James Holzhauer, current Jeopardy champion, has won 26 straight games and has earned almost $2 million, and depending on who you listen to he is ruining Jeopardy. How’s he doing this? He answers, this is going to blow your mind, he answers the questions that are worth more money first. If you’ve watched Jeopardy, most people start with the easy questions and work their way up, Holzhauer begins with the hardest questions that are worth the most money. And then once he’s built up a lead, instead of completing columns at a time like most players do, he jumps around hunting for Daily Doubles. And when he finds them, get this, he places big bets. He has tapped into something I’ve always believed about Jeopardy, now keep in mind that he’s a professional gambler and my great-grandfather died homeless from losing his house payment in a poker game so I have what they call a predisposition, but here’s the idea: second place doesn’t make any money. People play Jeopardy like the money is real, it is not real unless you win. Lose by $1 or $100,000 you’re still going home with a lifetime supply of off brand shampoo. Holzhauer bets like the money isn’t real, and at some point he’s gonna get a question wrong and it will cost him, but for right now he’s made so much that there’s a legitimate fear that the show’s prize budget is going to run out, they may not have the money to pay him.
The way he’s playing Jeopardy is part of a larger trend in all kinds of things, its part of the rise of analytics. If you’ve watched a baseball game recently you’ve probably noticed that people don’t play like they once did. Everyone is swinging for the fences every time up, that’s because people ran the math and realized that a slim chance at a homerun is more likely to score you a run than a higher chance at a single because there are fewer variables. If you’ve watched a basketball game lately, particularly in the NBA, you’ve noticed that nobody shoots a mid-range jumper anymore. Its all three pointers. The reason for that is, three is more than two. And it is more efficient over the long run to hit 35% of a bunch of three point shots than 50% of a similar number of two point shots. You see it in football too, teams don’t run the ball as often because pass plays get bigger chunks of yardage.
Those are relatively new things in the world of sports and game shows, but they point to a pretty basic reality of humans, we give “more” the most value. We associate “more” with better. One of the standards of brain development in children is at what point they can comprehend that one $10 bill is worth more than five $1 bill. We are programmed in our sub-conscious to believe that more is better. We are programmed, on a sub-conscious level, to underestimate the power of one.
I’m going to keep beating you over the head with these numbers until they’re replaying in your dreams at night: only 8% of Americans have one spiritual conversation a week, only 15% have them once a month, three-fourths of American Christians have fewer than ten of those conversations a year, we’ve talked about some of the reasons for that, today we’re gonna look at another potential reason, we underestimate the power of one. What good could our spiritual conversation do in the grand scheme of things? What’s one prayer for one person? Why should we get worried about things like that, surely there are more effective and efficient ways to spread the kingdom? Why waste our time on this idea of one? Because when one is valuable enough nothing else matters.
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like if a merchant was walking along, leading his caravan full of wares, loaded down with valuable objects, and then he saw a pearl. One pearl. A single, tiny pearl, but it was a pearl of great value. Pearls were the most valuable gems (for lack of a better word) of this day, they had discovered diamonds but diamonds aren’t common to the Middle East or Europe so they were too rare to have value, pearls had that association with wealth and significance in those days. One of the signs of Cleopatra’s wealth was that she possessed two pearls, one of which was valued at the equivalent of $3 million dollars today. The kingdom of heaven is like if a merchant was walking along with all his wealth with him and saw pearl of great value. Immediately he would go and sell everything he had so that he could have that pearl. Because when one is valuable enough nothing else matters.
One of the things I talk about when I do weddings is how crazy wedding vows are if you think about it, how counter cultural they can be, particularly that one part about forsaking all others. That doesn’t really make sense, in a world with 6 billion people we’re going to promise to ignore all except one? That’s not logical, that’s not efficient, but when one is valuable enough nothing else matters.
How valuable is one to God? Jesus tells us in Luke 15 that one is so valuable that God is like a shepherd who has a flock of one hundred sheep and discovers one is missing. And instead of doing the math (99 > 1) he leaves the flock behind to go find it. The analytics nerds would have a fit over that. That’s not effective use of time or resources. But he will search and search until he finds that one sheep.
How valuable is one to God? Its like if a woman has ten pieces of silver and misplaces one of them. Instead of putting the other nine in a IRA so that they’ll make up the loss of the one after few months she turns the house upside down to figure out where it went. And then when she finds it, does she do something responsible with it then? No, she throws a party, probably spending more than the one piece of silver to do it. She invites everyone over because she has found that one coin.
How valuable is one to God? Its like if a man had two sons and one of them said “Dad, I’m done with you. I want out. Give me inheritance now, I’m hitting the road.” And every day, every day, when he could be out in the field working to make up the loss from where he gave the son that wealth, when he could have been having more kids to make up for the loss, when he could have been doing any number things with his time, he was standing on his front porch looking down the road, hoping that he’d see his son coming up the road.
How valuable is one to God? It is infinitely valuable. God doesn’t play the analytics game. God doesn’t look and the scales and make the calm, rational decision. Each and every one of us is infinitely valuable to God. Some of us need to be reminded of that. In a world that measures value on what we can do for it, in relationships where people use us and aren’t there when we need them, in the face of circumstance after circumstance that tells us we don’t matter, we are infinitely valuable to God. For God so love the world, the whole world, each and every one in the world, he sent his only son. That whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life. How valuable is one to God? There’s nothing more valuable.
How valuable is one to us? If God puts so much value on the power of one how can we brush it aside. Phillip met Jesus, and he was so moved by what he heard and he loved his brother Nathanial so much, that when he saw Jesus was leaving he had to run get his brother. Ignoring that he got made fun of, ignoring whatever else they were supposed to do that day, he had to bring that one person to Jesus. Because he knew it would change his life.
When I was fifteen years old I was at an FCA retreat at Garden City Beach in SC. One of my bunkmates was a guy named David. David was at Camden Military Academy, he got sent there from Detroit after he was arrested for assaulting him mom when she tried to stop him from stealing money from her to buy drugs. At Camden David was introduced to Jesus. And one night during worship he walked over to me, and he grabbed me in a hug, and I tried to push him off but he was like 6’4 230 so it didn’t work, and he said “God, thank you for what you’ve done in my life. I hope you’ll do it for Andrew too.” He didn’t know anything about me or my struggles or what had led me to that point, but he knew the power of one. That prayer changed my life. That prayer showed me that faith was more than something people talked about and made me want it. How valuable is one? If you’re the person on the other side it’s the most valuable thing there is.