The tiny church sanctuary where I spent half my childhood had no opening windows or air conditioning. One blistering summer, I remember watching sweat roll down old men's necks and marveling as women folded bulletins into neat accordion fans to cool their faces. The singing melted into a lethargic murmur, and our pastor pressed his hands at his sides when he spoke to hide the wide, wet circles under his arms.
Then one Sunday, we entered the auditorium to feel a cool, pleasant blast that seemed to emanate straight from heaven! High in the center of the room, a ceiling fan whirred. Congregants had already gathered beneath it, awed by its air and questioning its origins. Later, the pastor publicly thanked an anonymous donor for his gift.
"Who do you think it was?" I asked my mom after service, as church members lingered, laughing, in the benevolent breeze.
She smiled and whispered, "It was your dad."
Although the rest of the world has probably forgotten the mysterious arrival of the ceiling fan, I still feel proud when I recall Dad's donation. He didn't have to contribute millions or make the evening news – his small but meaningful act sank deep into my heart and my memory.
"We're living in a material world…" pop star Madonna sang in the 80s. Hairstyles, fashions and music trends have changed since then, but unfortunately, her sentiment remains accurate. What's particularly disturbing is that debt problems are starting earlier than ever before. A bankrate.com article reports:
"Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 now boast the second-highest rate of bankruptcy…. The average credit card debt for this group increased by 55 percent between 1992 and 2001, with the average young adult household now spending approximately 24 percent of its income on debt payments."1
Mounting debt in this country is just one indication that we need a refresher on Jesus' "good and faithful servant" illustration (Matthew 25:14-30) – not just for our own sakes, but for our kids as well.
Many of our money problems (and probably lots of non-financial struggles, too) result from our forgetting whose resources we're managing (Psalm 24:1, James 1:17). Time, talents, skills, and health are all tools on loan to us with the expectation that we'll share them, do good with them, and use them to glorify the Master.
I wish all of my giving could be glitzy, like donating a kidney or volunteering on Extreme Home Makeover. But more often, my contribution probably pays for the church's copy machine ink or toilet paper.
But that's OK. Giving was never intended to be a periodic, only-for-desperate-needs activity. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to tithe (give a tenth of) everything they had. He asked for their firstfruits – the best of their harvest, before they took any for themselves. While tithing isn't a New Testament mandate, it serves as a valuable guideline today, along with these commands and examples:
God also made some bold promises concerning rewards for His good and faithful servants if they would first trust Him to care for them (Malachi 3:10, Deuteronomy 15:10).
I heard about the poor widow's offering (Luke 21:1-3) a hundred times growing up, but it was never as real, or visible, as the ceiling fan. According to Deborah Spaide, author of Teaching Your Kids to Care: How to Discover and Develop the Spirit of Charity in Your Children, the most empowering giving experiences for kids involve the tangible. She says simply collecting coins is less satisfying because "it requires too much abstraction for kids to imagine the money turning into biscuits for hungry children."
You know your kids are watching – so start involving them in your benevolence and teaching them to be cheerful givers. Don't know where to begin? Sites like learningtogive.org suggest: