When I was old enough to start receiving an allowance, my parents pulled out three ceramic jars and placed them on the kitchen counter. I’ll never forget what they looked like—a cream colored based with pastel grapes painted around the sides and top. They were standard 90’s kitchen décor, but they weren’t for holding baked goods. The first jar was for tithing, the second was for saving, and the third was for spending.
Those jars were one of the first lessons my parents taught me about finances and generosity. “Giving” was a principle they wove into their parenting, and into their marriage as well. From day one of their lives together, my parents believed in giving generously, both to the church and other good causes. They did this out of the conviction that what we have is not actually ours; it all belongs to God. They believed—and still believe—that we are merely stewards of God’s generosity, so they gave out of what they had, even when they didn’t have much to give.
My dad was fond of saying that Jesus spoke more about money than almost anything else. I don’t know if that statistic is precise, but Jesus did talk about money a lot. In the gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus spoke of money, treasure, or giving over twenty different times. He talked about loans (5:42), financial priorities (6:19-21), money and worry (6:25-34), taxes (17:24-27), wealth (19:23-26), investment (25:14-30), and the list goes on.
Jesus never shied away from talking about finances. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry always stands out to me, because it’s such a contrast with most churches today. With the exception of false teachers who take advantage of people, most pastors I know actually hate to talk about money. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a sermon on giving qualified with this statement: “If this is your first time at our church, I PROMISE we don’t talk about money all the time!” The topic makes us all a bit squirmy.
But not Jesus. He faced the subject head on. He knew there was almost no better measurement of our priorities than our finances. He knew that money is one of the things we are most likely to serve, and cling to, instead of God. That’s one of the reasons pastors don’t like to talk about finances—people get irritable. They push back. They don’t want to be told what to do with their hard-earned things.
And yet, Jesus brings it up again and again. He forces us to think carefully about our possessions and whether they are really ours. He asks us whether we own our stuff, or if our stuff owns us. It’s a question that not only shapes the way we think about our finances, but the way we think about parenting.
One of my parents’ greatest legacies in my life is that of generosity. Not only did they teach me to give, but they taught me how. Like always tithing first. At the beginning of the month, before I spend my money on anything else, I tithe. That way, I don’t get to the end of the month and have nothing left to give. That way, I also plan my budget around my tithe. The tithe doesn’t come out of what’s leftover, but is the first thing I give back to God.
My parents also taught us to put extra cushion in our budget for “unexpected generosity.” If a need arises in our community, we want to have the financial margin to help.
Of course, the most powerful message my parents communicated was their own example. They knew they couldn’t teach us to be generous if they weren’t generous themselves. Now that I have my own children, I think about that a lot. My kids aren’t quite old enough to receive an allowance, but my husband and I decided early on to write generosity into our marriage and family. We don’t have much, but we give what we have, and we give it gladly. It’s not ours, after all.
Even though my boys aren’t old enough for the conversation, I am already praying God will shape my heart in this area. One day my kids will notice how I spend my money and what my priorities are. They will notice what brings me joy and what makes me worry. They will notice how I sacrifice—or how I don’t. So I want my message to bear up. I hope God will make me the kind of parent who can look her child in the eyes and say with some sort of credibility, “Where your treasure is, there your heart lies also. Let’s be a family whose greatest treasures look nothing like the world’s.”