This is my philosophy of life in regards to possessions, and I’m so glad Agur put it into words for me (for my previous newsletters on Agur and Proverbs, see here):
“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.”
I know very well the fear that "enough" will not be enough in the future. It can paralyze me in my day-to-day, thinking that I will make a decision I will regret when I reach seventy or eighty years old. "Having enough" quickly becomes a security I turn to, instead of God. Which makes Agur's advice here rather pointed.
Before I know it, I can bear resemblance to the leech in this chapter of Proverbs. (“The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry.”) Because what level of riches actually makes a person secure in this life? There is no level of wealth that can. Having enough for each day, as Agur says, is really enough.
But, as Agur also shows, poverty has its own terrors. The kind of desperation you can feel when things are really bad can lead you to make decisions you never would make under normal circumstances. The "simple life" of the poor is sometimes held up as an alternative to the excesses of riches, but this often ignores what the experience of actual grinding poverty is like, and why so many people around the world fight so hard to climb out of it. It's valid to recognize, as Agur does, that some life circumstances make us weaker and less resilient in our commitment to follow God.
And, I have to admit, I hate the thought of suffering. I would be tempted to make poor choices to escape suffering.
In life, we always want to get "there," the place where we can relax and not worry about what will happen. Often we imagine this to be when we're rich, but as so many successful people have found out, riches have not made them feel like they're"there" yet. Sometimes, as a reaction to this, the "simple life" of the poor can be held up as an appealing alternative. But Agur points out that neither extreme here is where we want to be. Neither extreme is the "there" that we're looking for, that place of security where we can truly rest.
Agur's solution bears a lot of resemblance to Jesus' parables. Jesus talks about the rich man who builds many barns to store up grain, feeling confident in himself and his works and not in God, only to pass away before he sees any use of them. And Jesus talks about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, who do not toil or spin and yet God takes care of them. Agur presents the answer as resting in the day-to-day, resting in the present—we have enough for now and that is enough for now. Let tomorrow bring what it brings.
But how can this alleviate our worry about the future? In a way, it never fully does, because bad things can happen to Christians just as well as it does to anyone. And yet, our ultimate future is always secure. Our hope is not the avoidance of suffering, but rather than our pain will be righted in the end. "Store up treasure in heaven," Jesus says, “where moth and rust can not destroy.” We will get “there.” We will find rest and a place to relax. We just have to let go of the idea that it's us, and what we do, that will bring us there.
"I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’" as Agur says.
It's terrifying to let go and let God bring us there himself, but that is when we'll feel most free. That is when we truly will be free from the trap of these two extremes of poverty and riches.
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