Want to Win the Lottery? Join a Very Big Crowd

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to win the lottery? Like to buy a few tickets when the Powerball number gets really big? According to Derek Thompson, you are far from alone.

Writing for The Atlantic, Thompson reports that residents of the 43 states in which lotteries are legal spent a cool $70 billion on lotto games. If that sounds like a lot, it should. It averages out more than $230 per person in those states, or $300 per adult.

But if that’s not shocking enough, Thompson points out that $70 billion is more than all Americans spent on sports tickets, books, video games, movie tickets, and recorded music sales combined. If we think kids are prone to spend too much time on their Playstations, what should we think of our collective obsession with the lottery?

Nor is this a completely benign obsession. Thompson reports that a disproportionate number of players come from lower income brackets, even citing one study that found local lottery ticket sales rise with poverty, while movie ticket sales do not. “In other words,” he writes, “lotto games are not merely another form of cheap entertainment. They are also a prayer against poverty.”

But regardless of whether we’re rich or poor, very few of us remain content with how much money we have. Thus we’re all too willing to spend a few bucks for what might be the answer to all our problems, or so we think. Never mind that it doesn’t take an accounting wizard to figure out that playing the lottery is a remarkably bad investment. To continue Thompson’s metaphor: when we play, our “prayers” are very seldom answered.

In fact, our approach to the lottery can sometimes look like the kind of foolish, self-defeating behavior that the Bible associates with idolatry (read Isaiah 44:9-20 for an example). And before we pat ourselves on the back too quickly if we don’t play the lottery, we should realize there are plenty of other things we spend our money on with the vain hope of supplying that missing something in our lives.

Contrast all this with a remarkable statement from Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:8: And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

A few point to wrap things up:

1. Notice where Paul directs the Corinthians to look for blessing. Unlike our idols that promise much but always fail to deliver, God is the one who is actually able to provide.

2. To be clear, Paul isn’t preaching a “name it and claim it” gospel. He says that God will work so that the Corinthians will have all that they need, not necessarily everything that they want.

3. Still, if God is the one determining what we truly need, we know that he does so in perfect wisdom. Doesn’t it make sense to want what he thinks we need? On the other hand, if he doesn’t think we need something, why should we?

4. Not that God is stingy. In fact, Paul piles up words to say the opposite: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” In the end, God will never be in anyone’s debt. Instead, I imagine we’ll look back and marvel at just how much grace he demonstrated to each of us.

5. Knowing all of this is not the same as living it out. Lord, help us consistently to turn from whatever idols we’re tempted to place our hopes in, so that we may find in you what we’ve been looking for all along.

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