You’re Right, Winning the Powerball Jackpot Wouldn’t Change You

The myth of generosity

by Jason Isaacs

You’ve probably heard the Powerball jackpot is up to $1.3 billion, the largest prize in history.

If you’re anything like me, even though the odds of winning are 292 million to 1, you’ve allowed yourself to dream about how you would spend the money. Most of us have the same ideas; we would all pay off debt, buy a new house, and put enough money away to live off the interest, but how much would we give away?

Anytime the lottery jackpot grows, the exercise of dreaming about the winnings always comes up in conversation, and I can’t think of a time when someone hasn’t said with certainty they would give away large sums of their winnings. Whether it’s tithing $100 million to your church, paying off family and friends debts, or giving to non-profit charities, everyone is certain they would be incredibly generous with their winnings, but I’m not sure that’s true. I know why we say it. It feels noble. To not give after winning a billion dollars is selfish and no one wants to be the person who says, “If I won a billion dollars I wouldn’t give any away.” Of course we would give it away, it would be easy, right? I mean who couldn’t part with 100 million when you have a billion?

The problem is greed has never been quantifiable by a certain number. Greed and generosity are conditions of the heart that have nothing to do with amounts. Poor people can be just as greedy as wealthy people, and according to Jesus and the widows penny, generosity is about sacrifice, not an amount. Let me show you how greed keeps you from being as generous as you want to be.

Let’s say you were the lucky winner of the Powerball jackpot and went to pick up your $1.3 billion check. You would be disappointed to find out when you showed up that you didn’t actually win $1.3 billion. If you want the lump sum payout you only won $862 million, still an insane amount of money, right? But before you get to put the check in the bank the IRS informs you they have to take their tax cut off the top so now instead of a check for $1.3 billion like you expected you take home a check for $450 million. I know what you’re thinking, “but Jason what’s the problem, it’s still $450 million!” You’re right, that’s a lot of money, but that’s not the way our brain works. You won’t believe me, but the truth is, by the time you got your $450 million in the bank, as excited as you would be, there would be a disappointed voice in your head. You thought you won $1.3 billion but now before you’ve even got to spend a dime you’ve “lost” 66% of the money.

Before you knew how much the government would take, and the lower amount of the lump sum payout you said to friends, “If I win $1.3 billion, I’ll tithe $100 million to my church. Heck, I would give another $100 million to charities. I mean who couldn’t live on $800 million.” But now you’re looking at a balance of $450 million and the thought of giving away $200 million to churches and charities, scares you just a little. That’s the way greed works. Greed is that little voice in your head that comes up with reasons to not give more no matter what amount of money you make. If I told you, you were going to win $250 million, and the thought of $1.3 billion never crossed your mind, you would be ecstatic about $250 million. But thinking you’ve won $1.3 billion and being “left” with $250 million doesn’t feel the same. At that moment you would begin to do what all of us do, you would start renegotiating the amount you want to give in your mind. You would think, “Well, I mean, my church doesn’t need $100 million. I could just give them $25 million. They would still be grateful. And I could just give $10 or $20 million to charities. That’s still a lot of money.”

The Bible explains it in Luke 16:10

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”

According to Jesus, you will do with $450 million the same things you do with $45,000, because our heart is the same, only the numbers have changed. Do you tithe 10% on a $45,000 salary? If not then you won’t with more money. Do you give 10% of your salary to charities and non-profits now? If not then the chances are high that you won’t after you win the Powerball. The reason is the same. You don’t really make $45,000. After taxes and deductions from your paycheck you take it to the bank and by the time you pay bills and buy the things you want to buy, the thought of giving 10% away either doesn’t sit well or doesn’t seem possible. More money won’t change that mindset.

Generosity has never been about amounts; it’s always been about heart. According to the IRS between 2006-2012 people making over $200,000 gave away 4.6% of their income, while individuals making less than $100,000 gave away 4.5% of their income. The stats prove that generosity is much more about mentality than income.

If you don’t decide giving comes first in your life, there is no amount of money that will change that belief.

Maybe you’re last argument for me would be that a large sum of money would allow you to buy the things you want and give at the same time, that there would be no conflict of interest like you have now at your current income level. My only question for you would be to look at history. The average American makes more money each decade than they did before. Has your giving increased each time you have gotten a raise? Are you more generous at $40,000 than you were at $30,000? If you’re like me, probably not. We all find ways to live up to our income level.

I know it’s insane to think that you would not be responsible or generous with $1.3 billion. I mean after all, who couldn’t survive with all that money? Research shows that 6 out of 10 lottery winners who won $10 million dollars file bankruptcy within five years. How is that possible? Because more money just magnifies who you already are.

Wealth gained quickly will dwindle away, but the one who gathers it little by little will become rich.
– Proverbs 13:11

I can’t promise you will ever win a billion dollars, but I can promise you that if you will be faithful with small amounts of money, God will bless you with more. If you are waiting on more money to change your giving habits you will never become the giver you want to be. You’re right, winning the Lottery wouldn’t change you.