Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me. Proverbs 30:8
At first glance, the teaching of Proverbs 30:8 seems quite strange. The author (Agur) is praying that God would keep him from financial extremes—poverty or riches. We all would probably affirm that we don’t want to experience poverty. But, to ask God to guard him from riches seems opposed to everything in us that longs for the security and peace that wealth provides us. It’s also surprising because Proverbs often teaches that riches are the reward of wise living (Proverbs 3:16; 8:18; 10:22).
Why would a wise and godly person ask God for neither poverty nor riches? The answer lies in the next verse. Proverbs 30:9 says, “Lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” We see that Agur is motivated by his desire to resist the twin temptations of riches and poverty. Riches often leads to a sense of self-sufficiency. “Who needs God when I have everything I need?” Poverty often leads to a sense of self-sufficiency as well. We can become so desperate that we dishonor God and people by stealing to get what we need. “If God won’t provide, I will take matters into my own hands.”
For most of us, the temptation of riches probably doesn’t seem as bad. We might think, well at least I have my needs met. But the dangers of riches and poverty are lethal. They can destroy our soul. That’s exactly what Jesus taught about the rich man who built bigger barns because the gifts of God blinded him to God himself (Luke 12:16-21). It was not just the standard of living that was at stake, but his very soul.
So what do we do? What does wisdom teach us? The answer is found in what Agur does ask for: “feed me with the food that is needful for me.” He is not simply asking God to give him what he needs to sustain his life. He is asking God to give out of his wise sovereignty what he deems good and appropriate. The phrase “needful for me” literally means “my portion.” He is asking God to give him what he deems the proper portion in life in order for him to walk in humility, dependence, and faith.
Do you trust God’s wise sovereignty enough to pray not for riches but for his portion? Do you trust God enough to find contentment in the portion he has provided? The foundation of that contentment can only come when we are convinced that God has indeed provided us the perfect portion in Jesus Christ. Through faith in the resurrected Jesus, we receive all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Through our union with Christ, we are forgiven, adopted, and made new. When we can rest in all that God has done for us in Jesus to provide for our deepest needs, we will experience contentment no matter our financial situation.
Contentment in Christ frees us to work hard, enjoy God’s good gifts, and give generously. May we be a people who are courageous enough to pray not for riches or poverty, but for God’s good portion.