Column by Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: Is it luck or God at work?


We are told, "Some people have all the luck." The basketball player hits an impossible shot as the buzzer sounds: "What a lucky shot!" Or maybe lots of practice. What about all the times when a player shoots the ball at the buzzer and it bounces off the rim? Bad luck, or just the odds of making a shot from 60 feet away?

Luck, we are told, is really just a matter of probability. A poker player wins four hands in a row. We say, "He's on a lucky streak." The wise player knows no streak lasts forever, the truth behind the classic country song, "You've got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em."

On the other hand, the good things that have happened in my life seem to be too specific to be random acts of chance. When I was a child, riding between my parents in the front seat, a car topped the hill we were climbing, passing another car. The road was under construction. In a split-second decision, my stepfather jerked the wheel to guide our car to the one place on the road that seemed to offer an escape. The other car missed us by less than a foot. In a cloud of dust, my stepfather put the car back onto the pavement. It happened so fast; our hearts did not begin to pound until after the danger had passed. One of my brothers said from the back seat, "We were lucky." My mother replied, "No. We were saved by God."

In my seventh decade of life, I see so much good that cannot be luck. Blessings come that I do not deserve. For starters, my family is better than I deserve. My career as a pastor has been richer, better and more challenging than I could have imagined. I was given a gift for communicating and writing. Yes, I had to develop those gifts, but standing up in front of people does not frighten me. During sermons, an insight will come out of my mouth I never thought of before. "Where did that come from?" my mind inquires. My only answer is "God."

I think about the bigger picture. I did not deserve to be born an American. I am blessed to live in a time and in a country where I am free to think, express myself, disagree with political leaders and not fear retribution. This is rare in history. I did nothing to bring about indoor plumbing or air-conditioning, or electric lighting, but each of these is a blessing I enjoy every day.

On my father's side of the family, the men tend to die young from heart troubles. I'm still here. My cardiologist says my heart is strong. I have some health issues, but I am blessed to live in an age where daily medication helps.

Could it be that much of what we call "luck" is really God at work? Could it be that God is better to you than you even notice? I heard a man say he did not have enough faith to believe in luck. Probability could not account for the good things that come into his life.

You may not feel lucky or blessed. I get that. If we could sit down and you were to tell me your story, I'm sure I would be amazed that you are able to get through a day. But if you would let me, I would also ask you to let me tell you stories of people who have gone through horrific pain and loss and, somehow, still saw God at work.

I might tell you the story of Louie Zamperini, a famous Olympic runner. His plane went down in the Pacific in World War II; he and one other crewmate survived for 47 days with little food or water. He was found by the Japanese, tortured, beaten and mistreated for two years in a POW camp. Released at the end of the war, he returned to California suffering from PTSD, a condition not well understood at the time. To cope, he drank heavily. At the urging of his wife, he attended a Billy Graham Crusade and accepted Christ. The nightmares of his POW days ceased. He spent the rest of his life advocating forgiveness and working with disadvantaged youth.

Hearing his story, there are parts that sound like Louie was unlucky; other parts sound like he was the luckiest man alive. I don't think luck was involved; I think God was at work. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, God was working good in all things, according to his plan for Louie's life.

Pause your life. Ask God to show you where he is at work. It might be in the beauty of the day. It might be in the laugh of your grandson. It might be the promotion you just received. It might be in the tragedy that did not crush you. Open your eyes and see.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at