Godly Wisdom that Informs Intelligent Prayers
(A devotional message based on Proverbs 30:1-9)
Prayer. Intercession. Communion with God. These spiritual activities are something we can’t do without as believers. Prayer is an important part of our congregational life for in it, we express our dependence on God alone. I admit that this is something we usually take for granted. Sometimes we have the notion that we don’t really have to spend much time in prayer because God knows our needs anyway. So why bother to let Him know what we need if in the first place He already knows them.
But prayer is not only about asking God what we need. It is actually a solemn expression of our desire to enter into the throne of God’s mercy, acknowledging who He is and thanking Him for all He has done and has provided for us in His Son by the Spirit. We can’t do this on our own but the Holy Spirit moves us and helps us overcome our weaknesses so we can communicate with God.
I will not go into elaborate explanation of what really prayer is and what are the essential elements of a Biblical prayer. Some other time may be appropriate for that. My aim is to help you eagerly desire and patiently seek godly wisdom for it will help us live wisely, especially in living out and in exercising Christian piety.
The passage before us, Proverbs 30:1-9, tells us that Godly wisdom informs intelligent prayers. We will answer two relevant questions from our passage that will explain our theme. First question, “What constitutes godly wisdom?” Second, “How does godly wisdom shape or inform intelligent prayer?”
What Constitutes Godly Wisdom? (vv.1-6)
A sage named Agur, the son of Jakeh, writes Proverbs 30. We don’t know much about this man nor about his family. Due to its vagueness, Bible translations render differently the second part of Prov. 30:1. Some transliterate it and come up with “This man declared to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal (NIV).” Others, however, take it as a phrase and end up “The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out” (ESV). The latter translation seems to be mood setting because the verses that follow (2-9) have melancholic tone. Thus it prepares the reader what to expect next. The former translation, however, is also possible.
The message of this passage parallels with that of Job or Ecclesiastes.
A. Godly Wisdom Recognizes Man’s Limitation (vv.2-3)
In verses 2-3, Agur despairs for his lack of understanding, wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One. He confesses that he missed these things, which are the stuff of a wise man. Is he just wallowing in self-pity or truly confesses his human limitation in the face of God’s infinite wisdom? I think he is doing the latter.
As a wise man, this teacher of the oracles of God must possess divine wisdom worth pondering for. But confronted by the power, glory, majesty and wisdom of the Holy One, Agur can simply admit his ignorance.
Wise men do not boast of their vast knowledge. It is my observation that the more a person grows in wisdom the more he admits his limitations. Godly wisdom manifests itself in man’s humble recognition of his limited intelligence compared with God’s perfect knowledge and power, which He has revealed in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Verse 4 further supports this claim.
B. Godly Wisdom acknowledges the Majesty of God (v.4)
The series of questions in verse 4 calls for God as the answer. These questions parallel in tone and structure with that of God’s in Job 38. There the Lord answered Job with a storm, questioning him and forcing him to admit his ignorance and yield to God’s wisdom.
Verse 4 shows not only the limitation of human wisdom in understanding the design and power behind creation but also highlights the glory and the majesty of God the Creator. Those who do not fear the Lord will always end up in ignorance of these things because they do not only understand the world, they also do not know the Lord who created it.
Thus Agur needs not be in total despair because such problem of ignorance is common only to those who do not trust God. Those who fear Him and acknowledge Him, however, have the privilege of knowing Him. The wording “what is His Son’s name” ‘opens the passage for a New Testament interpretation: “No one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27).’
Godly wisdom boasts on the glory of the sovereign God. But even if we possess such wisdom, we may not totally comprehend how everything works in this world. God reserves to Himself the many mysteries in our world that our finite mind cannot contain.
But these mysteries shake us up from our self-confidence and lead us to behold the infinite wisdom of our God. God pressed the mystery of creation to Agur ‘in order to relieve him of his depression and assure him that he was not alone in his doubt and ignorance.’ God always do this to make us realize of His greatness and to trust Him all the more.
C. Godly Wisdom Boasts on the Reliability of God’s Word (vv.5-6)
Verses 5-6 further show us what constitutes wisdom. Godly wisdom also underscores the reliability of God’s Word. It talks about its flawlessness or purity (v.5a). It also boasts of its trustworthiness by stating that those who put their trust in it will finds it to be like a shield (v.5b). ‘Such reliability cannot be improved on’ (v.6). God’s Word is sufficient to make us wise unto salvation. If we trust in the Lord and in His promises with all our heart, He will direct our paths. Those who lean on their own understanding, those who do not recognize the completeness of God’s Word, will be rebuked and be found a liar (v.6). So be wise. Don’t lean on your own wisdom. Fear God and trust in His covenant faithfulness to you.
How Does Wisdom Shape Intelligent Prayer? (vv.7-9)
These holy truths give us godly wisdom. As we can see, these realizations led the speaker to pray intelligently in verses 7-9. We will briefly examine this prayer and see that intelligent prayers are done persistently and according to our need.
A.Intelligent Prayers are Done Persistently (v.7)
After the passage affirmed the reliability of God’s Word, the author records a prayer that is very insightful. First, this prayer is characterized with persistence. “Do not refuse me before I die,” is an expression of strong perseverance of the one praying to the Lord. This is a kind of prayer not for one’s immediate deliverance from a pressing crisis but a plea for continual help in never-ending difficulties. The phrase “before I die” can actually be translated “as long as I live.”
Persistence is an important quality of intelligent prayer. Not that God is unwilling to answer us when we call, but it is more of an attitude of continual trust in Him that glorifies God when we patiently pray and not being discouraged. Jesus Himself told His disciples to pray always and not give up when he told them the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). God is more than willing to hear us when we pray and ‘deliver the goods’, so to speak, when we ask Him with persistent faith.
B. Intelligent Prayers are Presented According to One’s Need (v.8-9)
Intelligent prayers are not only characterized by persistence. When we pray intelligently we also tell God what we need. There are two petitions the author presents here. Both are in the imperative mood. The first asks for integrity; the second for contentment.
1. Since man is naturally a liar, we pray for honesty and integrity (v.8a)
The first petition “Keep falsehood and lies far from me” requires no elaborate explanation. It recognizes man’s propensity to tell a lie or to live in self-deception. It also projects ‘the damaging results to the person who deals in dishonesty’ and the harmful effects to those who are victims of dishonesty.
“Falsehood” or “deception” is literally “emptiness,” worthless behavior or speech. “Lies are regularly condemned in Proverbs for their disruptive impact on the social and especially judicial welfare of the community” (6:19; 19:5,9,22).
A person who recognizes his inclination to deceive himself and others will surely ask God for honesty. To us who had lived in persistent lies, it is insightful to pray such kind of prayer. Truth is always a threat to those who live in dishonesty. But to us who have been set free by the truth, we want our lives to be free from falsehood and ‘empty’ promises.
2. Since man is naturally greedy, we pray for what is enough that brings contentment (vv.8b-9).
The second petition “Give me neither poverty nor riches” is even more insightful and requires further explanation. In the original language, both petitions place the nouns, not the verbs, in front of the sentence. This is a literary device to put emphasis on what is being asked. Here ‘the petitioner knows what he needs in terms both of protection and supply, and he asks for it in the straightforward manner of the children of God (Matt.7:7-11). He counts on the Lord to determine his basic needs to meet them.’
“Give me only my daily bread” is almost identical to the supplication for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. In its Hebrew form this petition ‘portrays the divine hand extending a loaf of bread (“food”) and telling him exactly what his portion is to be.’ In other words, the petitioner asks God to give him what is only necessary in order to live and fulfill his duties.
One author noted that ‘the most fascinating about the prayer is the balanced and worldly wise wisdom present in the motivation clauses beginning “lest” [or otherwise] (v.9).’ Riches or overabundance may lead to an arrogant self-sufficiency that loses all sense of dependence on God. The question ‘Who is the Lord?’ in v.9 carries the same weight as the statement ‘I have no need of the Lord.’ This is always the potential danger that faces many rich people.
Poverty, on the other hand, may drive a person to desperate act of stealing. Theft has a very devastating effect to oneself. But most importantly, it profanes or dishonors the name of God. ‘It does so by breaking His law against stealing (Exod.20:15; Duet.5:19) and by declaring that God will not provide for His own as God has promised. The worldview expressed here is remarkable. The supplicant knows both the frailty of his own human nature and also the sanctity of God’s name. Earthly sins have heavenly significance and the ultimate result of human crime is to insult the name of the Lord who made us, and who made us for better things than lying and stealing.’
Psalm 23 assures us of God’s providential care as our Great Shepherd. God also promises His people that ‘He will supply our every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (see Philippians 4:19). Thus Paul can say in Phil. 4:11-12 that he has learned to be contented in whatever situation he was in.
But the provision that God has given us in Christ is more than just material. Christ has secured for the greatest need that we have. He provided for us salvation from the wrath of God. He provided for us forgiveness of our sin in His death. He has given us victory over death in His resurrection. He has set us free from the tyranny of the devil in His death. He has clothed us with His righteousness which by faith we continually wear. These are the blessings that God has given us in Christ which beyond our comprehension. We would never ask these things without the grace of God, the grace of new birth, working in our lives. We would rather ask for more money, more stuff of this world, more success in our career and more conveniences.
Our natural tendency to be a liar and greedy person needs to be checked with the wisdom of God. Our compulsion to acquire many things through dishonest gain must be stopped and be put to light. God’s Word reminds us of the spiritual dangers inherent in wealth and material prosperity, as we have seen in our text.
Do not be deceived. Material abundance cannot bring real, lasting peace and satisfaction. Left on our own, it only feeds our compulsion to acquire some more. Our true satisfaction is in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our life, our wisdom and our righteousness. Putting our trust in Him brings us the greatest reward God can ever promise, which is eternal and abundant life in His presence. We would ever be blessed if the thing we seek in this life is to do the will of God. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you, says Jesus (Matt. 6:33). Even the things He has given us must serve to glorify Him and bless others. If we don’t use our possessions, may they be money or non-monetary resources, to serve God they will use us to serve our ourselves and our materialistic desires.
As we conclude, let’s read 1 Timothy 6:17-19. If you think that only rich people struggle with greed and materialism think again. Greed is not only the problem of the rich people. “None of us is immune, for materialism is not a sin of having, but one of wanting. It grips us in the heart, and not in the wallet,” said Dr. John Sittema.
So the next time you pray, ask intelligently. Recognize God and His faithfulness first in your life. If you find satisfaction in Him, you will also find contentment in what He gives. May this encourage us to trust Him more in our daily life.