The movie The Ultimate Gift tells the story of Jason Stevens, the spoiled grandson of a billionaire who shows up late to his grandfather’s funeral only to collect his share of the inheritance. But Jason discovers his grandfather’s last will and testament includes a series of 12 tasks that he must go through, each containing an important life lesson. At first, Jason resists furiously, but by the end of the movie, he has more than millions, he has a new appreciation for life, friendship, and the meaning of happiness—he has the ultimate gift.

Most of us won’t be giving our children and grandchildren millions of dollars when we pass away. Many of us won’t even be able to give them thousands. But one thing you can do for your children is to teach them lessons about giving, servanthood, and thankfulness. That’s something everyone can afford. All it takes is a little investment of time.

Thanksgiving is a great time to start. Consider these 10 ideas:

1. Fast from a luxury the week before Thanksgiving.

Americans take a lot for granted. We have more material goods than any country in the world. This year, during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, fast from something as a family that you normally take for granted. Choose television, desserts, or even something as basic as pillows. Then break the fast on Thanksgiving Day. Discuss as a family all the things you normally take for granted and give God thanks for all His blessings you enjoy.

2. Donate personal items to charity.

Most children have so many toys that giving away one or two won’t make a dent in the toy box. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).

If your family has an overabundance, ask the children to go through their possessions and find at least one item in good condition to give to a local charity. When children actively participate in the process, they not only learn to be thankful for what they have, but they also receive the opportunity to understand personal sacrifice for the sake of others who are less fortunate.

3. Serve at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.

Prior to Thanksgiving, bring your children to a mission where they can serve the poor. Many churches already have a ministry like this available. Talk to your pastor or church secretary to get contact information, and then ask the mission director about jobs and safety for children. On Thanksgiving Day, discuss your experience.

4. Consider sponsoring a child.

Child sponsorship allows your family to financially support a child in a developing country until he or she becomes self-sufficient. This could be personal support for education or health care or it could also mean contributing to the child’s community development without directly helping an individual.

There are many Christian organizations that can get your family connected with one of these children in extreme poverty. As you tend to the needs of your sponsored child, include the children in the activities, such as writing letters, sending hand-drawn pictures, and praying. Study the country where your sponsored child lives and show pictures to your children that depict the living conditions of third-world countries.

5. Encourage children to serve one another first.

On Thanksgiving Day, ask your children to serve the meal, taking care of everyone else first and themselves last. If your meal is served buffet style, ask the children to serve drinks and fetch forgotten forks and napkins. Jesus said, ” … The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). Asking children to serve one another teaches them to put others first and follow in the footsteps of Christ.

6. Write down five reasons you are thankful for each family member.

Many people list reasons for being thankful on Thanksgiving Day, but this suggestion is focused on the members of your family. Not only does this exercise soften hearts of siblings and family members toward one another, it also brings a lot of encouragement.

One creative way to do this is to have everyone pin a sheet of paper on his or her back, and then tell everyone to walk around the room at the same time, writing nice messages on the sheets. These pieces of paper can be read aloud around the table and/or kept as keepsakes.

7. Have each child prepare something for the Thanksgiving meal.

It’s easy for children to take the Thanksgiving meal for granted. Often Mom and/or Dad slave in the kitchen and dining room, putting everything in order for guests while children run around or watch TV. This year, ask each child to contribute to the meal as a service to the family. Older children can follow recipes and create a special dish, while younger children can stir vegetables, boil noodles, or butter bread.

8. Read Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, by Barbara Rainey, to your children.

This beautiful book, outlining the plight of the Pilgrims, can become a wonderful family tradition in your home during Thanksgiving. It reminds children of God’s provision and the sacrifices of the people who first came to this country and laid the foundation for us all. After reading the book, pray and thank God for all His provisions, including a home to live in, food to eat, cars to drive, and a country where we have the freedom to worship God.

9. Review your own family history.

The Pilgrims weren’t the only ones to lay down their lives in order that the rest of us might have freedom and prosperity. Many of us have a family history full of personal sacrifice. Perhaps your ancestors were immigrants from another country, brought over as slaves, or fought in wars against dangerous enemies. Take out old photo albums and reminisce about the lives of those who have gone before you.

10. Be a living example to your children.

The best way to teach your children to have a heart of thanksgiving and service is to be a living example. The Gospel of John recounts the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. When finished, Jesus said to them, “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (13:13-15).

In the same way Jesus served, serve your spouse with joy, display a manner of gratitude, and live as much like Christ as you can each and every day. Through your example, your children will see what it means to have a true living, breathing relationship with Christ and come to produce fruits of thanksgiving and service of their own.

Copyright © 2007 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.