What Does Regularly Playing the Lotto Do to the Soul?
What would it be like to win $1.5 billion in the lotto and end up taking home over $930 million after taxes? This week Powerball reached that amount. TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE BUY LOTTO TICKETS
On the one hand there are those who exclaim, “Wow, I would love to win! I will buy a ticket! I have done this a couple times before over the years. The odds are against me, which is why I never play. It is more likely that I will get hit by lightning two times than win. I have 1 in 292,000,000 odds against me! Yet, I have some discretionary cash and, besides, somebody will win, so why not me? You have to be ‘in it to win it'! It will be fun, like in the office when we make a wager on who will win the football game."
On the other hand there are those who slavishly enter week after week no matter what. They regularly set aside money from each paycheck to play the lotto. They have allowed themselves to be obsessed with the fantasy of what they will do when they win the lotto. They dream about it. They are a consumer consumed.
Does this person really exist?
Research from Derek Thompson of The Atlantic about the amount spent on the lotto would imply that, yes, there are more consumers like these than we may realize: "People spent more money playing the lottery last year than on books, video games, and tickets for movies and sporting events combined. . . . Americans in the 43 states where lotteries are legal spent $70 billion on lotto games in 2014. . . . That’s . . . $300 for each adult."
THE ADDICTED POOR
Sadly, of all households, the poorest third purchase half of all lotto tickets.
These poor folks feel a desperation in their lives. They do not gamble their money away for fun but from the hope of funding their future. They are playing—and probably praying—to get out of poverty. So, they enter a retailer’s place each week with what little extra cash they have and buy their numbers.
And the states are behind this. As Thompson wrote, "States are making their most hopeless citizens addicted to gambling to pay for government services."
The government knows the problem. On these lotto websites we read things like:, “Never spend more than you can afford on any lottery product. Please remember, it's just a game. The Multi-State Lottery Association supports the efforts of the National Council on Problem Gambling to provide help for persons who may have a gambling problem.”
LOVERS OF MONEY OR LOVERS OF GOD?
My question: What does the lottery do to the soul of such a person?
It can turn the person who believes in Jesus Christ into a lover of money rather than a lover of God.
And let me add, a lover of money is not just the person who has money. A poor person can just as easily be a lover of money.
Whether rich or poor or somewhere in between, such a person wanders from the faith when he dreams more about money than God. For the Christ-follower havoc follows.
Listen to the Bible on this point:
But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:9–10)
Let me be clear. Earning riches from diligent efforts is a biblical idea (Proverbs 10:4).
However, 1 Timothy 6:9–10 is suggesting that when one is consumed with being rich as an end in itself, not because one is consumed with providing a good service and product, then one is on the way to being a lover of money, and a lover of money will not do well as a lover of God. These two oppose each other.
We read in the Bible about those who are “lovers of self, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4).
Even a very religious person can step over this line. We read in Luke 16:14, “the Pharisees . . . were lovers of money.” This is why a church leader must be “free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:3).
This truth applies to every person who believes in God. Hebrews 13:5 states, "Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.'"
However, I must point out here that it is the longing for the money, not the procuring of the money, that becomes a snag. For example, a poor man can be consumed with the love of money more than a rich man. A poor man can dream more about money than the wealthy person who dreams about how to give away his money.
This is not to say that the poor are bad and the rich are good. There are plenty of greedy rich people and hardworking, humble poor people. However, it is to highlight a dimension we overlook: Greed does not reside only in the hearts of rich people on Wall Street but poor people living on the street, or middle income people on Main Street.
WANDERING FROM THE FAITH
What can happen with this wanting, loving, and longing?
Fall into Temptation: We become more vulnerable to certain temptations, not the least of which is spending money we cannot afford to lose on the lotto. Yet, we give into the advertisements related to this gambling industry, albeit under the umbrella of governmental services.
Fall into a Snare: The tricks and snares work on us. The get-rich-quick schemes entice us. We become prey. There is no work involved. We do not provide a service or product. We are gambling away money we cannot afford to lose, which is why on the Powerball website they urge such people to get professional help for a possible gambling addiction. The government sees firsthand the "ruin and destruction."
Foolish Desires: Our inner desires take a turn for the worse. Our desires become foolish and even harmful. We become consumed with winning big. We see it as a wise way out of our problems. We do not see it as a harmful wish but a helpful plan of action.
Wander from the Faith: At first we pray for God’s help to make us rich. We even tell Him we will use the funds for good causes. When we don’t win, we pull back from Him. Our faith in God begins to wane. We drift from the Lord and His purposes. We wander away from our faith in Him.
AM I OVERSTATING THE CASE?
When we become lovers of money, we plant the seeds to ignore God.
Why do we refer to a person as independently wealthy but not independently beautiful, intelligent, or powerful? When we have money we can live independently of others and God.
When we become lovers of money rather than lovers of God, we push God out of our lives. When we are lovers of money before we have the money, we no longer want God. When we finally get the money, we don’t need Him. This explains, in part, why we wander from the faith both pre-wealth and post-wealth.
IS THE LOTTO PLAYER A LOVER OF MONEY?
Is the person who habitually plays the lotto a lover of money? I cannot answer that. What I can say is what Peter pens, “for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). If one cannot stop playing the lotto then one is overcome by the temptation and one is addicted.
When such a person is a believer in Jesus Christ yet is consumed week after week with a get-rich-quick scheme, like winning the lotto, one has to ask himself, “Have I become a lover of money rather than a lover of God?"
I may be a lover of money rather than a lover of God when:
- I find myself drawn toward the testimonies of those who have won large amounts of cash from the lotto far more than I am drawn toward the testimonies of those changed by Jesus Christ.
- Those around me see me more excited when I talk about what I will do if I win the jackpot than when I talk about winning God’s approval of my life.
- I feel more depressed over losing the lotto than I do about a lost friend who rejects Christ.
- I get more excited about reading my lotto numbers than reading the Scriptures.
What do I really believe?
One, do I believe contentment comes from hitting it rich and until then I can never really be content?
"For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content." (1 Timothy 6:7–8)
Two, do I long to get rich from winning the lotto because I do not believe God is really for me in my present condition; I feel He has deserted and forsaken me?
"Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.'" (Hebrews 13:5)
Three, do I disbelieve those Scriptures that teach the poor can be rich in faith and that I can be rich toward God throughout eternity for my faithfulness here?
"Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:5)
"So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:21)
A NEW SLOGAN
If we feel convicted that we have placed the lotto above the Lord, is it time to conclude, “It is not God’s will that I win the lotto. Instead, God intends for me to be content in Him, serve other people, and follow His will for me. I care too much for my soul!"?
Some of us need a new slogan. "They can take this lotto ticket and shove it away from me!"
Questions to Consider
- What does this story say to you? In Tolstoy's Man and Dame, Fortune is informed he can possess and own all the land that he can plow a furrow around in one day. At first, he planned to furrow around that amount of land he could reasonably own and farm. However, as he proceeded, he envisioned having a little more and a little more. Near the end of the day, he awakens to the fact that he cannot close the loop. As he strives to make it back he has a heart attack and dies. Foolish desires lead to harmful decisions.
- One man said, “I have been poor and I have been rich. Rich is better.” We all understand this. However, based on what Jesus says, why must we be concerned about having too much money? "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36).
- Should our focus be on working or a get-rich-quick scheme? What does this Scripture say to you? "Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 28:19–20 ESV).
- According to Jesus does life consist of possessions? “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Luke 12:15 ESV). Explain what he meant.
- Years ago I saw something in my heart that I did not like. I was more emotionally distraught over my son losing a soccer game, which I coached, than I was as a pastor over a lady in my church losing her life. It hit me that I needed to re-evaluate my heart. The same applies to those of us who care less about the soul of a neighbor than we do about our lotto number. What’s wrong with this picture? When this is the case, have we lost perspective on what really matters?
- Often the thought process is, “God, if I win the lotto, I will do good with the money.” But it begs the question: Are we doing good right now with the little that we have?” I once heard about a guy who said, “If I had hundreds of millions of dollars, I’d give a quarter to half of it away.” His friend said, “No you wouldn’t. You are not giving a quarter to a half of your income away right now. The past is the best predictor of the future.” Why do we lie to ourselves? Do some actually lie to God?
- If you never win the lotto, could you be able to see this as a sign of God’s mercy and grace to you? David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby, observed that inordinate wealth destroys a large percentage of the subsequent generations that inherit the money. Unearned money can ruin the spiritual lives of children and grandchildren, perhaps as much as 70 percent of the cases. Do you believe this? Why do you think this is so often the case?
- Does this portion of Scripture encourage you or discourage you? Why? "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward" (Hebrews 11:24–26).
- Have you misquoted this verse in the Bible? Many say, "The Bible says, 'Money is the root of all evil.’” No, the Bible says, "For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 KJV). Money is not the root problem. The love of money is the root problem. Explain the difference.
- Is this really a crisis of faith or of finances? Hebrews 13:5 states, "Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.'"