’s a human inclination to want an abundance of good things. However, understanding our calling to live for God leads to a reorientation of our lives. Through Jesus Christ, God gives the means we need to live for him. We learn to pray for what we need to live for him in a fruitful way.

A bold petition

This is also the thrust of the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chr 4:9-10, a petition of a man whose name is linked to the pain of his mother at childbirth. Although Scripture describes such pain as one of the consequences of sin, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of blessings. Jabez prayed to “the God of Israel,” asking for the blessing of enlarged borders, meaning more territory.

Was this a greedy petition? No, it was in harmony with the LORD’s promise of land for his people to provide for their needs. Jabez asked for more territory within the context of fellowship with the LORD, praying “that your hand might be with me.” He also prayed, “keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain.” This is at root not unlike the petition “deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:13) in the Lord’s Prayer.

So, we pray for and look for opportunities to serve our God fruitfully with what he provides. The important thing is to leave it up to him how he will honour such petitions as we seek to use the gifts he gives us to glorify him.

 A liberating petition

The LORD determines the potential and the limits of our abilities. Knowing and acknowledging this can be a liberating experience. Don’t take on too many responsibilities, trying to do more than you can actually oversee. Whatever you do, keep in mind what your motives are. Are you doing this to serve God, or just to get even further ahead financially?

There is more to life than economic gains. Do you have a family? You have more than just financial responsibilities toward them. We live in a world that is affected by man’s fall into sin. That means there are spiritual challenges which we will have to face. Lay your motives and goals before the LORD God in prayer. That makes a big difference. It will lead to peace. The condition is, however, to trust in God and ask him for our daily bread. As long as he has a task for us in this life, he will provide us with what we need.

 Dr. Pol is a retired minister of the Carman West Canadian Reformed Church in Manitoba.

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Adult non-fiction

Four reasons to pray: a summary review of William Philip’s "Why We Pray"

Does prayer intimidate you rather than refresh you? Do you wonder whether your heart is really in it? If so, then you’ll be interested in William Philip’s Why We Pray, a brief, easy-to-read and often humorous response to these and other questions that many of us have about prayer. Philip is a Scottish minister who used to be a cardiologist, and in this book he continues to deal with "matters of the heart." Rather than lecturing us on how important it is to pray more, he explains how prayer is a response to who God is. Philip uses examples from politics, sports, and his own life to clarify the four Biblical reasons why we may and must pray. 1. God speaks and we get to respond We may pray, first, because God is a speaking God. He spoke creation into being and shaped it by his word, so creation "speaks" back visibly by displaying His power (see Psalm 19:1-6). God wanted more from human beings, though, because He made us capable of responding audibly. When we cut off the conversation through the sin of Adam and Eve (including hiding from God), He restored the relationship through Jesus Christ. Real prayer is responding in faith to God's call in Jesus Christ. 2. God is happy to hear his children The second reason we pray is because we are "sons of God" (even the "daughters"!). Philip says that the reason we are called sons of God is because we, like sons in the ancient world, have an inheritance. We can pray to our (adoptive) Father in heaven because of the work of God's (natural!) Son, Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ was (and is) such a faithful Son, God gladly accepts us as His children - so we have the right to appear before Him. Like any loving father (only much more so!), God wants to hear His children speak to (and with) Him. 3. God is able to do what we ask It is because, in the third place, God is sovereign that our prayer is so meaningful - though some do not necessarily see it. If God is so great, and is working out His infinite plan, some ask, then why pray at all? Philip compares our part in God's plan to being on an unbeatable sports team. Would any of us quit simply because we are so sure that the team is going to win? In His infinite power, God is not only a willing father, but also able to grant whatever we ask that is within His will. 4. The Holy Spirit teaches us to pray rightly Finally, God is the Spirit who dwells within us, and this makes sense of the requirement that we ask only what is within His will. The presence of the indwelling Spirit makes prayer into the conversation that God intended to have with us before the fall into sin. This gives us both hope and a significant responsibility. God wants us to pray for whatever we think we need, but He also speaks to us by His Word and Spirit, so that as we pray, our Biblically informed consciences enable us in time to see what His will is, and in the meantime to ask that He grant us only what is according to His will. In other words, as Philip tells us, prayer is to "think God's thoughts after Him." Conclusion Each chapter ends with questions that invite us to ponder just how our own relationship with God is reflected in prayer. If you want a helpful clear explanation of we may, and why we should want to, pray to our speaking, Fatherly, sovereign, indwelling God, then I encourage you to pick up a copy of William Philip’s Why We Pray. A version of this review first appeared on Really Good Reads...