Jesus said, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:25). This is the Good News Translation, andit correctly renders the Greek word makarios as happiness.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is freedom from materialism. How? By teaching them to be generous givers who know everything belongs not to them, but to God. And by demonstrating that greater joy is found in giving than keeping.
Giving statistics are bleak. They consistently show that older generations give away a higher percentage of their money than younger ones. We’re failing to teach our children to give, and that failure will both rob them of joy and hinder the work of Christ around the globe.
When our girls were seven and five, I gave each of them three jars labeled “Giving,” “Saving,” and “Spending.” Every time they received money from chores or gifts, they were to put at least ten percent into the giving jar, then distribute the rest between the other jars. Once they put money in the giving Jar, it was untouchable until they gave it to the Lord at church.
When they put money in “Saving,” they could spend it only for something planned. But they were free to transfer money from saving or spending to giving, or from spending to saving.
I’ll never forget the night I explained this system to my daughters. They were so excited they immediately distributed the money they already had between the jars. They used those jars for years. This simple system may have resulted in more financial education than anything else my wife Nanci and I did.
Many of us have become so immersed in our culture that we’ve lost the ability to discern what will—and won’t—count for eternity. But Jesus commanded us to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). We put our treasures in Heaven by giving to build God’s kingdom, not our own.
God entrusts riches to us, not to increase our standard of living, but to increase our standard of giving. When Jesus tells us to store up treasures in Heaven, He’s saying, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”
How can we pass these truths to our children? By example.
Over two decades ago my family began giving away 100 percent of the royalties from my books. When my youngest daughter was a teenager, we rode our bikes into an expensive neighborhood and admired the biggest, most beautiful house. When I saw the selling price, I said, “If we had kept the royalties from the last year and a half, we could pay cash for that house. Do you wish we would’ve done that?”
My daughter laughed. “Dad, it’s just a house!”
Money didn’t have a hold on her. She had learned it all belonged to God, and there was no greater joy than giving it back to Him. Keeping it would have gained us a nice house; giving it gained us an eternal investment.
The more children witness us practicing wise and generous stewardship, the more natural it will seem. If we give generously, save rather than borrow, and spend carefully, we grant our children a wonderful gift—and guard them from financial disaster.
The next generation is growing up amid vast wealth, which many will inherit. Yet most have not learned the habits and joys of giving, saving, and wise spending. If we parents don’t teach our children how to manage God’s money, who will?
If you want your children to develop hearts for God, don’t overlook what Jesus explicitly says will accomplish that: giving. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our duty is clear: “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Some say we shouldn’t require our children to give. That makes no more sense than advising, “Don’t make your children wash their hands before they eat or wear coats when it’s cold.”
Others say, “Giving must be from the heart, not imposed.”
I respond, “But giving—like Bible study, prayer, and witnessing—is a habit, and all good habits can and should be cultivated.” There’s no better way for parents to cultivate giving than by making it one of their family’s standard practices.
In the movie Chariots of Fire, Olympian Eric Liddell says, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” When they give, our children can learn to feel God’s pleasure.
Likewise, we can teach our children how to properly manage money by showing them how we spend it. (If you aren’t spending it wisely, this could motivate you to change!) By the time children are ten—in some cases younger—they’re old enough to learn about the family budget.
Nanci and I occasionally allowed our daughters to spend impulsively. This was difficult. But if we always say no to their unwise decisions, even though children may reluctantly obey, they won’t learn wisdom through firsthand experience.
We must be careful not to bail them out or say, “I guess you learned your lesson, so I’ll get you what you want.” If your child squanders his lunch money, what should you do? Nothing. He must earn more money, use the money he’s saved, or go without lunch. If we don’t interfere with the natural laws of life, mistakes can be our children’s finest teachers.
An alarming number of children growing up in Christian homes are afflicted with the killer disease “affluenza.” Consider a typical Christmas in the U.S. After the annual obstacle course through crowed malls, the big day culminates in a pile of abandoned, unappreciated toys. Far from being thankful, children are often grabby, crabby, and ungrateful—because they’ve been given so much.
Children who grow up getting most of what they want without having to earn it have a predictable future. Odds are they’ll misuse credit, blame others, and believe their family, church, country, and employer—if they have one—owe them.
Nothing will interfere more with our children’s relationship with God—or prevent them from having one—than a life centered on things. Though many parents seem content to leave their children an inheritance, our job is to leave them a legacy of wisdom and generosity they can pass on to future generations.
An eternal impact can result from our acts of faithful stewardship. That’s because we’re stewards, not just of God’s money, but also of the children He entrusts to us.
How can you teach your children the emptiness of materialism in a memorable way? Try taking them to a junkyard or dump. (The lines are short, admission is free, and little boys love it.)
Show them the piles of “treasures” that were formerly expensive presents. Point out things children quarreled about, honesty was sacrificed for, and marriages broke up over. Show them the useless remnants of battered dolls and electronic gadgets.
Explain to them that most of what your family owns will one day end up in a junkyard. Read to them 2 Peter 3:10-14, which tells us that everything in this world will be consumed by fire.
Then ask: “When all that we owned lies broken and useless, what will we have done with our lives that will outlast this world?” Tell your kids you want your life to count for eternity, and that you’re praying they’ll learn with you the Christ-exalting joy of generous and faithful stewardship.
If you can’t get to a dump or junkyard anytime soon, try a thrift store or garage sale—or just lead a safari through your storeroom, closets, or an old toy chest. Point out items that once seemed so desirable but are now abandoned. If that won’t work for you in the next 24 hours, use the following space to make a list (with your child’s help) of at least five possessions your family used to have but no longer does. Talk about why these items are gone. What did they cost? What was their real worth? How could remembering them help you and your child next time you face a buying decision?
*Image used with permission. *