THE LOTTERY

Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time. [Proverbs 13:11 (NLT)]

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. [1 Timothy 6:10 (NLT)]

St. Abune Teklehaimanot, I pray You help me win the Lottery today. I beseech, entreat and beg You who stood upon one leg That you may grant my fervent plea And the winner of the jackpot will be me! [anonymous internet prayer] 

Purple cone flowerApparently, some people regard St. Abune Teklehaimanot as the patron saint of gamblers. Known for sprouting wings when he fell off a mountain and also for his extreme piety, He seems a strange choice. The last years of his life, he chose to live in small deep cave that had spears sticking out of all the walls. He remained standing the entire time, even after he broke a leg. I find him an odd saint from whom to request help at winning the lottery, yet some people do. Considering the size of the yesterday’s Powerball lottery ($1.5 billion and counting), I imagine many people called on God (and even Saint Abune) last night.

I wonder what God thinks of the lottery. We’re told to be good stewards of our blessings, so does He approve of spending hard-earned money on a game of chance? I understand the odds of winning to be 1 in 292 million and that we are 250 times more likely to be hit by lightning than to have the winning ticket. Since purchasing a lottery ticket is little better than tossing money out the window, I’m not sure He approves. Moreover, because the ones who buy the most lottery tickets are the people who can least afford them, many believe the lottery actually exploits the poor. God, who tells us to care for the less fortunate, might disapprove for that reason alone. He also might object simply because the sole purpose of purchasing a lottery ticket is to win money. Jesus cautioned about the danger of riches getting in the way of faith and it’s in 1 Timothy that we’re warned about the love of money being the root of evil. Proverbs warns us about “get rich quick” schemes and that certainly describes the lottery. I really don’t know where God stands on the lottery and, while I suspect He doesn’t much like it, I doubt that buying a lottery ticket occasionally is a sin. Nevertheless, we better remember that greed is always a sin!

Now we come to the question of praying to win the lottery and I’m sure many such prayers were said last night. Personally, I think that’s not the kind of prayer God wants to hear and it will fall on deaf ears. But, what if we promise to give it all (or most of it or at least 10%) to God? What if we promise to build Habitat homes, Family Life Centers for churches, and schools and hospitals in third-world countries? What if we promise to fund church missions and missionaries, medical care for the indigent, mental health services, shelters for the homeless, day care facilities, food pantries, and seminary costs for aspiring pastors? Will asking God for the winning ticket be the right prayer then? Will God listen if we promise every cent to His work? As much as God wants us to do good works, I’m not sure that’s the right prayer either.

God promises to provide for our needs but He expects us to do the work and make some sacrifices along the way. Let’s face it—giving away money that hasn’t been earned is hardly a sacrifice. God expects us to appreciate His blessings and, if there’s been no effort on our part, there usually is little or no appreciation of the blessing. That’s why groups like Habitat for Humanity require some sweat equity from the families who receive a home. It is up to every one of us, not just the lottery winner, to have altruistic and unselfish goals and it is up to every one of us to do something about achieving them. Rich and poor alike, we all must do our part to build those homes, schools and churches and fund those worthy causes and to do it all without lotto winnings.

If you won the lottery last night congratulations! I pray you use your money wisely. A word of caution: according the New York Daily News, nearly 70% of lottery winners end up broke within seven years. Please remember, the more you are blessed by God, the more He expects you to bless others. As for the rest of us, let’s roll up our sleeves, get out our checkbooks and do the work God has set before us. 

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” [Hebrews 13:5 (NLT)]

And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. [Hebrews 13:16 (NLT)]

There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. [Deuteronomy 15:11 (NLT)]