“Mine! It’s mine!” What parent hasn’t heard these words? We human beings, it seems, are naturally wired to hoard and grasp after the things we set our hearts on.
The Bible tells a different story: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world all who live in it” (Psalm. 24:1). Our time, treasures, and talents do not belong to us but to God. This means that parents have an important responsibility to teach our children what it means to be good stewards of all that God has given.
Though there are a variety of perspectives on whether the Old Testament principle of tithing (see Lev. 27:30, Deut. 14:22-29, Mal. 3:10) still applies to Christians, the New Testament clearly calls God’s people to be generous with what they have (2 Cor. 8:1-15, 1 Tim. 6:17-19). How do we teach this to our children?
I’d suggest a few basic tasks that can help develop a generous spirit in our families:
In a materialistic culture, advertisers constantly bombard our children with the message that they “deserve” more than what they have now. Take time each day to identify three or four things that they are thankful for – dollhouse furniture, Legos, the food on the table. Then teach them to say “thank you” to God and to others for what they’ve been given.
Giving of ourselves is not natural. Young children need to be taught how to give to others. Find a service project that you can do as a family, even something like washing toys in the nursery at church, and talk about how to give back from the time or treasure God has given you.
If you’re looking for hands-on ways to model generosity for your children, identify a cause you can pray for and support together. Christmas is an especially good time to do this, as projects like Operation Christmas Child or other organizations’ gift programs provide an opportunity to practice giving to those who are less fortunate. But any time of year is appropriate to start sponsoring a child through an organization like Compassion International or World Vision, to fight world hunger or stop the spread of disease. Take time with whatever cause you support to discuss as a family how your service is an act of stewardship of what God has given.
On their fifth birthday, my wife and I have given our children a giving bank to help them begin to understand that their money doesn’t belong only to them. With each allowance or birthday gift, we help them divide what they receive into savings, spending, and church. You may also want to allow your children to participate in the offering during a worship service: first with your money, then as appropriate with their own.
A while back, my church began a fund-raising campaign for a building project. One Sunday morning, the deacons discovered an envelope with a dollar bill and a handwritten note. In the note, a parent explained that as their family had discussed the church project after dinner, their daughter had grown so excited that she went to her room and came back with a dollar from her piggy bank, exclaiming, “If the church is doing something so exciting, then I want to be a part of it too.”
The amount of our children’s gifts may not be large. But we don’t have to wait until their gifts are significant in the world’s eyes to teach them the importance of a generous heart through which God does his own work (Luke 21:1-4). God has given us an infinitely great gift in the person of his Son, Jesus. He did not hoard heaven for himself, but offered all of himself for us. It’s never too early to begin teaching our children to respond with thanks and generosity to that greatest of all gifts.