Why I Don't Play the Lottery
or Join the Company Lotto Pool
"Doug, would you like to join our Mega Pool?"
My smiling and enterprising colleague had just arrived at my cubicle. Not unlike dozens of other colleagues who have approached me over the years, she was taking up a collection which would be used to purchase tickets for one of the largest lottery drawings in California history. The young lady's offer was appealing and tactful. I was rendered speechless for the longest time while I pondered what I would do. There was money in my wallet that would allow me to join with the gang for the big drawing, but another part of me wanted to resist.
As a Christian, as a follower of Jesus Christ, am I called to shun "get-rich-quick schemes" such as the Lottery? Is a Christian supposed to prefer poverty? Is it wrong to want to be rich?
I believe there is guidance on this subject in the Bible, where God instructs us how to live by trusting the Lord to provide for our needs and then commissioning us to work with our hands to make His provision a reality. The Bible says,
Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we should be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness......
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6).
Of all the subjects in the Bible, the subject of how to deal with riches and money receives the most attention. God has a great deal to say about it because He knows the temptation that riches can be and what it can do to a person, or to a marriage, or how it can twist and distort otherwise honorable pursuits. I need to listen to God and listen to His wisdom. And why not? God created me and He ought to know what is good for me, right? So when God warns me about the desire to be rich, I can be assured that such a desire does not come from Him.
Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
The divinely inspired principle that being rich is not to be a goal for the believer, runs like an unbroken thread throughout the Bible. Look for example at the Book of Proverbs:
How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. Proverbs 16:16.
I don't want to dishonor God. I don't want to disobey Him. I want to live according to His precepts.
Having said all this, there is still a voice inside me suggesting that I could play for smaller stakes, such as limiting myself to the $7 million super lotto, because if I won, I wouldn't be overly rich. Or how about if I limit myself to the Fantasy Five and try to win just $200,000? Is it wrong to pay off my mortgage with a Fantasy Five win???
I'll be honest with you..... my wife and I have played the lottery in the past. I am not proud of having played. I don't want to play any more and I hereby covenant that my lottery days are finished. As of April, 2007, I am abstaining.
In light of the teaching of God's Word, as we read above, I'm reminded of a line that was spoken by a computer in the movie, War Games (1980). After the teenage kid and the retired professor confound the computer by choosing to play Tic Tac Toe instead of Global Thermonuclear War, the computer determined (and stated outloud) that the best choice among all the games is "Not to play." The computer said,
"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"
I'm convinced that this computer's advice provides the best choice in reference to the lottery or any form of gambling.
I'm not saying I'm better than other people. I'm not smarter either. I'm saying that, for me, the only thing worse than playing and NOT winning would be to play and WIN. I cannot imagine what my life would be like as a lottery winner. People would be hounding me all the way to the bank and back again. I'd probably become a couch potato, staying at home with the doors locked, the curtains pulled, and the phone off the hook. My new past time would be to watch All My Children. My wife and I would have endless arguments over what to do with the money. People we never knew before would suddenly want to be our friends and we would have difficulty determining if they like us because of our newfound wealth, or for more wholesome reasons. How would you know? People would look at you differently than they did before. Scores of people would be asking for donations for every purpose under the sun, some of them honorable, some unscrupulous. I've heard of churches that refuse to accept donations from lottery winners because they feel that the money was ill-gotten. Do I want to be the possessor of ill-gotten wealth? I believe that winning the lottery would ruin my life!
I would much rather go to work each day, do my best at work, and come home knowing that I earned the little money that I have. I enjoy getting paid for my work.
Notice that the Bible never says that money is evil. It only says that "the love of money" is at the root of many kinds of evil. God intended that money be used to provide our needs and to bring glory to Himself. We need to have the proper biblical theology of money.
Is it sinful for me to play the lottery? It probably is, so from now on I shall refrain.
My sights are set high, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father. The riches I truly seek are not of this world. True riches are found in Christ and He is whom I seek.
Perhaps one way to put lotteries into the proper Biblical perspective would be this...... The Bible says, "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Colossians 3:17). Can you play the lottery in the name of Jesus? Sounds a little strange, doesn't it? Try this..... can you, in good conscience, ask God to help you select the right numbers? In other words, is it proper to pray about the lottery and ask God to help you win it?
How would you feel if you saw the pastor of your church purchasing lottery tickets one day? And how would the pastor feel if you greeted him while he was doing it? If you don't think that would be embarrassing for both of you, you aren't paying attention to the balance of this page.
Our church has a prayer time every Sunday morning. Would it seem appropriate if whoever prayed in front of the congregation asked the Lord to help the members of the church win the lottery? That's ludicrous! And if that is wrong, how can it be right to play the lottery on your own? The Bible teaches that everything we own belongs to Him; even we ourselves are bought with a price, the precious blood of Christ.
Take the preposterous idea to the next level.... What if your church took up a special offering every Sunday morning and asked members to contribute so that the church could buy lottery tickets? What if the pastor took the podium and asked all the people to pray right now and "ask God to guide us in choosing the correct numbers so we can win?" What if "brother George" up in the balcony hollered out, "God is saying to use 37!", and sister Helen in the front row chimed in, "God is telling me we should use 23!" If your church has sunk this low, please change the name on the sign out in front to "Church of the Removed Lampstand." (see Revelation 2:5).
All that we need are the crumbs that fall from our Master's table, and yet our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, has invited us to a banquet. We must get ready for that banquet. The heart of our preparation for the "Wedding Feast of the Lamb" is to live by every Word that comes from out of God's mouth. The Bible says that "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want" (Psalm 23:1). God continually assures us in His Word that He will take care of us, if only we will look to Him.
Someone wrote to me recently that they have read this article about why I don't play the lottery. Yet, they have different reasons than only wanting to be rich. For example, they play it because they want to get out of debt or to pay for medical bills, or to help their relatives who are struggling financially. They feel that God might provide for their needs through the lottery or some other gambling method. Or they say that they want to win so that they can be generous toward others, be a philanthropist, and help the needy. My response to all of these reasons is the same as what I have said above. Nowhere in the Bible is anyone encouraged to do such a thing. The blessings of the Lord do not come by way of schemes but rather by diligent work. The Bible says in many places that we are to "work with our hands" (1 Thess. 4:11). In Ephesians 4:28 Paul says, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." Notice that there is no suggestion of making money by means other than working. It is by earning money through working that we can become able to help others. It would be nonsense to say that you are "working hard to win the lottery." That betrays the meaning of "work" as the Bible describes it.
Having thought about it long and hard, I smiled and courteously replied to my colleague, "May I respectfully pass on the Mega Pool?" She accepted my abstention. We remain cordial to this day and she hasn't asked me again to "join the pool."
Tony Evans has written an excellent little book about Gambling and the Lottery
For a more in-depth discussion about gambling and what the Bible teaches on the subject, please visit our online book by Tom Watson: Don't Bet On It
Riches won't help on the day of
but right living can save you from death.