It was a fortune. And it took a lifetime to accrue. Each deposit was hard-earned and each gain represented so much more than just the end result. Fortuitous experiences, painful losses, and generous blessings given from both friends and strangers all contributed. Altogether it amassed a treasure that could leave a multigenerational impact, one that could truly change the trajectory of those to come.
The only question was how to pass it down to the next generation as a blessing instead of it becoming a curse. How does one give a lifetime of slowly-built, painfully-earned wealth to a child who cannot fully appreciate what it took to develop it? How can one who has been raised in affluence truly value in one day, six months, or even 18 years what it took 30, 40, or more years to grow?
Just in case an added warning was needed, there are so many examples of those who have done this poorly.
Inherited wealth can be squandered quickly, dwindling down to barely enough to survive–or even reaching total bankruptcy. The prodigal son from Jesus’ parable in Luke 15 exemplified this.
The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son…squandered his estate with loose living. (Luke 15:12-13)
In other cases the inherited wealth will hold stable, but sadly never grows beyond what was first given. This tragic stagnancy is almost worse! As the master in one of Jesus’ other parables chided his lazy servant who had buried his single talent of gold in the ground and later returned it as it was given,
“You wicked, lazy servant! …You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.” (Matt. 25:27)
Wasting an opportunity to do good with what you have is just as immoral as willfully using it for evil.
With those warnings echoing through my head, how do I as a father pass down my wealth to my children such that they truly appreciate it, understand its cost and its value, continue to grow it, and use it for good?
The weight of this burden is magnified because these riches are not merely dollars and cents, property and possessions. Getting this right will impact not only the next decade or the next generation, but ripple into eternity. This is because the inheritance I am most concerned about transferring is a treasure of infinitely greater value than mere finances.
It is a believing faith in Jesus Christ.
How can I share these “riches of faith” in an eternal, good God with my children so they can grow it with interest the rest of their lives?
I write this as one in the midst of the struggle. My children are still a few years from leaving the house, so the results are yet to be seen. Thus we turn to the Scriptures to gain wisdom that is beyond ourselves. Fortunately Moses addressed this very question as he shared his final instructions before the nation of Israel entered the promised land. From Deuteronomy 6 we see two clear, practical principles that apply to passing on both financial and spiritual wealth.
First, discuss it openly and regularly.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says,
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Moses instructed the Israelites to make their faith an open, daily discussion. Explain what the law was and how it related to each day, whether in the morning or the evening, at home or away. It was a regular discussion. Why do we choose to serve and give of our time? What makes God trustworthy for us? How has the Bible proven relevant to our lives? These discussions should be integrated into our daily lives such that our children see, understand, and relate their faith to the life they experience.
In the same way, we ought to talk through and explain our financial decisions, challenges, and impacts. Include your children when crafting the monthly budget, showing how you choose where to say yes and no each month. Share choices when giving to charity and when saying no to financial purchases. These real, personal insights make money more than just a number, and faith more than just a statement in a book.
Second, create shared experiences.
I had described the ocean to my children numerous times in stories, news, and pictures. Yet it was after getting knocked to the ground by the salty foam of the surf during a trip to the Florida coast two years ago that they cemented the visceral memories which will forever impress on them the true meaning of “the ocean.” Moses highlighted the difference between knowing and doing when he continued in vv. 24-25,
The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.
Obeying—doing—together builds lasting memories.
In a few months, my son and I will travel to Haiti to participate in our first international mission trip. Over the next few months we will plan the trip and its expenses, save money and raise funds, travel, serve, and celebrate. Through this process, we will build a shared experience of both financial discipline and spiritual growth, creating memories that may even last a lifetime.
If done right, this rhythm of daily discussions and shared experiences will establish a solid bridge upon which the financial and spiritual wealth will be stewarded securely to the next generation.
A. E. Winship published a study on family legacies in 1900, contrasting the family line of noted Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards against that of Max Jukes, to whom was traced 42 different men in the New York prison system. Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ legacy includes 1 U.S. Vice President, 3 U.S. Senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 1 dean of a law school, 1 dean of a medical school, 30 judges, 60 doctors, 65 professors, 75 military officers, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers, 100 clergymen, and 285 college graduates.
Jukes’ family line, on the other hand, contained 7 murderers, 60 thieves, 190 prostitutes, 150 other convicts, 310 paupers, and 440 who were physically wrecked by addiction to alcohol. Of the 1,200 Jukes descendants that were studied, 300 died prematurely. The financial and spiritual wealth passed on in each family, either for good or for bad, made an impact that was felt for many generations.
Transferring an inheritance of great wealth is a difficult and uncertain endeavor. There is no guarantee of success even with these principles defined, as the history of the nation of Israel will attest. However, if we approach it with care and intentionality, we can truly pass on a wealth that will be a treasure to the next generation.
If we approach it with care and intentionality, we can truly pass on a wealth that will be a treasure to the next generation.