The Wisdom of Agur

By Hugh Chapman

“Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God

                                                                             Proverbs 30:7-9

In the early sixteenth century, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first beheld the stunning natural beauty of the Emerald Coast.  Essential to the formation of the shoreline bordering the pristine Gulf of Mexico is the purity of the white sands that have washed southward from the Appalachian Mountains to form the Sea Oat-covered dunes of Destin.  It was the immense natural beauty of the locale that inspired the Spaniard to christen the area Pascua de Florida or “Flowery Easter.”

Through the progression of civilization over the five centuries to follow, much of the natural beauty remains — and for the fourth afternoon of our coastal journey our little van meandered down an 18 mile stretch of pavement known as Old Highway 30-A, a now-local thoroughfare which winds eastwardly along the magnificent seacoast.  From Longleaf Pine Flatwoods we rolled past turquoise coastal lakes, huge sand dunes, and finally into the quaint little gulf side villages of Seaside, Rosemary Beach, and Watercolor — where unique pastel homes feature stretch-neck towers designed to provide a glimpse of the shimmering sea below.

My son Dusty, who was somewhat of an industrialist even at the age of eleven, was especially impressed with the coastal homes and had even gone to the trouble of running down a real estate brochure revealing the six-point-five million dollar price tags.  I smiled at my son’s amazement and patted his shoulder while shrugging apologetically.  “I’m afraid that Arkansas teaching salaries fall a bit short of that kind of income Pal.” Then, in laughter I added, “Probably even if I take on that extra bus route.”

Dusty looked back to me in disappointment. “You mean we’ll never be able to afford a house here?”

I shook my head sympathetically.  “Not like the ones you have your eye on, old buddy.”  Then trying to sound more upbeat I added, “But maybe someday we’ll be able to visit again.  It’s been fun so far, hasn’t it?”

Dusty nodded with brief enthusiasm, but then drew a sigh. “I’ll bet people like rap stars and basketball players can afford these houses.  Why can’t we do something that would make us rich enough?  Can’t you just pray about it or something, maybe ask God to get you a raise?”

I wanted to laugh, but the question of my oldest child hit a little too close to home for my own comfort.  In truth, I had spent a good part of my life wondering why such luxury went to those who appeared undeserving, while those who served faithfully seemed often to have so little.  Surely God wants the best for his own people.

I then recalled my youth. While I was growing up in Southeast Missouri my mother was attending college in hopes of becoming a school teacher, and my father operated a tiny dollar store in the Mississippi River town of Caruthersville.  That small Delta community, in the mid 1960’s was economically depressed and our family struggled just to make ends meet.

In the toughest of those times, I recall my mother discussing, in hushed tones, our financial situation with my dad.  “I just don’t believe in asking God for money,” I had heard her say then, “but I do believe he’ll provide for us as necessary.”

As a boy, I looked to my mother as a great source of biblical wisdom, and during the remainder of my childhood I never questioned that principle.  In fact, on some semi-conscious level, even as an adult I’m certain that I must have adopted her belief as my own.  After all, though times were often difficult for our family, the things that my mother had predicted, most assuredly did come to pass; God had provided for everything that we needed, and for a good deal more.    Though I’m not absolutely certain as to the origin of her theory, the outcome certainly supported the premise, and for a long time I had no reason to doubt that she was correct.

Yet there came a time many years later when well into my adulthood, I became aware of a Christian publishing phenomenon.  Suddenly our local bookstores were deluged with a best-selling work having to do with a little-known prayer found nestled amid some easily overlooked verses in the Old Testament. The prayer, as did the book, appeared to suggest that God would provide unlimited blessings, if only Christians would take the time to ask.

A trusted friend, one who had been a major Christian influence on my life, gave me a copy of the book, which I devoured in one setting.  Then, I went back and re-read the pages two or three more times.  To my surprise, I found myself agreeing with every concept the author presented.

I spent the following days, weeks, perhaps even months considering the major points of the little book.  God wanted the very best for his people, and he wants us to ask him for blessings so that when he does shower us with good things, we can know without a doubt that the blessings are from Him. I dusted off my childhood memories and analyzed my youthful experiences.  God had blessed our family with the money we needed, just as my mother had contended that he would.  But how much more might our wealth have been if we had only known then about the little prayer in I Chronicles 4:9-10.

I began to look at my own life and to take stock in all I had been given:  Loving Christian parents and siblings, a happy childhood, lots of friends, a beautiful wife, two wonderful and healthy children, a good and steady job that I loved, a small but structurally sound house, a caring church family, and enough spare time to do the things that I truly enjoyed.  Indeed, these were wonderful gifts, and I have made a practice to thank God often for them.  But I wondered…

Could there possibly be even more?

I began to think of the things I might ask for; my house was fine, but our growing family could certainly do with something bigger and nicer.  I had a dependable car, but it really wasn’t very fancy with worn cloth seats, crank windows and no sunroof at all.  My job seemed secure and the income was steady, but I would never become rich from it.  I had nice friends, but they say that you never have too many.  Yes, things were good, but I could certainly see room for improvement.

I went back and re-read the recommendations.  Could it be that I really needed only to pray this simple prayer for thirty days in order to see a definite change in the blessings God would provide?  It certainly appeared that way. After all, it had worked during Old Testament times and it was apparently working now for Christians the world over.

From the midst of my little study room, and with no further prompting, I made the decision that I hoped would change my life.  I would pray the little prayer in earnest for thirty days beginning immediately.  Yet…

I made it only halfway through the third day. ~

Please don’t misunderstand.  I would never question the biblical truths found within the pages of that book nor the ones to follow.  I believe that God truly wants to bless his children and I know that the author is sincere in his writing.  Perhaps it was the things that my mother had taught me in my youth that caused my hesitation now, or maybe it was from the feeling that God had already provided me with much more than I could ever possibly deserve.  Yet for whatever reason, asking for more just didn’t feel right for me.

I went back then to the scriptures and re-read the model prayer given to us by Jesus, and within the words of our Master, I could find no demand for greater blessings other than the humble phrase, “Give us this day, our daily bread.”

I then looked to other verses that addressed the questions that puzzled me.  From James 4:2, I read “You do not have, because you do not ask God.”   Then in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Were these not confirmation of what the author of the little book was saying?  My head said yes, but within my heart I held doubts.  God does want what is best for us, but I’ve come to believe that when Christians take their petitions to God, we should do so with the presupposition that He will grant those things that we truly need, but not necessarily the things that a world full of materialistic desires might cause us to ask for.

From beneath the tattered bill of an old fishing cap that I had donned that morning to shield my eyes from the Florida sunshine, I looked toward the beautiful coral colored homes that lined the dunes above the beach.  Turning, then, I glanced at my son who in laughter trod steadily beside me, already having forgiven me for my financial shortfalls.  Together we made our way toward the edge of the gentle surf where my daughter played happily with a yellow plastic sand shovel and a flowered pink pail.  Then, as seabirds glided peacefully over rolling ocean tides, I looked to Danielle’s mother, the woman whom God had so graciously sent to share my life.  As mild gulf breezes blew through her beautiful auburn hair, Julie looked to me with eyes that sparkled in the sun, as quietly she mouthed the words, “I love you.”

And just as suddenly my heart became filled with a sensation of immeasurable wealth, and all my longings of material possessions flittered away with the December breeze.  At that moment, Dusty broke from my side, and ran toward the shoreline where he splashed with his mother and sister in the rolling surf.  Alone once more, I quietly repeated another Old Testament prayer that God had revealed to me one morning as I searched for his will in my life.

Though originally spoken by Agur, the son of Jakeh, I had now adopted it for my own – and the words made me smile.  “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

In that moment of splendid peace I looked around me.  On God’s great blue horizon stood my loving family, running, laughing, dancing and playing within the sandy morning sunshine.  And within my past was an ancestry with golden moments and memories that continue to guide me even today.

As the sea waves roll without end onto God’s sandy shores, so do His blessings of kindness, love and grace. If this were to be my daily bread, then for me, it will be more than sufficient.

 

 

 

 

Tags: Ocean, wealth, family, father and son, travel, Christian, Christian Short Stories, Jesus, God, Love, Bible, Family, Hope, Salvation

 

The Dollhouse

In a quiet corner of the seldom used room of my house stands a three quarter finished dollhouse. For 20 years the little house has been at the same phase of completion, with three walls fastened into place and about one-third of the tiny cedar shingles glued to the roof. There is no paint, and none of the miniature pieces of furniture have ever been assembled.

The room in which the dollhouse sits is a formal living area that sees only a small fraction of the family gatherings as compared to the new den that was built off of the kitchen. The little house is rarely touched, and even when it is, it is only because some occurrence has made necessary the dollhouse’s movement. My wife, a few years ago, relocated it temporarily to another corner of the room while decorating for Christmas. But the little house never seemed to belong there and after the holidays the house was promptly moved back to the space that we now refer to as “the dollhouse corner.” The corner is quiet and the dollhouse is safe there. What’s more, I like it there, if for no other reason than to remind me of things in my life that I should have done differently. And it makes me work harder in an effort never to repeat my mistakes.

My daughter was born during a turbulent time of my life. I was working part time, mostly weekends and late nights, while at the same time pursuing a bachelors’ degree at a nearby college. Between work, classes and studies, time always seemed scarce and parental attention to our daughter was handled almost exclusively by my wife. For that reason — and I suppose other reasons as well — I was quietly frustrated when my well-meaning sister gave the 600 piece balsa wood dollhouse to my daughter for her birthday. My dismay came not from the presenting of the gift, for I knew my sister gave it in love. Rather, my dismay came from the realization that I would ultimately be the one to assemble the project. In light of my other obligation I simply didn’t have the time.

Yet as luck, or perhaps God’s grace, would have it, my daughter was undemanding of my time limitations and even at five years old, she was perceptive enough to understand. Not once do I recall her whining or pestering me to work on our project, for such was the nature of this quiet and beautiful child.

But to my credit, I suppose, I did try…or at least I did for a while. I remember pouring out the pieces onto an old card table and sorting them into piles. Then with an X-Acto razor in one hand and a tube of glue in the other, I began the painstaking process of cutting doorways and windows, fastening on shutters and assembling tiny planters that would be installed beneath each windowsill. I then proceeded to construct a stairway to the second floor and I worked hard to attach tiny rails and banisters for the safety of my daughter’s diminutive, imaginary family. It was a slow moving process, requiring several twenty-four hour glue-drying sessions which would inevitably stretch for several days or even weeks while I struggled to catch up on my school and work requirements.

When finally I came to the roofing portion, I was growing increasingly tired of what I saw as a meaningless task, and once I took out my frustration by shouting at my daughter, then shoving the dollhouse aside in order to make room for some selfish and mindless project of my own. Though Danielle never spoke a word in reply, the quiet tear that formed in the corner of her eye spoke louder than words ever could, and even today I still hear the echoes of her silence.

In time, it was my wife who finally moved the little dollhouse to its corner of our house. And with the project out of my sight, it soon worked its way out of mind as well, as I proceeded with my little projects, met my little deadlines, and earned my little diploma. In time I took my little job, accepted my little paycheck and earned a little acclaim from my peers. And while those little things were happening, somehow the little girl who had once viewed me as the greatest man who ever walked upon God’s green earth, had silently grown into a beautiful young woman.  And the blue eyes that had once looked so lovingly at me, her father, now had forever turned away, and toward the young man she had quietly fallen in love with.

Eventually, on an afternoon when the dollhouse rested miles away in the darkened corner of our living room, I found myself in the vestibule of my church looking at the elaborately stained dollhouse-like windows that had been fashioned into the outer walls of our place of worship. Then as the melodic sounds rolled expectantly from the church sanctuary piano, I turned from the windows to see the sparkling blue eyes of my daughter in her flowing white dress. Without a word she wrapped her hand around my arm, and together we began our long walk up the aisle where softly I kissed her glowing cheek in order to bid her farewell. As I waited to speak the well rehearsed words that would forever convey my daughter from my care and into the care of the man she had come to love and to trust, the soft memories of her childhood flowing peacefully, and my heart ached for one more day with my little girl.

The question was asked of me, and with more of a nod than a spoken word, I relinquished primary care of my daughter to the man who would soon be her husband. Then as quietly I took my seat, I thought again of the little dollhouse in the corner of our room and this time it was my eye, not hers, that quietly blinked back the tears. Meetings, project deadlines, and important decisions, come and go, but true love goes on forever.

My daughter and I have talked of years past. I have apologized to her for my absence, and she has forgiven me of my shortfalls. And through God’s grace, she has become one of my most trusted friends.

And life has played out so beautifully for us all.  As an answer to my prayers, Danielle and her husband live in their new house only a few miles from the home where the years of her childhood so swiftly passed. And on occasion when I pass through that seldom used room, I always look to the little dollhouse in the corner, and whisper a prayer for my little girl as I long for the days of her childhood.

But only recently, as snow from a winter’s day banked softly against a windowpane, I found myself thanking God for the happiness my daughter has found. There within my deliberation I found myself asking if there was some way I could ever make up for the many ways I had failed as a parent.

And with that request, I began pondering the magnitude of God’s love, and of His grace, and of His ability to offer second chances, and somehow I couldn’t help but to breathe a sigh of contentment.

For earlier that very day Danielle had been here for a visit and this time, I made time to spend with my daughter. And there together we stood side by side near the hardwood bassinet, and blinked back mutual tears of joy as we looked down at the precious gift of love that God had granted. Danielle’s daughter — my granddaughter – with eyes every as blue as her mother’s, looked happily to those who loved her.

As long as life and breath goes on, our family stories will continue to unfold. We laugh, we cry, we bruise and we heal. But sometimes, through the grace of our savior, we are given a second chance to make right all the things that are truly important.

And I’ll be happy to tell you all about them, but they will have to wait for another time. For today I have a more important job to do. There’s a baby to rock, and a dollhouse to finish.