Teaching Children Generosity

Stories can help us teach our children about the values of God’s kingdom. Jesus loved a good story and used them to bring home his lessons. We can use a good story to help our children better understand the contributions they can make to God’s kingdom. The well-known Christmas Carol, “The Little Drummer Boy,” is a fictional story of a young boy who had been asked to go with others to see the newborn king, the Christ-child. The boy was reluctant to accept the invitation because he didn’t have a gift for him. Upon reaching the Christ-child, he asked if he could play his drum as a gift. The song ends by saying the Christ-child smiled at the little boy and his drum. One cannot say whether Katherine Kennicott Davis intended this carol to have any spiritual focus when she wrote it in 1941. But we can certainly appreciate the lessons about giving and generosity found in the lyrics. First, there is an invitation to give, followed by the expectations of the giver, and finally, the acceptance of the gift. This story guides our children to see God’s call to give and discern what opportunities they have to be a blessing to others.

An invitation to give

When we think about generosity and tithing our thoughts tend to center around financial giving. The Mosaic Law guides God’s people in tithing a tenth of their income. The purpose of tithing was to support the Levites (priests) who had no inheritance of land or income from working the land as others did. Therefore, the tithes were to be given to the Levites as payment for their priestly responsibilities and temple service. The Apostle Paul shows that another purpose of tithing is to help those in need. He gives directives to the church for the offering that would support others (1 Corinthians 16).

While scripture has a lot to say about financial giving, it also directs us to demonstrate love and care for the needs of others. There are a wide variety of ways that we can step up to show love for our neighbors. Giving and caring impacts the lives of others and demonstrates the love of God’s kingdom. Yet God applies another aspect to giving by looking inward at the state of our hearts.

“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).

Some of the Corinthian church members may have wanted to give, but were financially unable to do so. Yet there was a willingness to give. We may have limited finances or even limited physical abilities, but God is not looking at what is in our pockets. God is looking at what is in our hearts, and invites us to give in relationship to what we have. We all have time and talents that we can use to serve God’s kingdom. Our children may be small and lacking in resources and experience, but God hears their prayers and Jesus even told the disciples to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. The little drummer boy from the story initially thought he had nothing to give, but being present with Jesus helped him see the importance of giving of himself. While this is a fictional story, it echoes God’s heart for us to just be present and offer our gifts of thanksgiving as an act of worship.

The expectations of the giver

Scripture tells us that when the Magi reached the young child, “they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11b). The little drummer boy could see that he had nothing in comparison to what others were bringing. He was limited by age, income, and his own expectations. He thought he had to match what others were doing to win the king’s favor. Christ taught his disciples a lesson about the mindset of the giver in the story of the widow’s offering:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Luke 12:41-44).

It is not a lesson telling us to give away everything we have. Rather, it teaches us that the amount that we give is not what wins us favor with God. Those throwing in large amounts may have been expecting that their large gifts would win them more favor with God. But God was more moved by the woman who had very little to give and still gave generously. However, there is a difference between the person who cannot give and the one who will not give. It is the willingness to give selflessly that gets God’s attention.

Acceptance of the gift

The song of The Little Drummer Boy ends by saying the Christ-child smiled at him and his drum. It is an implication of acceptance because the little boy gave the best he had. The Levites mentioned earlier had no tithes of their own, but they gave continual service to God and others. God calls us all to give our first fruits--the best that we can offer. When Moses was making excuses about his ability to tell Pharaoh to release God’s people, God asked him what he had in his hand. Then God showed Moses how to use the staff that he was already holding. Again, we are to give according to what we have, not according to what we don’t have. It is the willing heart of obedience that God wants from us.

How are we modeling generosity for our children to emulate? Knowing God honors grateful hearts, how can we create an atmosphere of thankfulness and generosity within our homes? Our challenge may be to consider what unique way of giving is open to us. Even when our financial or physical circumstances don’t allow us to give in the way we would like, what are our opportunities? Rather than feeling that God will only bless us when we do what others are doing, we may need to rethink the resources we do have and help our children recognize their gifts as well. 

God honors the gift of the impoverished widow and the gifts of a child’s prayer. Discern together how your family may give generously from what you have. What has God placed in our hands that we can use to freely give back to Him? May we all learn to give generously from a heart overflowing with thankfulness. The little drummer boy didn’t have the same gifts as the magi, but God smiled over his generous gift.

About the author — Ardella Perry-Osler

Ardella is a writer with a background in teaching and educational leadership. In addition to spending many years in the public and private educational sectors, she is a Sunday School teacher and Christian Education Director. Ardella has also authored Sunday School lessons and devotionals for various publishers. Her first book, Learning to Love Olivia (2012), chronicles Ardella’s experience with her mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s. Ardella is a certified Biblical Counselor and also does volunteer work with young mothers. Her current blog, “I Need a Minute,” is at https://2delanco.wordpress.com/.

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