How were you taught about money when you were a child?
I wasn’t taught much beyond pocket money and tithing. Most of my financial education came later through hard experience.
But there was one lesson I will never forget.
I was at a leadership conference many years ago. The speaker began by asking us if we knew the difference between fruit and trees.
Well, duh. Of course we did.
“You can’t eat trees, but you can eat fruit,” he continued. “And fruit grow on trees.”
Ookay. Thanks for that.
Having laid his horticultural foundation, the speaker began peppering us with questions:
“A nice pair of shoes. Are they fruit or trees?”
“A romantic weekend away – fruit or tree?”
“An online business – fruit or tree?”
Eventually we got the picture. Trees were things that make money (eg: investments); fruit were things that cost money (eg: shoes and holidays).
Once we understood this, we were able to respond to his questions:
He would ask, “A nice restaurant dinner?” and we would shout back, “Fruit!”
Or he might say, “a lawn-mowing business” or “a rental property” or “shares” and we’d reply “Trees!”
Then the punchline: “If you want to eat fruit, you have to plant trees.”
Trees before fruit
I have never forgotten the fruit and trees speech, and I have shared it many times over the years. It’s a simple picture of sowing and reaping that comes straight out of the Bible.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were good for food. (Gen. 2:8-9)
When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it was full of trees that were good for food.
Do you see?
If God had provided a few shopping trolleys of fruit, they would’ve eaten well for a week or two and then starved. But God planted all kinds of trees so they would have fruit for years to come, for themselves and their children.
Here’s another verse that says the same thing in a different way:
Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house. (Pro. 24:27)
This makes perfect sense to anyone raised in a farming community. Fields earn money; houses cost money. So take care of your fields first.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons why many in the church have a poverty mindset is because we’ve been taught bad financial habits. Instead of hearing about planting trees and sowing fields, we’ve been told the offering basket is a magic wishing well. Throw your money in and you’ll receive back 30-, 60-, 100-fold or more.
And that’s just one of several bad habits we hear about in church.
This is not the place where I talk about giving, except to say you can’t give what you don’t have. Before you give you have to receive and one of the ways we do that is by planting trees.
Historically, the church has emphasized giving more than receiving and this may be why so many in the church are poor.
How do we change that mindset? It starts with our kids.
Here’s what we do in our house. Every fortnight, my children sit down in front of me and I pay them for doing their chores. It’s basically pocket money. The amount stays the same each time. But we want them to feel that they have earned it.
Each kid has three jars labelled Give, Save, and Spend. After I hand them their money, they divide it up into the jars. They can divide their money anyway they like – it’s their money – but usually a third goes into each jar. It’s a tactile experience that is repeated every fortnight, 26 times a year.
What do they do with the money in their Save jar?
I don’t really expect them to buy shares or a lawn-mowing business, but I do want to instill into their young minds the principle of deferred gratification.
One of my daughters just bought herself an iPad, a purchase which would have been impossible without the diligence of saving. She’s a budding artist and she is using the iPad to develop her talent. I think that’s a great investment.
What do they do with the money in their Give jar?
We’re fairly loose on the rules but the deal is they have to give to those in need without any expectation of return. They can put the money in the offering basket or sponsor someone on the 40 Hour Famine. Sometimes they’ll go shopping with their Mum for food which goes into local food banks for the poor.
And what do they do with their Spend jar?
They’re kids. What do you think they do?
The God of trees
I want my children to think like farmers, because we are all farmers. It might surprise you to hear me say this but it’s true: We are all sowing and reaping all the time. It’s a fact of life.
Sidebar: How does this relate to grace? Grace says you get to reap what someone else sowed, but nobody ever reaps unless someone first sows.
The Give, Save, Spend concept has been around a while. The three jars were not my idea. But they serve as a good way of teaching our children about a giving God who created an earth filled with good things.
Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them.” (Gen 1:11)
Our God is a God of trees, by which I mean he filled the earth with fruit-bearing trees so that we might be fed and learn a few things about how to take care of ourselves. The trees came first.
But our world is a world obsessed with fruit, and the message we often hear is “fruit come first.” Buy now, pay later. No money down. Extend your credit limit.
Which comes first: fruit or trees? You decide.
The world’s way leads to debt and poverty, but God’s way leads to abundance and a rich inheritance for our children.
I am thankful to patrons on Patreon for providing feedback on an earlier draft of this article. Patrons are sowers who have invested into this ministry. They keep this website free and enable me to give away thousands of books to leaders everywhere. Patrons rock!