christian business

Jabez, Agur and Volkswagen

I own my second Passat in three years. I believed in the "clean diesel" bill of goods sold to consumers by Volkswagen, now exposed to be a major hoax and sure to result in a series of federal and international criminal indictments and consumer lawsuits. Volkswagen got itself into this major mess out of its oft-stated goal to be the globe's largest auto manufacturer.

It is hard for a Christian business person to argue against growth. Neither do they wish to argue against the sacrifice of integrity. And yet, they seem to regularly clash against each other as they have done with Volkswagen and so many other case studies in the history of enterprise. Enter the prayers of Jabez and Agur.

The Jabez Prayer received new life and a lot of conversation a few  years ago.

"Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." - Chronicles 4:10

Less known, and perhaps more provocative, is the prayer of Agur.

"Two things I ask of you, 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 effect, Jabez prays for an increase in his efforts and a cessation of all difficulty, while Agur prays for ethical groundedness even if he must struggle. Those who engage in business like the Jabez orientation, and yet the prayer of Agur speaks at the soul level, reminding the business person of the need for carefully cultivated integrity and a God-centered perspective of all things.

--Some seem to respond to these prayers as if one must make a choice between them. If so, which would you prefer? Which one calls to you the most?

--Others conclude that these prayers are not in conflict, rather that they reflect a progression. In effect, as Jabez lives longer and becomes more wise, his prayer shifts to something more like Agur prays. Does this reflect your pilgrimage as you have moved from the amibitious intern to the CEO who views her or his role as a steward of God's gifts?

--I think about these prayers a bit differently. For me, these prayers are not in conflict. Neither is it a progresssion a person goes through from Jabez's immaturity to Agur's wisdom. Instead I think the Agur prayer is the foundation for anyone who holds a Christian orientation. Then and only then, with the commitment to live in integrity, to be detached from material possessions, and a God-centered orientation firmly in place, can one move to pray that God would enlarge such a territory and to reduce the pain of the journey (and there will be pain).

Comparing and contrasting these prayers makes for a good exercise among a leadership team -- even if they are not people of faith. They are Jewish prayers first and foremost. And they reflect heart cries that people of all stripes tend to have. What other prayers or heart cries might be uttered that would embellish or edit what Jabez and Agur have said? What next steps are called out of those who serve your customers beside you? How does your firm reconcile the impulse to grow with the need for integrity?