Lessons from a Lottery Loss
You may have heard a joke :
The local parish church badly needed to be re-roofed. It had a small
and not wealthy congregation, and the cost of a new roof, when added to the rest
of the church upkeep, was prohibitive. They’d tried fundraisers, applied
for various grants and loans, and in every possible way had attempted to secure
funding for the roof, which was getting leakier and leakier every week.
Nothing had raised the money needed.
Eventually the parish priest, in prayer with God, came up with an idea.
‘Lord, let me win the lottery. We’ll use the money for the new roof, and
any left over we’ll use to spread your Word and to help the poor.’ God
But several lottery draws passed, and the priest, increasingly desperately,
asked in prayer ‘Dear Lord, you’ve agreed for us to win the lottery. But
that was four weeks ago, there have been four draws, and we’re still penniless.’
In response, the Lord told him ‘My son, meet me half way on this.
First, you’ve got to buy a lottery ticket.’.
There are several teaching lessons from this joke, and in particular, we feel that it illustrates a much misunderstood point. You can’t just sit back and passively expect the Lord to make your life better. In some amount, in some form, you’ve got to actively participate in whatever you seek as well. That is the yin and the yang of free will – we are free to succeed, but we are also free to fail. God may help us if it suits his purpose, but he seldom/never will ‘do it all for us’, because that robs us of our free will.
Perhaps we can think of God as the super-charger in our “effort engine” – if our purpose aligns with his, and if we prayerfully seek his assistance, he may choose to bless our activities and make them more fruitful. If our own effort is low, so too is his value-added boost; if our effort is high, so too is his magnifying effect.
But, and now some paragraphs into this post, the joke was intended in this case merely to introduce the rest of the story.
In several situations recently I’d been discussing fundraising, and also was reminded of the primarily Old Testament process of allowing the Lord to intercede and guide people via the process of casting lots – the one mention in the New Testament being when the 11 remaining disciples cast lots for who should replace Judas as the 12th disciple (Acts 1:24-26).
A friend also mentioned a sermon at her church about lotteries (although, to completely tell that part of the story, the sermon spoke against lotteries).
All of a sudden, these different elements aligned into a pattern, and it suddenly occurred to me – I should buy a ticket in the local lottery, and allow the Lord to make it a winning ticket, and with the funds received, institute the formal church structure I am so keen to construct. In prayer, it even seemed to me that the Lord approved of my idea.
So, on a Thursday when I was very busy with other commitments, I went to a local 7-11 store and purchased not one but two lottery tickets – there was one lottery to be drawn on Friday evening and another on Saturday evening. I’m not quite sure why I bought one ticket in each, because of course I only needed one ticket in one lottery (both had jackpots in excess of $200 million) for a transformative change if I won. But I bought one in each.
The Friday night drawing came, and not a single one of the six numbers on my ticket was matched by the six balls drawn. That is actually a slightly unusual outcome – usually you can expect one number to match. Instead of, as hoped for, getting all six matched, none matched. That was a 100% rejection of my wish, such a rejection as to be significant and having a message within it.
I spent the next 24 hours speculating as to what this meant. Were my plans for a church wrong? Had God turned his back on me? Was I so mistaken as to earlier sense his approval of my idea? A small voice even whispered “Is there a God at all”? I pondered all these things, but my faith remained strong, and I continued on various church-related tasks on Saturday.
That evening, I was very anxious as to what the lottery draw would reveal. What would it mean if I lost, again? I certainly knew what it would mean if I won, beating the 350 million to one odds. But what if I totally lost a second time?
Eventually, I went to the lottery website and checked my ticket. The five main numbers – no matches at all. But the special sixth “power ball” number – yes, a match!
I’d also, when buying the tickets, ended up in a confused situation where I’d originally not paid an extra $1 per $2 ticket for a “multiplier” option, but something made me think I should have done so, and after some arguing, got them to agree to reissue the tickets with the multiplier option added. The multiplier wouldn’t affect the size of the jackpot, but it would affect the size of the other lesser prizes, which at the time, I wasn’t thinking of at all, only the jackpot, so I’m really not sure why I felt it important to get it. The two tickets, originally costing $4, now cost $6.
My single winning powerball number was worth $4, and the “multiplier option” increased it five-fold, to $20.
I almost burst out laughing when I realized what had happened. The Lord had both tested me and sent me a message. The test was to see how I recovered from the disappointment of the Friday lottery. I showed my faith and commitment to be resilient.
The message was that building a new church was not going to be as easy as hoping for a nine figure win in that week’s lottery; indeed, I felt embarrassed for ever requesting it. Imagine if anyone could commission a new church any time they wished just by buying a lottery ticket. That is not the subtle way the Lord makes his presence felt in the world at present. This then was why the Lord was happy for me to buy the lottery tickets, because it taught me a lesson in humility and encouraged me not to be lazy in my efforts.
But, he also gave me a kindness, a small reward. Not only did he kindly spare me the loss of the $6, he allowed me to profit to the tune of $14. Why $14? That was the coincidence that brought a smile to my face. There was a book I’d been wanting to buy at a local second-hand bookstore – the MacArthur Bible Commentary – that was being sold for $14. I bought the book. Maybe there is a valuable lesson within it for me to learn.
Indeed, noting the high regard that John MacArthur is generally held in (by an interesting coincidence (or possibly purpose) I came across this blog article and commentary on who MacArthur is and what he stands for), I’m sure that within his book will be many valuable lessons for us all.
So, I learned a lesson, and benefitted from the Lord’s blessing in a small fair way, commensurate with my lottery ticket purchase. I felt the Lord’s love and encouragement, and an indication that while he is pleased with my plans, he wishes their implementation to be as a result of the commitments and efforts of the future church’s members, not an empty gift from him to a group not yet even constituted.
Please do join with me in this good work. Your prayers in support are needed, as are any direct offers of help and participation.