I’ve had conflict most of my life between what I think I want and what I really need. Most people share this conflict with me. That conflict also appears in our children as well. We don’t have to teach them to struggle with determining between wants and needs, because they will do this naturally and, if not, they will learn it from us. As parents we are the primary shapers of our children’s attitudes towards money, things, and desires. Our children will either be “givers” or “takers” in society and that will be greatly influenced by the life they live in our home. How do we raise generous children? How do we help our children (and ultimately ourselves) be people who genuinely enjoy giving to others as the Bible commands us to do?
(When I write about this subject it is important to understand that I’m writing out of good and bad experiences I have had as a dad. I like to put things in lists to make them easy to understand. In a similar post I wrote about How to Raise Godly Children.)
Over the next few posts I will share ten tips which are things I have tried to practice in my own home. It has been amazing to watch as my boys, ages 17 and 20, have developed generous hearts towards others.
1. Have fun and be generous parents. (Within reason, of course.)
The story is told of Jesus and the disciples attending a wedding. The party had been going for a while when something tragic happened. They ran out of wine. That was serious business to the host of the party. It was a cultural “no-no”; a huge embarrassment to run out of food or wine. Jesus took some big barrels of water and turned them into the best wine the people had that night. The people were surprised and said that normally people put the best wine out first and saved the cheap wine for the later part of the party. The Bible says that was the very first miracle Jesus ever did. As culturally important as weddings were in those days, it still sounds like God met a want, rather than a need.
It is very clear that God is not trying to keep us from having what we want or from having fun in life. God is not opposed to blessing us with things we want, but may not even need. We should not be afraid to do the same with our children. If we can afford to, and if our children are living within the boundaries set for our home, we should not be afraid to give them gifts they simply want, but may not even need. (I thought I would start with an easy one first.)
2. Help children understand the difference between a need and a want.
As much as God wants to bless us with wants, if we study the Bible, God seems far more interested in helping fulfill our needs than He does in giving us everything we want. In fact, God never promises to provide our want list, yet He does promise to meet all our needs. (Philippians 4:19) Granted there are some that take verses out of context and teach that God gives us everything we ask for, but that doesn’t line up with the rest of Scripture in my opinion. The problem from a Biblical perspective is that we have a messed up system of determining need verses want. That thing inside us that chooses good over evil, better or best, need verses wants; is broken. Adam and Eve entered a perfect world. They could have had anything they “wanted” except for one tree and yet that was the tree they chose to eat from. (We shouldn’t be too surprised at their decision, because we make choices like that every day.) That sin of rebellion brought about the world in which we live where there are actually things that are harmful for us, yet, because we are in a messed up world, we often want most the things that are not the best for us and we certainly have a hard time determining the difference between a need and a want.
In an eternal sense, at least, an actual need goes beyond just enjoyment for today or even just for me. For something to fall into the category of need, according to the Bible, it would need to provide some lasting value to society or at least to my own character. We can even ask ourselves, does this “thing” benefit someone more than just me? Does it add value to someone’s life or to my own character? For a thing to be a true need in this context it almost becomes something that money cannot buy.
It is understandable why it is difficult to raise children who understand the difference between a need and a want and are generous people when we as parents struggle with the same issues.
I will share more principles in tomorrow’s post. Please feel free to add your own suggestions along the way or ask questions or comments as a comment to each post.