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Don't Make Me Poor. Or Rich?



I was recently listening to a podcast of a wonderful on-line daily prayer resource called "Pray as You Go," and the day's reflection was on part of Proverbs 30:8 -

" ...give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread."

Can you imagine yourself praying that prayer to God? Can you imagine sincerely, honestly praying,

"Dear God: please... please give me neither poverty nor riches. Don't allow me to be poor, but don't allow me to become rich, either. Please give me only what I need to get through this one day."

It's a counter-cultural (and counter-intuitive) thing to pray for.

Well, actually, only part of it is counter-cultural: I'll bet most of us would be perfectly comfortable - certainly more sincere! - praying the "please don't give me poverty" part of the prayer. (I don't know too many people who pray on a daily basis for poverty, do you?)

But listen to the author of Proverbs tell us, in the next verse, WHY he's praying this prayer, and maybe it'll make more sense:

[If I become rich] I may have too much and disown you
    and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
Or [if I become poor] I may steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases this part of Proverbs in The Message

Give me enough food to live on, 
    neither too much nor too little.
If I'm too full, I might get independent,
    saying, 'God? Who needs him?'
If I'm poor, I might steal
    and dishonor the name of my God."

That proverb was written thousands of years ago, but what a timeless truth it conveys about human nature.

On the one hand, if we are too hungry - too poor in life, we get desperate.

There's nothing wrong with feelings of occasional hunger and there is nothing wrong with being poor, but there is something wrong with being desperate, and chronic hunger, or a state of poverty tends to breed desperation. And desperation is no way to live: it makes us do things like lie, cheat, and steal that are contrary to our better nature (or to put that in more explicit Christian language, it increases our proclivity to sin.)

But on the other hand, if we are too full - too rich - we may disown God: we "get independent."

There is nothing wrong with feelings of occasional fullness, and there is nothing wrong with being rich, but there is something wrong with forgetting our dependence on God, and chronic fullness or a state of being rich tends to breed the illusion of independence: it makes us lose the higher qualities of our human nature like empathy, humility and service to others.

Or again to put that in more explicit Christian language, it increases our proclivity to sin: except this time the Sin is far more serious, because as C.S. Lewis reminded us, the sins of the heart (pride, arrogance, cold-heartedness, judgmentalism, etc.) are far more serious than the sins of the flesh (stealing).

And so - Proverbs reminds us - the way forward...the way of avoiding either danger... is to pray what Jesus taught us to pray, and that is for "our daily bread."

We're reminded to pray something like,

"God, give me enough. Not less than enough because I don't want to fall into desperation.

But not more than enough, either, because I want to remember my need for you, and my connection to others."

Is that something you could say "amen" to?

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