Two things I ask of you, O LORD: do not refuse me before I die. Proverbs 30, verse 7.
This is an impassioned prayer. You can imagine the man who first prayed it, imploring God to grant his request. Agur surely understood that he was talking with the great I AM yet he boldly asked for things. We’ll discuss what he asked for in the coming days, but rest assured they weren’t in a Jabez-like prayer, asking for more stuff, belongings or prosperity. What he asked for is almost irrelevant though because he knew that God was listening. That’s a fact worth stopping to consider.
How do you know when your prayers are heard? Answer: in human terms, you don’t. You simply don’t, that is, if you don’t let yourself believe the promise. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). And if you don’t want to jump up to the New Testament for proof, then start at the beginning. Genesis is replete with instances of God speaking directly to men, even walking with them. That means God listened and heard…and that people listened and responded to Him as well. Not so many years after, when speaking to Moses through the burning bush, God said he had heard the cries of His people. Are your prayers heard, even when you don’t get the response you want? Yes, of course they are.
Agur the praying man knew this, and from just these first few words, he understood a few other things as well. If you read the prayer closely, you get a whiff of humility. Prayer should be humble. In the start of the prayer, he didn’t say “gimme gimme gimme.” He asked instead of demanding. That’s a humble thing, and it takes a humble heart to act in this way. We’d be correct in saying that, if we’re going to approach the all-powerful creator of all things, we should indeed be humble. That isn’t the point, though. Instead, to be effectively communicated, prayer should be humble, even penitent. God is love, and most times when He sends that love He does so quietly, patiently. If we want to open our hearts and really talk with God, it’s easiest to do that with an attitude of humility.
Next, prayer should be confident, Agur’s prayer is confident; ours should be as well. First he asks of God, then he asserts that He knows God can refuse him…but that He won’t. He is confident that God can do something about his request, and he is confident of his situation. Was Agur terminally ill, dying? We don’t know. The prayer obviously mentions “before I die,” but that could be rhetorical. Still, Agur knew what he knew and was confident of it, sure of his predicament. That allowed him to be confident in asking God because he understood that God was trustworthy. Shouldn’t that be our posture as well? I’m confident in my work abilities, my love for my family, in the ability of right to best wrong (and Left), and in many other things. As I grow in faith, I grow more confident in it, looking at prayer as a way to openly, confidently tell things to God and ask things of Him. I know He will respond in the way that is best.
Prayer should be bold. I’ll admit that I struggle with this one because, after all, He’s God, the all-being, the omnipotent and amazing God of my fathers. I’m just some puny guy. But prayer shouldn’t be puny. Being confident means being bold in asking God of Him. If you need help making ends meet, be bold and ask for His help. Will He send you patience, opportunity or a stack of Benjamin Franklins? I don’t know. All I know is that He will answer in the way that’s best. Besides, I’ll go back to my realization that He’s God and I’m not. It’s a bold thing for sinful man to ask perfect God of anything, but that’s the example Agur, Moses, all the prophets, Christ and His apostles ask us to follow. It takes a bold person to humbly but confidently stand in front of God, so remember that and boldly talk with Him. Pray to ask, to repent, to praise, to exhort, or just pray to talk with Him. No matter what we do, pray boldly.
Most of all, prayer should be what is on your heart. Agur asked God for some things that were on his heart, things He needed and things that mattered. Isn’t that what we should do as well? This will sound strange, especially if you’re new to believing in God, but this is the one that I find most difficult to do without regular practice. I am bold, confident, and I’m learning humility, but even with all those good things, I sometimes struggle with praying to Him what is really on my heart. It’s easy to pray in church when someone else is leading and you’re praying along. And it’s easy to pray in a devotion when what you’re praying for is written in front of you. When it’s just you and the Almighty in private, sometimes it’s tougher. Just like it can be difficult to open up and really write well or say what’s really on your mind to your spouse, I find it can sometimes be difficult to open up and tell God how I’m really feeling; what’s really on my mind, and what I really want. It becomes too easy to cloud those things with fear, shame, avoidance, or procrastination.
What’s the best way to get around these things? Do like Agur and practice. It won’t become easier unless we keep practicing. Prayer is like writing, playing an instrument, driving, or even laziness: it comes much more naturally if we do it regularly. Maybe it’s in the car, acting like you’re self-talking when in reality you’re just talking out loud. Maybe it’s a quick prayer in a public place to thank God for food or just the moment at hand. Perhaps it’s silent prayer at your desk, waiting in line, or some other opportune moment. Always it’s time in a quiet, private place, finding you in a submissive posture of penitence, telling God about what matters to you at the time. The more we do it, the easier it becomes.
Whatever works best for you. Agur the proverbialist knew he could go to his God and that his God would have both the answers and good comfort. We don’t know just how God answered Agur’s prayer, only that we can be sure God listened. That’s enough to start with. Next time we’ll talk about what he asked for. Until then, especially if you haven’t done it in awhile, I challenge you to give prayer a chance. Give it a whirl today. I guarantee you’ll feel better and that it will make a difference in some way.