Dear $1.6 billion dollar lottery winner


By now you realize that you've won the $1.6 billion Powerball Lottery. So far, you've kept your identity secret which is probably a good idea. Once you are known, relatives you didn't even know you had will come out of the woodwork. People will hit you up for small loans (just $100,000 or so) with no intention of paying you back. Attorneys, accountants and advisers will want to help you, for a small fee of course.

No doubt some preachers will try to give you advice. They will mention tithing, I'm sure. Since it is estimated that you will get some $900 million after taxes, a $90 million tithe could change many lives - including the preachers.

I'm sure when you bought the ticket, you played the fantasy game "What would I do if won?" I didn't buy a ticket, and I still fantasized about what I would do with $900 million. My plan was something like paying off my church's debt, paying back all the money they had spent on my salary, giving my brothers and sisters a good sum for financial security, paying off my house and buying a little something for myself - like all the ranch land that used to belong to my grandfather.

For me, all those decisions are just a fantasy, but for you, it's reality. And that's why I'm writing you. Jesus taught us something so profound, yet so simple about treasure; it applies whether you believe in Jesus or not. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

You are facing decisions on an unimaginable scale that the rest of us face every day: What do I treasure? Will you allow money to change how you feel about your spouse? Will money change how you interact with your kids? Does it have to?

Sure, your new wealth will mean financial security. Who wouldn't want to live without debt and financial stress? But this is where things get tricky. Studies show people who win the lottery often wind up deep in debt. They are more likely to divorce. Fights break out among their children concerning wealth and possessions. Winning the lottery is stressful.

I have no idea about your faith orientation, but you bought the ticket in one of the most churched areas of the country. Maybe you understand that you are a soul, an eternal being. Money, however, is finite. Whether you have billions or thousands, money can run out, even if you start with $900 million. Your money may run out, but your soul lives forever. Money can help your quality of life, but it does not determine the quality of your forever self, your soul.

When Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also," I think he was saying, "The loyalty of your heart is shown by what you value." When Jesus speaks of your heart, he's talking about your will, your decisions. The decisions you make now that you are wealthy will show what you really value.

Our culture values "more." We assume more is better. If you value your house, more houses or a bigger house will make you happier. If you value your boat, a bigger boat will make you happier. If you value friends, more friends will be better (and believe me, plenty of people will want to be your friend).

I want to encourage you to think in a different direction. Jesus said, "It is better to give than to receive." You will find more joy, more hope and more love if you make it your goal to bless people with your wealth.

This will require great courage. Most people who live paycheck to paycheck don't discover and live by this great truth. Having no idea about your previous generosity level, I can only imagine the challenge to learn generosity when you begin with so much.

My free advice, which is really Jesus' advice, is to value your soul more than your fortune. Don't make a single decision about your new wealth without praying first. Don't hoard it. Jesus told a story about a man who had bumper harvest and tried to hoard his crop by building bigger barns. He died before his financial plan ever really got started. You will only have control of your new fortune as long as you live; you will exist much longer. Do you value now more than forever? That will determine what you do with your treasure.

In the same chapter of Matthew where Jesus talked about heart and treasure, he said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be provided for you." Put God first; he'll take care of you no matter what happens to the money.

Living in peace with God has an eternal return on investment. What will a person give in exchange for their soul? Nothing. Nothing is worth your soul.

With prayers for wisdom, courage and strength,

Clay Smith

Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.