The Contented Life

Advising God’s people on being content in a world of attractive things is difficult armor to prove. Thankfully, a better man has written wiser words on the subject! In Proverbs 30, Agur the son of Jekah bows low before God and says everything I might hope to accomplish here with my thousand words. Selfish ambition and greed oppose contentment. They are grievous sins that trap too many believers, particularly in North America. Their ruse starves our contentment, feeds our pride and dishonors God. Like darts, they pierce holes in our testimony and poison our fellowship with others. Agur’s prayer is a profound and wise shield against such evils:

“Two things I ask of You; don’t deny them to me before I die: Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me. Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God” (Pro 30:7-9 HCSB).

Western culture encourages and rewards the ambitious soul, and it is no sin to seek honest gain. After all, the ants and the conies are commended for their investments (Pro 30:25-26). However, corporate officers, life coaches and social media influencers alike may fuel an unhealthy, ungodly attitude in their followers. Many seek to convince us that happiness is a few dollars more, a title, a new trick to get ahead, or an undiscovered remedy to life’s problems. Go get it. Be unique. Try this. Just click here. Be the best you. “Keep such falsehood and deceitful words far away!” cries Agur. Divine help to reject a competitive lifestyle, of always straining ahead and comparing ourselves to others, is part of his request. It’s a difficult prayer for some. Falsehoods, or lies, are told to impress and belittle others or misdirect them for personal gain. Deceitful words, or vanities (KJV), are pride-filled tales told to manipulate others. Neither leads to a life of spiritual contentment, and neither should characterize a Christian.

Where, then, does the sage of Proverbs 30 find his contentment? In confidence and dependence on God alone. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mat 11:28-30 KJV). Setting aside selfish ambition, Agur prays for what God knows he needs, not what he wants for himself. Spiritual contentment eschews both an ascetic pursuit of poverty and the gluttonous hoarding of wealth. Asking for “only the food I need” runs counter-culture to our instincts, and stumbles those living “Prayer of Jabez” Christianity. Instead, ask God for those immediate and practical things He knows are best for our spiritual success, for He is able.

Centuries after Agur’s prayer, the Lord Jesus explained the economics of heaven in the Sermon on the Mount. Were he in the crowd, we imagine Agur nodding in agreement. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mat 6:21). True contentment in God and the person of Christ is not a consolation prize for lost treasures. The Lord Jesus came to give us more abundant life, full satisfying life, in Himself (Joh 10:10). He is the treasure, filling every sense and meeting every need. So if you’re searching for satisfaction, then seek the Kingdom of God first. Material treasures will fail, the lilies will bloom and clothe the grass, and God knows you have need of all these things. He’s always known, and always cared. He always satisfies.

Agur continues his remarkably self-aware appeal, and he strikes our weaknesses from above and below. Abundant wealth without godliness may generate false security and self-worth. Consider stiff-necked Pharaoh’s boast, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go?” (Exo 5:2 KJV). Or, remember God’s word to the rich farmer, “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared – whose will they be?” (Luk 12:20 HCSB). Agur knew that many with much have short memories, and that anything which leads to denying the Lord runs to spiritual ruin, too. The lives of proud Pharaoh and the fixated farmer ended in vain, and they left their moldering riches behind. Agur didn’t want wealth if it meant losing God.

By God’s mercy, I confess I’ve never been in a place of true poverty. Forgive my foolishness, but it seems that the stress of an empty stomach consumes our contentment in God with more certainty than wealth. “Preserve me from having nothing,” requests Agur, “so that I don’t sin from want.” Back in Elisha’s time, at Syria’s withering siege of Samaria, the people were pressed beyond understanding (2Ki 6,7). They ate dove’s dung. They ate their children! They questioned God’s promise to Elisha, denied His ability, and with despondency, they scoffed at His name. At least one died for his disrespect of God’s promise (2Ki 7:17). Such a sad scene brings no delight to God, and no delight to His people. The fear for basic needs can make us steal or even kill to survive. Agur’s wisdom trusts that those fully dependent on God will never be left to such despair, and he’s right. With respectful optimism, we trust only Him for our future.

As he looked back over his life, Agur prayed to continue the time he had left fully content with God alone. Like him, we hope to encourage believers with the Word of God: first, be satisfied in Him. Then, like Agur, desire “the food I need” over the things I want. Trust God to set the way. Above all, rest in the work of Jesus Christ and seek His righteousness first. Then everything else will be added unto you (Mat 6:33).