James / chapter 5 (read the chapter)
If you’re ever looking to while away some time, do a Google search for “the misfortune of lottery winners,” and you’ll find some fascinating and unbelievable stories. I imagine that most everyone, at least once in their life, has dreamed of winning the lottery. To be suddenly freed from the constraints of necessary work seems like it would be so wonderful . . . but it can be anything but.
Even those who dream of all the good things for others they could do with such winnings haven’t managed to escape the “curse” of lottery winnings. One man, Jack Whittaker, who intended to do good for others—and actually did a lot of good with the majority of his $315 million prize—still says he eventually regretted winning the lottery: “You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up too. . . Family is what is dear,” he said. “I don’t know where it’ll end. But you know, I just don’t like Jack Whittaker anymore. I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got. I don’t like what I’ve become.”
I’m haunted by that last statement: I don’t like what I’ve become. No wonder so many of the Bible writers warned their readers about the pitfalls of wealth: “And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment.” (vs 1-3)
Now, I feel it is important to point out that there is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself. God Himself had plenty of rich folks among His friends—such as Abraham, Job, Zaccheus, Joseph of Arimathea, Matthew, and Barnabas—and it would seem that wealth didn’t ultimately have a corrupting influence over them. However, that appears to be the exception rather than the rule. As Jesus warned many times, we must regard riches as a potentially significant obstacle to entering the Kingdom, because for most people, they entice us to put our trust in material things rather than in God.
That’s the problem with wealth—not the money itself, but the potential power it has over those who become entangled with it. Certainly, there are some who have the ability to handle wealth in a spiritually-acceptable way, but many do not, and though I have often dreamed of not having to worry about finances, I wonder who or what I would become if I was suddenly a millionaire.
In our society, we tend to have a lot of debates over the rich versus the poor. We fight wars on poverty, trying to help the “have-nots” to acquire more things and get a larger slice of the pie. It is humbling, then, to consider that God’s richest blessings may actually come in poverty. It is still hard for us to believe that those who “don’t have as much as we do” might actually have more than we do.
Even in our desire to help (which is both noble and Biblical), we are still in danger of getting caught up in viewing material things as the answer to people’s problems. And while money may certainly solve a lot of problems, it only takes a quick Google search to discover that it can cause a whole host of other problems.
What matters to God isn’t the balance of your bank account, but the condition of your heart. Whether you’re “rich” or “poor,” do you want what others have? Do you spend your time trying to figure out how to get more, believing that “if I just had this much,” life would suddenly be okay? Do you share what you have? Do you think others should share more with you?
Do you find security in your paycheck? Or do you find security in your God?
No matter how much or how little you have, don’t get sucked into the material vortex of this world. God has His own definition of wealth, and often, His richest blessings come packaged in poverty. I dare say that many lottery winners have learned that lesson the hard way.