Ok. Long post here. But it’s been a week and I’ve been working on this one since the SuperBowl.
This fall and winter, the Lord has been providing instruction on contentment. Are you familiar with this verse from 1 Timothy 6?
6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 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.”
God’s instruction began in August when co-workers invited me to participate in the annual football pool. This annual football pool is where you throw-away….I mean throw in $20 for the season and then each week for 17 weeks, you have to pick a winner for each game and rank your picks, putting 1 point on the team you’re least sure about and the highest point value on the team you’re most confident will win. You score the point value you place on the team if that team wins the game.
Anyway, the person with the most points for the week earns some money back from the total pool and the person with the most points overall at the end of the season wins a bunch of money. I’ve played this game in the past, never placing in the top 3 for the season. Well, starting in week 2 of the season back in September, I took an early lead. At week 7 I was still in the lead, up by 2o points and I started to think I could win this thing. However, the excitement about maintaining my lead gave way to pressure and it started giving me headaches. Each week while Lisa and I were out enjoying biking and the fall weather, I was keen on logging onto my phone and getting caught up on the scores. It became a distraction. It took away from the real enjoyment of spending time with Lisa and enjoying my favorite season of the year in Minnesota. I became obsessed with the outcome of every game and every weekly point total. And each week that I maintained my lead over the top 5 people in the pool I would breathe a slight sigh of relief only to begin sweating how to make picks for the next week. And the cycle would begin again.
Lisa asked me if the stress and rise in my already high blood pressure was worth it. I said, “No hon, it’s not. I love football and I’ll always root for the Vikings, but this isn’t as fun as I thought it would be.” She gently asked if I would consider not doing this again. She was right to ask me. But even more than that, I had to admit that the prospect of winning the money was a temptation. “Think about what we could do with that money if I won!” I said. Lisa just looked back at me and said, “Yeah, but is it worth what you’re going through now? I think it’s shortening your life and you don’t even know it.”
I paused on that. True enough, my heart raced on close games and I was experiencing migraine headaches. It seems I had pierced myself with many griefs over the prospect of more money. And we didn’t need the money. In August I joined the pool figuring $20 ÷ 17 weeks = $1.18 per week wagered and the prospect of winning $10 would make all the games more interesting and exciting. But it wasn’t interesting nor exciting, it was nerve-wracking.
I wondered, as I prayed to God, “what could be done about this?” I apologized to Lisa and to God and wondered what good could come from this experience? I asked God to help me keep my mind and heart open to hearing from him. Scripture is a good place to hear his voice and the reminder of this verse from 1 Timothy 6 had my attention.
The answer to my question came from an unusual place. Let me explain. Lisa and I have been reading a book by June Volk, The God Who Answers by Fire – A Jewish Saga that we purchased from the author on Yom Kippur last fall. Keep in mind that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was on September 18th – which was week 2 of the NFL regular season, and that was the weekend I took the lead in the football pool and from there led the entire season.
[As an aside, I wrote about our bike trip that weekend in an earlier post. We planned that adventure with some Jewish friends as a way to celebrate together and enjoy a great meal after the fast. It was because we’d worshipped on Shabbat which freed up our Sunday afternoon with our friends so we could spend time together and learn about Yom Kippur. I didn’t realize that God was going to take me on a learning adventure that would last for 17 weeks.]
Now, returning back to June’s book; we met June when we attended Shabbat service at the Seed of Abraham which is one of the Messianic Jewish congregations in the Twin Cities. Rabbi Rothman had arranged a special Shabbat with June in attendance. (For more on June and her book, check out this YouTube.) June has a chapter in her book where God helps June find contentment with God’s provision. One of the verses in the chapter is Luke 16:10a, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,…”
Lisa and I have been reading chapters from June’s book as our daily devotional and when Lisa read this verse out loud it stuck with me. Now I want to say that the following conversation with the Lord took place in my mind. I didn’t hear a literal voice. Rather it happened as a sense, as urgings, and gentle prompts. I have been working to practice paying attention to this and seek confirmation as I believe a conversational intimacy with God is entirely possible and quite normal. We can talk about that in a separate post.
As I considered June’s story and the verse, I thought about Luke 16 and felt kind of bad because betting the $20 on the football season didn’t seem like a representation of responsibility with a little of the provision that God has given me and Lisa. Especially considering we’d made the decision just a week before to learning about Yom Kippur.
Over the course of time the senses, the urgings and prompting with the Lord went something like this:
[Me thinking about the verse in Luke 16] “Trust? Didn’t I just prove the opposite about myself?” I wondered . “It seems I can’t be trusted with $20.”
God’s prompting resulted in, “It’s not for you.”
[Me: thinking about that revelation] “The football pool money?”
[God’s prompting me again] “Right.”
“Ok. Who’s it for?”, I asked.
[God] “You’ll know”, was the sensation I had.
“What will Lisa think of this?” [Me wondering if Lisa is going to think I’m crackers.]
So about week 14 into the NFL season, the picks were getting tough, and I was still in the lead. Unbelievable. I had actually picked poorly a couple weeks in a row and the lead could’ve changed, but it didn’t. I was ahead by 10 points. That is the outcome of just one game with the wrong points on it; and there were 3 weeks to go. But by this time I had committed to giving the winnings away. So the pressure wasn’t as intense. But I still felt a slight amount of pressure. So I prayed and asked God, “Why do I still feel some anxiety about this?”
I sensed him saying, “Do you trust me?”
[Me] “Oh oh. Is this a trust issue too? Yes God I do.”
[God’s Spirit prompting me] “Put some skin in the game.”
That was the thought. Pony-up. The Day of Atonement was here. Repentance was demonstrating that not only did I not need to win the bet, but that I could go to Lisa and and tell her that I needed to put some of our own money down as a way of acknowledging God’s provision for all that he has provided for us.
So I agreed to put in 10x the amount of the single week that I’d won along the way.
NFL Week 15 arrived: I went up by 20 points!
NFL Week 16: maintained lead by 21 points!
Final NFL Week 17: I won the season by 14 points. God had come through because honestly, I don’t know a thing about betting on sports – which is probably a very good thing. From one week to another, I have no idea what’s going on around the league. I like football, but I don’t study teams or play Fantasy Football or scour injury reports.
Lisa and I prayed together before bed at the end of the season. I said I’m thinking I know what to do with the football pool money, but I need confirmation that it’s the right choice. I asked her to pray about it too and to tell me if anybody came to mind. She did. Later, I told her who I thought the Lord wanted to bless and she looked at me and and smiled. God had promised that I’d know. And now I did.
The beauty in the whole thing was not only how I learned to be faithful with a little, and that I was also to be trusted with much. But the real beauty was that Lisa and I got to be the broken vessels by which he blessed someone else. The recipients of the blessing were surprised and delighted. They thanked us and that’s okay. But I want all our readers to know that God was the one who orchestrated the entire thing. He provided the blessings to our friends, he redeemed my thinking and my attitude. He cured my headaches. He proved he is to be trusted. He did all those things and he allowed Lisa and I to experience the delight and surprise of our friends. We just trusted and obeyed. He did the work. We experienced all the benefits.
Does this sound like a miracle to you? Has God ever turned your thinking around? Has he redeemed one of your poor choices and demonstrated his love to you? Tell us your story in the comments. We’d love to hear it!