This morning as I was sitting outside of our church before the service began, I was looking up various scriptures on the poor and poverty. It is one of my favorite things to do when I get a certain topic or theme in my mind to look at the concordance in the back of my Bible and see where it might be referenced in the Bible. One of the passages that I flipped to was in Proverbs 30. It really struck me today, although I am sure I have come across it before, in light of all that God has been teaching me. Let me share it with you before I go further – Proverbs 30, verses 8b-9:
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.
This seems like such an honorable request and reminded me of the Lord’s prayer, to give us our daily bread. If you really stop and think about it though, it is really opposite to what you would hear in our culture today. Can you picture someone going into their boss’ office and saying, “You know, I have enough money for my family’s needs so I don’t really need the raise you offered me.” Absolutely never! When we hear of someone who walks away from an amazing job or career to do something that pays less or go into ministry, we think – WOW – because this is certainly not common or the norm.
This verse is a request that acknowledges our human ambition and greed to seek more and more and responds – I don’t want that to be me. It goes one step farther to say, “Lord, I don’t want there to even be an option for me to neglect you due to my wealth so I am asking you to keep riches away from me.” What an insane prayer! Even more foolish according to this world’s standards to make decisions in your life that would pursue God over pursuing wealth. Let me pause and remind you that all of us living in America are considered wealthy according to the world’s standards. In addition, we are taught that we must save up for retirement, invest to make our money go further, and all sorts of other things that are great financial strategies but they often have goals far beyond our daily bread. (Please know I am not condemning any of this – just trying to get at the motivation for it.)
Time for some total transparency – I have always had a desire to be a generous giver and it is a sincere desire, I know that. As a result, I felt that the ability to generate more money is tied to my ability to give. As my husband is also generous by nature, you would think that it would be easy for us to just make that happen, especially as our income increased. We have been obedient to give when we feel God prompting us and have been diligent in tithing and other things, but…there is still so much more that we really could be doing. It is almost scary to actually think about what our income today looks like compared to our income when we got married…and to realize that the percentage that we give really hasn’t changed that much. Somehow, with each pay raise and increase in income, our expenses increase. The old saying of the more you make the more you spend is so true and usually you don’t even notice it.
This year, as we were preparing our tax papers, we both took a gulp as we realized the amount we made last year. When I read the above passage today, I started thinking about what it would look like in our lives to make the same request of God – valuing our relationship with Him so highly that we would not want to have wealth if there was a chance we might neglect God. How different our lives would have to look if I only asked for and purchased necessities, and really determined what necessities really were.
I have two thoughts when I ponder this. First, I don’t know if I am willing to make that much of a sacrifice, which probably is a sign that I am too attached to my ‘things.’ Second, there is a freedom that I see and a simplicity in moving more to a place where I trust God for my necessities and forsake everything else. With all of this said, the point is not that no one can have wealth and still acknowledge God. The question is though – can I?
How radical would we look in this world’s eyes! I used to have this picture in my mind when I was younger of how great it would be to live in a place where I could just wear the same thing every day and not have to worry about my clothes – maybe just own jeans and white T-shirts. I know this may sound silly, but that kind of simplicity has always appealed to me. The question becomes, how do I live counter to the demands of the consumerist culture that I live in?
Where is that balance between poverty and riches, where we recognize our dependence on God for all that we have and know that he is providing for our daily needs without going to the opposite extreme and living in a different type of bondage? If I want to be a generous giver, things are certainly going to need to change. As I reflect on this idea though, being a generous giver is not just about money – it is about time, about love, about talents and creativity.
Lord God, I do choose to make this challenging request …that you would give me neither poverty nor riches if it would cause me in any way to neglect my worship of You. Help me to count everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing You. Will you teach me how to live generously with whatever you put into my hands, including my time, my ideas, my passions, and my money. Make me into a worthy steward, that the deposit you placed in me would yield a great return.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
I Timothy 6:17