‘Give Me Only My Daily Bread’: This Ancient Prayer Has Answers for Today

The wisdom book of Proverbs has only one prayer. Written by a little-known prophet, it speaks directly to fears and excesses of the 21st century.

By Josh Shepherd Published on July 16, 2020

“Applying the prayer of Agur to the coronavirus crisis is about finding the sweet spot,” said Jay Payleitner. “You’ve got to stay safe. But you’ve also got to be productive.”

In Proverbs 30, the prophet Agur prays: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” A scribe and contemporary of King Solomon, Agur (rhymes with “bagger”) wrote an entire chapter that gives context to this probing petition to God.

Payleitner, author of over 30 Christian books, unpacks Proverbs 30 in The Prayer of Agur. In a phone interview from his home near Chicago, he shares why this ancient wisdom is relevant. Payleitner also grapples with the prosperity gospel and offers a practical model for personal prayer. 

My Daily Bread

When you first read this chapter in Proverbs, what about the prayer of Agur stood out?

Jay Payleitner: This theme of contentment and the phrase “finding your sweet spot” is something God spoke to me when studying it. It’s about trusting God’s provision so you can ultimately find your purpose.

Jay Payleitner

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Here Agur prays, ‘Give me only my daily bread.’ That gives a different spin on it and looks at it from a new angle.

Consider the scene in Exodus 16 of the Israelites in the desert. When they went out every morning, God provided daily manna from heaven. (They still griped about it — which is ridiculous when they were getting free food!) But if they took more than they needed for the day, it would spoil anyways.

So if you’re grabbing on to more than you need, it’s going to somehow spoil. If you’re grabbing on to a bigger house or to more stuff, it’s going to spoil you or a thief may come in and rob you. You may lie in bed at night worrying about your investments and whether your Porsche got scratched.

On the flip side, having less than you need means you’re not fully equipped to live an abundant life. Either way, you’re not living in peace. Living in God’s sweet spot is about pursuing exactly what God has called you to do. What that looks like differs for each person. You are going to be able to launch from there into great things.

Peace in Crisis

Many people have had their lives, health, and jobs affected by COVID-19. Does this prayer speak to the current crisis?

Payleitner: The message here is about having a long-term view and trusting that God is going to take care of us.
Look at how our leaders are being pulled right now, as they consider reopening schools. We need to educate our kids. But we’ve got to keep them safe. Because if kids are getting ill, that’s not an acceptable outcome.

“This book is about trusting God’s provision so you can ultimately find your purpose.”

Social unrest has been sparked by the killing of George Floyd and other African Americans. Whoever we are, whatever color our skin is, this is a moment to dig deep.

We should ask: What does this mean? How should I change? But we also need to look out and see how our actions affect the rest of the community. There’s a way to protest but be respectful and safe about it. We can acknowledge how far we’ve come, and admit there’s still work to do.

In this economic crunch we’re in, we also have to find balance. Your business may have to cut back on budgets. But we’ve also got to keep hustling. This is a time to serve others while also allowing other to serve us.

Sweet Spot

This book will show up next to another one about an obscure biblical character, The Prayer of Jabez. How would you compare and contrast this prayer with that one?

Payleitner: I’m hoping that God uses this book in a similar way, though it’s not likely to sell nine million copies! The prayer of Jabez is him asking God, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory.” That’s not necessarily about big dollars or big careers.

The heart of it is: “God, I’m trusting you to equip me. Would you challenge me to do great things in your name, and give you the glory?” It’s gotten a bit of a bad rap in some Christian circles, because they think it’s all about, “Just believe and receive.” I don’t think it was written as a prosperity gospel kind of thing.

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We all have Bible verses that we hang on our walls or in our kids’ bedrooms. Too often, we take those out of context. For instance, Philippians chapter four, verse 13 reads: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

But that oft-quoted verse takes on an even greater relevance when you consider how the secret source of that strength is described in verse 12. Paul says there: “I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether in plenty or in want.”

In other words, finding contentment is what leads to the point where you can do all things through him who gives you strength.

That’s what Agur is praying. “God, don’t make me too wealthy. Don’t give me too little. Make me who you want me to be. Fill my cup exactly to the right amount.” Then I have the confidence to go out, do great things, and give him glory.

Wealth And Worship

You mentioned the prosperity gospel, an ideology which concerns many believers today. In what ways does this chapter of Proverbs reflect on that set of beliefs?

Payleitner: Each person approaches the gospel — seeking God in repentance — from a different place. If you’re uncomfortable and hurting, if you go to God, I believe he’s going to bring you comfort.

prayer of agurBut if you’re living comfortably, God is probably going to make you uncomfortable. It’s kind of his job to make you uncomfortable so that you go out and leave your comfort zone.

This parallels the prayer of Agur. If money is what drives me, I’m going to dishonor God in pursuing wealth. But we also see wealthy people who are authentic Christians. They use their gifts and talents to hire people, supply other people’s needs, and give to worthy causes.

Remember it’s not money, but the love of money that is the root of all evil. If you are coming to Christ because you want a bigger bank account and that’s your motivation? Yeah, you’re asking for trouble. That is no place to live.

In Luke 18, Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything and give to the poor. Does that mean we all have to do that? I don’t think so. His weakness was money. Christ said to him: “I know you, my son. You know your problem is materialism. So you’ve got to go the other direction.”

Agur’s prayer doesn’t just apply to finances. Perhaps you are drawn to Christ because you are broken, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually, or living without purpose. You pray, “I don’t know what to do. God, will you save me?” He is going to come and fill you. In one sense, that broken person looking for prosperity finds it the moment he turns to the God revealed in the Gospels.

Power of Prayer

How has prayer impacted your life? And has this message shifted how you pray?

Payleitner: I’m not what you might call a prayer warrior, but there have definitely been times when answered prayer has blown me away.

My first job out of college was selling photocopiers — and I was terrible at it! We had two little boys at home. Alongside friends in a small group, my wife and I were learning about prayer. Two truths were to be specific in prayer, and that God answers every prayer.

“In God’s sweet spot, we pray for those who are hurting — and for God to intervene in the issues facing our world today.”

That summer, I prayed with my two little boys. “Dear God, get Dad a job in advertising in July.” We prayed that every night. I put a sample book together of ads, and I walked around to different ad agencies in Chicago. I prayed before I would walk into each one.

I recall how, after a long month, I dropped off my sample book at one agency. They interviewed me on a Friday and I had a job on Monday! The day I got that job was on August 1. God, in his sense of humor, had answered our prayer not exactly but a day late.

As to why the prayer of Agur is so valuable, we’ve all heard the ACTS mnemonic. It stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Most of us spend way too much time in that last category, asking for stuff. But if we’re trusting God for exactly what we need — no more, no less — then we can spend more time in the other three areas.

That is: seeing God for who He is (adoration). In confession, I acknowledge my brokenness and need for Him. Thanksgiving means counting my blessings.

In God’s sweet spot, supplication can then be more others-focused. We are free to pray unselfishly for those who are hurting and for God to intervene in the issues facing our world today. But be warned! Don’t be surprised when that leads to doors opening for each of us to be part of the solution.

 

Learn more about The Prayer of Agur in Randy Robison’s interview below with author Jay Payleitner.

 

The interview has been lightly edited for length.

Stream contributor Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy issues for media outlets including The Federalist. Find him on Twitter and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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