Lessons from a $1 Billion Powerball

All but six states play the Powerball lottery, which just topped $1 billion, making it the highest prize in history. In California alone, over $5 million in lotto tickets are purchased each hour. Never before have so many spent so much against odds that were so high. A couple of weeks ago, I stood in line at a convenience store in Atlanta, in an impoverished area. I stood and I stood and I stood, because in front of me were about ten individuals who were all buying lotto tickets.

You could win the lotto, but you have a better chance of being struck by lightening three times, being bitten by a shark, or making ten NBA All-Star teams. So why are Americans stampeding to spend what can’t afford on what they won’t win to impress people they don’t like?

1. We have confused need with want. We used to want cable television; now we need it. We used to want a big vacation, car, and house; now we need that stuff. In Teach Us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel reports on a new field of psychology called “wantology.” She writes, “A wantologist helps clients verbalize their latent, unrequited desires and moves them toward achieving happiness by identifying the ways they can satisfy those desires.” Jesus offered a better way. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

2. We have forgotten the difference between our source and our resource. Dr. Tony Evans said, “When we forget the difference between our source and resource, we miss the provision of God.” Your employer, retirement policy, and safety net are your resources, but God is your source. We are storming the lotto booths, wasting millions of dollars, because we think the Powerball is our source.

3. We have forgotten the One who provides also protects. My best college professor, Dr. Gene Wofford, often said, “Where the finger of God points, the hand of God provides.” Ezra had a hand in the greatest spiritual awakening in history. The king of the evil empire of Persia, Artaxerxes, provided a letter of safe passage back to Israel. When the Jews were exiled for 70 years, their religious possessions were preserved in Babylon.

When I was about 14 years of age, I saw a poster on the wall of my church. It read, JOY = Jesus, Others, Yourself. Christians are buying lotto tickets like never before. That is because they have been duped into believing the pathway to joy is Yourself, Others, Jesus. We buy Powerball tickets because we think the key to happiness is buying more of the stuff that has already failed to fulfill.

If the evangelical, self-professed Christians in America had pooled the resources they have spent chasing the Powerball, and invested in Kingdom work, we could have built hospitals, sent missionaries, and fed millions. But as the poet well stated, “We are into we because I am into me.” So why do we buy Powerball tickets? It’s simple. We buy Powerball tickets because we are willing to take billion-to-one odds on the Powerball because we believe winning the money will provide a blessing beyond the reach of God.

Here’s the simple truth. Nothing the Powerball will ever provide will compare to what God has already done. If you are one of the millions chasing the Powerball dream, I have a message from God. You can find better ways to spend your time and money than on a longshot selfish dream. For every dollar you throw away on a Powerball ticket, there is a $1 McDonald’s cheeseburger your hungry neighbor could really use.

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