The fire

Lightning struck my son and wife’s home during the early morning hours of July 4, 2017 – the day they were due to return from the hospital after giving birth to their first child. Theirs was a new marriage, new family, grounded in a hard-earned new starter home. Lightning struck the structure around 3:00 AM. Their home burned to the ground. When my son arrived at the scene, the expression on his face said it all – everything they owned was lost and they would have to start their life anew.

The emotions we felt were an odd mishmash. Feelings of happiness over the birth of my first grandchild combined with feelings of sadness were an odd combination I had never felt before. This emotional confusion would subside quickly though, as the predominant sentiments were redirected from profound sadness to feelings of joy brought out by the kindness of others.

The gifts

What transpired over the next few days was unexpected. Red Cross were the first to show up and provided water, advice, and a bit of money to get the family through the next couple of days. Next to arrive were the Fireman’s Association. They provided more advice and made sure the family would not be without a home.

News media from all four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) ran stories on the fire. Radio stations and print news media also covered the story. In all cases, they asked listeners to assist the family.

Commercial institutions stepped up too. Baylor hospital offered to let the family stay a few extra days until they could make more permanent living arrangements. Joovy baby products contacted the family and ultimately donated a stroller and other baby products. Business professionals contacted the family and offered advice on how to deal with the aftermath of the fire, insurance, and the rebuilding process.

A family member created a GoFundMe drive which generated nearly twenty thousand dollars within days. As I looked through the list of donors, I saw the names of people from locations all around the country. I couldn’t help but notice that many included prayers for the family in their comments.

Friends and neighbors deposited enough gifts at a neighbor’s home to fill a living room. In a particularly touching moment, when my son arrived to pick up the gifts, he noticed a rather worn-looking Teddy Bear. He wondered why someone would donate a toy bear that looked like it was on its last leg. As he picked the bear up to examine it, the neighbor described how a young boy had shown up at the door with the bear telling him that it had been his favorite toy. Knowing the family had lost everything in the fire, the boy wanted the new baby to have it. The child’s unconditional generosity reminded me of Luke 21:1:

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Although the Teddy Bear itself bore little monetary value, this child had given what was most important to him.  Acts such as his produced unimagined feelings of joy in our family. Before long, the feelings of joy grew to a point where they overwhelmed the feelings of sadness and loss. This was without a doubt the greatest gift – and lesson – of all.

Why giving is important

Giving is healthy

Scientifically speaking, researchers have found that donors and volunteers live an average 20% longer than non-donors. Persons who routinely participate in charitable events have been found to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower BMIs. The physical benefits of donating are possible because – charitable acts make people happier.

Donors will develop new, powerful bonds with other people

During charitable works, the donor will find themselves among other donors and volunteers. This intensely joyful environment lends itself to human bonding. Most donors will tell you that during charitable events, they formed profoundly strong bonds with other participants.

“Pay it forward” really works – kindness spreads

Most recipients of charitable works will tell you that the urge to “pay it forward” is strong. The old adage “kindness spreads” is true. The example you set inspires others to follow.

Donation events strengthen communities

Just as charitable work produces powerful bonds between people, it also strengthens bonds within the community and thus, bolsters the community’s infrastructure. Examples of charitable actions that can help strengthen a community include supporting needy community members, improving schools, supporting the community’s youth, and beautifying the community to add value for all.

Charity demonstrates our Christian principles

Charity obeys God’s command and demonstrates our Christian principles. The act of giving shows our trust in God and lets others know that we care and that they matter to us. Taking the initiative to donate shows that we will not sit idly by but rather, will act upon our principles.

Charity produces ancillary benefits

There are a variety of ancillary benefits from giving. The “give until it hurts” principle serves to teach us financial responsibility. Charitable activities look good on a resume and volunteering in an industry you know little about presents the opportunity to develop new skill sets. Most importantly, giving makes a difference. Touching the life of another person can impact them in ways you never imagine.

What the Bible says about charity and giving

The Bible tells us to give

God wants us to give freely and help those in need. Acts 20:35 tells us:

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

While Matthew 5:42 goes even further:

“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

God wants us to give in abundance too. 2 Corinthians 8:7 explains:

“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.”

God promises us that by giving, we will be rewarded. Luke 6:38 tells us:

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Donating to those in need is just like giving to God. Proverbs 19:17 says:

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Why does God want us to give? Because it pleases him. Hebrews 13:15-16 says:

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

The poor are especially worthy of our generosity

The Bible makes it clear that the disadvantaged are especially worthy of our generosity. Deuteronomy 15:7 says:

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”

But we should only give for the right reason, not for notoriety

In Matthew 6:1-2, Jesus tells us to “sound no trumpet before you” when you give to the needy. In other words, charitable works should be done for one reason only – to help the person(s) in need. Does this mean donations should be submitted anonymously? To answer the question, ask yourself “why” do you need to identify yourself. If there’s no specific reason then it’s likely the donation should be made anonymously.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward in full.”

If we give for the right reason, we will be rewarded

There are enough supporting verses to make it clear that God not only wants us to assist the needy, it is a requirement for Christianity. In Matthew 6:3, Jesus continues to emphasize the spirit of giving required of all Christians and reveals that those who comply, will be rewarded:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

How to teach your children to give and instill a charitable attitude

Discuss others’ needs

The easiest way to instill a charitable attitude in a person is to begin lessons at a young age. Start by discussing the needs of others. Explain to them the needs of less-advantaged children or disadvantaged countries. Then explore your own blessings and discuss how the family could share their blessings with others.

Disapprove of selfishness – praise your children when they show generosity

Look for acts of generosity and point them out to your children. When they show generosity, praise them. When they show selfishness, and they will, let them know you disapprove. Remember though, the Bible says, “God loves a cheerful giver” and thus, you should not berate them when they choose not to give. Charitability is a characteristic that can only be developed when the child is willing.

Demonstrate generosity

As with all lessons, children learn best when the message is demonstrated. Start by letting your children help others around the house. Let them see your appreciation when they lend a helping hand. When the child grows older, let them pick a cause or issue that stirs their heart. Assist them with their cause. Then allow them to mentor younger children in the household in the ways of giving.

Here are other ways you can instill a charitable attitude in your children.

  • Invite children into your home and let your child practice sharing with others.
  • Set aside clothing or toys that are not used and explain that they can be given as a gift to someone in need.
  • Adopt a family or child at Christmas through an angel tree charity. Let your child actively participate when choosing the gift.
  • Sponsoring a child from another country is a great way to demonstrate charity. Pin the child’s picture to the refrigerator and discuss the child’s situation from time-to-time.
  • Take your children to volunteer events.
  • Readily show your children the joy that comes from giving.