“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.” Proverbs 30:7-9
If there is a time to be live skillfully—it is this week. Black Friday ads are practically ubiquitous. Everywhere you turn—merchants have gotten in on the act. You could call this the mother of all shopping events. It is also the day (change that, week, soon to be month—Black November?) when people tend to take on the semblance of folly. There is wisdom to be gained by Agur’s prayer in Proverbs, but you can find some needed wisdom even in the news—
1-Remember why it is called Black Friday
-it is the day stores move from operating in the red to operating in the black. As one put it, “the day when people get their discount dopamine hit and stores get their profits.” Merchants may seem generous, and maybe they are. But they are also cashing in on the season.
2-Beware of good deals on items you know nothing about
-the truth is, most people have no clue what things really cost or what anything is truly worth. And much of what happens on Black Friday is cheap prices on really cheap stuff.
3-Remember that decision after decision depletes good judgment
–there’s a reason this madness often begins at 3:00am. When you are exhausted, the brain gets drunk with stupid. Decision fatigue soon kicks in, and now you no longer use discretion. People end up buying more than they planned, paying full price for other things they never intended to buy.
Alongside this is the more centering wisdom of this prayer. Money appears early in wisdom’s agenda, and is a main theme of Proverbs. But some of the best advice is found here in Agur’s prayer. It is a rather bold request to be kept in the middle. Agur petitions to be delivered from two extremes–desperate poverty and self-sufficient affluence. He knows what he will do if he has too little—and what he will become if he has too much. Do we?
When it comes to money and the acquisition of goods, he asks God for a heart of indifference (a theme repeated in 25:16). He knows the heart can obsess over things. We have a tendency to take credit for the deals we have made and the things we have amassed (just as God warned Israel in Deut. 8:17). With each accumulation, the realization that we are totally dependent on God has a way of fading. The prayer, “Give us this day our needful bread,” is no longer a daily discipline but a thoughtless repetition in a service of worship. Wealth can create the illusion that God is no longer necessary. We might even forget who He is (just as the prophet Hosea observed in 13:6 regarding Israel: “Having their pasture, they became satisfied…therefore they forgot Me.”) And this should scare us. It scares me.
Black Friday preys upon some of our worst impulses—greed, pride, impulse-buying, discontent, self-indulgence, and ungratefulness. It’s not to say that acquiring a new TV (something we just did) or looking for a great deal on a computer is wrong. Just yesterday in the faculty lounge one of the profs was raving about a website that can get you roundtrip tickets to Europe for 400 dollars. But when these things add up, we just might get too distracted to remember God.
A person of much wealth can still be godly–can still wake up on one’s knees declaring, “Apart from You I can do nothing.” But we need to be wise. We must not be deceived, caving to the lies that greed throws at us (“Hurry! This is your last chance to save”). Hence the first line of his prayer). When it comes to whatever we have, we must retain the mental clarity to live with a certain simplicity, honoring the Lord with all of our wealth and all of our things (3:9-10). It means placing all that we have under His ownership and control. It is His generosity that enables us to have anything at all–and it is His generosity that calls us to be generous.