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First, Empty Your Bucket List

“Bucket list” has been officially added to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the publishers announced today. Merriam Webster issues a list annually of words that have become so widely spoken and written in everyday language that they merit inclusion and definition in the dictionary. Popularized by the 2007 movie by that title, “bucket list officially” enters the dictionary this year defined as “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.”

Almost everyone has a bucket list. Some people want to travel to destinations they have visited only in their dreams. Others want to complete a task they have not yet mastered. Still others want to read a book of books they have intended to read but have never opened. By the way, what is on your bucket list?

One of the very few things we know of Agur – a “collector” of wisdom who appears only in Proverbs 30 – is that he had something of an inverted bucket list. Agur asked God to help him to keep things from creeping into his bucket before he died: “I ask two things from you, LORD. Don’t refuse me before I die. {8} Keep me from lying and being dishonest. And don’t make me either rich or poor; just give me enough food for each day. {9} If I have too much, I might reject you and say, ‘I don’t know the LORD.’ If I am poor, I might steal and disgrace the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9 NCV) Often when someone shares his or her bucket list, we can be inspired by their aspirations, perhaps spurring us to similar pursuits. Agur zeros in on experiences that are challenging to avoid, but are crucial to keep out of our buckets if we are to remain faithful to God as long as we live.

Agur’s concern in asking God to help him to achieve these goals in life was to keep from dishonoring or spoiling his relationship with God. Both Hebrew and Christian scripture indicate that his plea hit squarely on two central issues that derail many people from vibrant relationship with God and other people.

Lying and being dishonest in any sense are eschewed in Proverbs as being contrary to God’s way of living. Both the literal telling of lies and falsehoods and the more expansive sense of being deceitful in any activity are harmful to other people, ourselves, and our relationship with God. Wise words in Proverbs note: “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.” (Proverbs 12:22 NIV) Lying violates the 10 Commandments. Deceitfulness also shades into Agur’s other petition: “Wealth that comes from telling lies vanishes like a mist and leads to death.” (Proverbs 21:6 NCV) False profits are as injurious as false prophets! Both do damage to the community of faith in God. Paul supports this idea: “You were taught to be made new in your hearts, {24} to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God–made to be truly good and holy. {25} So you must stop telling lies. Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body.” (Ephesians 4:23-25 NCV) Anything but truth in our communication or business dealings with one another is an affront to God. Agur was right to do everything he could do with God’s help to keep falsehood out of his bucket.

Asking to have neither poverty nor riches – and asking for the right reasons – was Agur’s second request of God. Material security is a major motivator for our attitudes and actions in life, far too easily interfering with our relationships with God and with others. Fretting over amassing material wealth or believing that getting more will demonstrate that we have more value as persons is another form of giving in to falsehood and deceit. The book of Proverbs declares: “Those who trust in riches will be ruined, but a good person will be healthy like a green leaf.” (Proverbs 11:28 NCV) Jesus observed how material wealth often becomes a wedge issue driving people apart from God: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24 NRSV) The problem is not riches, themselves, but the easy lie that having an abundance of material goods must mean that we have all our spirits need as well. Jesus pointed out this deception as he explained the parable of the farmer sowing seeds. The seeds – by which Jesus means the word of God – fall on thorny ground when delivered to people obsessed with wealth accumulation: “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:19 NIV) Jesus also warns of the false security riches can give, such that a person might find no need for relationship with God or anyone else. The parable of the rich man who tore down his barns in order to build bigger ones to store his abundance, but who died before he could enjoy it illustrates the deceitfulness of materialism (see Luke 12:15-21). Adoration of one’s material wealth leaves little room for genuine worship of God. As Paul explains the problem, a “…greedy person–such a man is an idolater.” (Ephesians 5:5 NIV) While reveling in material prosperity can lead us to think that we have no need for God, clamoring for possessions by stealing breaks the 10 Commandments, thereby separating us from God and the community from whom we have stolen. Remember, too, that Jesus expands the condemnation of stealing from outright larceny to thefts that occur in our hearts through lust and covetousness. Agur hit another primary cause of spiritual isolation and desolation right on target.

I think Agur had the right idea. If we are to fully enjoy collecting the items on our bucket lists, we need to empty them of things that interfere with our relationship with God – lying and greed being two chief offenders. After all, God is the giver of all that is good for us to enjoy in the lifetime he grants us. Remaining in faithful relationship with God and others is a crucial key for attaining and enjoying the fulfillment of our goals in life.

Get to know Agur and his prayer. Make his prayer your own. Keep your bucket clear of anything that separates you from God and others – and fill your bucket with whatever God graciously leads you to enjoy.

J. Edward Culpepper

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