Stop Playing the Lottery

  Unearned wealth will fade away.

Alejandro Garay



We can't get enough of the rags-to-riches trope. The Cinderellas, the little orphan Annies, Aladdins, Billionaire love stories, the Powerball winners. The long lost wealthy relative who just bequeathed you millions.

The fantastical prospect of a sudden exorbitant windfall entices even the best of us. Rags-to-riches tales are harmless as long as the consumer acknowledges one thing:

They are lies.

Yes, one out of 292 million win the Powerball jackpot, but you're more likely to find a magical lamp with a genie inside.

And even among these outlier stories, the final outcome is rarely as fairy tale as the storybooks indicate. Rather than happily ever after, those who get rich quickly more often than not become poor again just as swiftly.

You've probably heard about the lottery curse. In my book, Your Utmost Is Not Enough, I wrote about David Lee Edwards who won $73.7 million only to die penniless twelve years later in hospice care.

Many similar tales detail the downfall of jackpot winners. Of course, not all lottery winners go broke, but a disproportionate number of them do.

What about inheriting your fortune? Research shows that 70% of wealthy estates will collapse within one generation.[1]

As surprising and unsettling as these facts are, Solomon actually warned us about this phenomenon over three thousand years ago. He wrote:

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
    but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

Proverbs 13:11
English Bible translations have numerous takes on the word "hastily" in this verse. The KJV translates the Hebrew word as "vanity." Many other translations use the words dishonesty or fraud as in the New International Version which reads, "Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow."

The Hebrew word (transliterated) is hebel which means emptiness or vanity. Translators rendered the word as vain or vanity in all but one of its seventy-three appearances in the King James Version. The figurative uses for the word include the fleeting nature of breath. Heber can also indicate something worthless or unsatisfactory.[2] Using this last connotation, Proverbs 13:11 speaks of wealth gained unsatisfactorily or in a worthless manner. Or, in short, by dishonesty.

This isn't to say there is anything morally wrong with inheriting money. That's a silly assertion. What about the lotto? Is playing the lottery a sin?

Corollary: is idiocy a sin?

Jokes aside, buying a lottery ticket isn't a sin in and of itself. Winning the lottery is not sinful. But greed is. The love of money is.

In reality, I think the essence of the Proverb doesn't deal exclusively with money obtained by deceitful methods, but rather that the money itself is a lie. Wealth is a representation of value. So when someone receives a lump sum from the Powerball people, he is receiving value he didn't create or work for.

Again, receiving the money isn't sinful, but the award itself is a falsehood—a claim on unearned value.

Therefore, Solomon points out that because this material is false—that we did not work for it or earn it—that it will dwindle away. This happens for a variety of reasons, but primarily because we don't really appreciate the value of the money. How could we? We missed out on the crucial value-creation phase of building the wealth.

So we consume without replenishing. Even the prudent are ignorant of the blood, sweat, and tears pent up in those dollar bills, and as a result are wont to waste them. The money is a breath. An illusion.

Contrast the get-rich-quicks to the diligent and assiduous population. Solomon says those who gather little by little will multiply their wealth. Those who earn money by honest, natural measures (like hard work) will see their estates increase because wealth-building is a process. The act of laboring engenders a certain richness that one cannot obtain any other way.

Solomon wasn't perfect, but if there's one thing he knew it was how to build and manage wealth. And yet, his proverb can apply to many facets of our lives. Sometimes I pray for things and get impatient or frustrated when my microwave requests don't yield the desired result thirty seconds in. So I press the Add 30 button to see when my request will be ready.

"Wealth" can be things like a career in which we expect to be masters at our respective crafts in just a year or two, when most people spend thirty years becoming great.

Or consider fame. Ever know people who are famous just for being famous? They didn't really earn the accolades, so their fame will dwindle as fast as it came. Those who work hard though, these people will build their influence little by little.

Get-rich-quick is a lie. Yes, it happens to people, but it is still make believe.
Lottery money is fake money.
Unearned money is fake money.

Instead of looking for a quick payday, those who are wise work to gather little by little, increasing their abundance as they go.

Before you leave, I'd like to give you a free guide I created called 12 Things Effective Christians Do.

In the guide I outline the twelve things those who have a strong, healthy relationship with God do on a regular basis (even when life isn't going as planned).

The guide is free if you want it. It will only cost you your email address, but you can unsubscribe from the list at any time with one click. Just click here and enter your email address, and I'll send the guide your way.


1. Vic Preisser & Roy Williams. “The Future of Estate Planning,” NAEPC Journal of Estate & Tax Planning, June 2010: 43-49,
2. Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary. James Strong. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), s.v. "1892. hebel," p. 66.

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