Teaching Our Children to Have Thankful Hearts

In 2013, I was less than twelve months into my new role as an associate pastor, when our children’s director resigned. Eventually, our church would make a new hire, but in the interim, those responsibilities were given to me. I didn’t feel incredibly thankful. In truth, I was overwhelmed.

Sure, I was a father of three young children and had written preschool Bible curriculum, but I had never been a children’s pastor. In addition to my associate pastor responsibilities, this new assignment felt like a dive into the deep end of the pool.

Additionally, the church leadership wanted me to not only maintain the ministry to children, but also to improve it. The children’s ministry hallway needed repairing and refreshing. New check-in procedures also needed to be designed, and on top of all that a new vision needed to be crafted.

Within weeks, an amazing team of people, armed with tools, paintbrushes, and new signage, were updating the children’s ministry hallway. At the same time, I was recruiting new leaders and trying to capture the key elements in our vision for ministry to the next generation.

One morning, I sat down at my laptop and tried to articulate what the Lord had been teaching me as a father, pastor, and curriculum writer. The principles aimed to connect, to pull together, what often times sin will separate. (Afterall, doesn’t sin drive a wedge between what God intended to unify? Sin divides God and people, divides people from each other, and divides the harmony between humans and the natural and spiritual worlds.)

By the end of the day, one part of the new Kids Connection vision sounded something like this.

Each week we seek to bring together the following elements which sin tends to push apart. We are all about . . .

Connecting God to Life

Every toy, snack, and game serves as a magnifying glass through which to behold God’s glory. Therefore, we want our children to see God’s hand in every area of life: snack time, strong muscles, warm air, cool water, fingers and toes, bright colors, weather, family members, etc. We must intentionally seek to connect God with all of life. (Psalm 145:4)

This principle of connecting God to all of life is the source of the gratitude we all need to cultivate. And it is vital that every generation—including the next generation—come to see the connection between the Creator and his creation.

God is good and he made his world good as well. Unbelievers shut their eyes to the Source of the world they live in (Romans 1:21). But God intends his people to enjoy what he’s made, to recognize why they enjoy it (i.e., because he made it), and to give him thanks.

Cultivating a heart of gratitude requires eyes that see the connection that exists between the things we enjoy and the God who gave them. God created all things for us to enjoy (1 Timothy 4:4), and he wants us to acknowledge him and give him thanks (Romans 1:14).

If children (and adults) grow to see the beauty and glory of God as it’s displayed in the world he has made, then they will learn to enjoy the gift, and give thanks the Giver (Psalm 147:7–8; Matthew 8:6–8).

In his essay, “Meditations in a Tool Shed” (originally published in The Coventry Evening Telegraph on July 17, 1945), C. S. Lewis compared this truth to a beam of sunlight streaming through a crack in the wall of a dark tool shed. He observed that you can look at the beam of light itself. Or you can let your eyes trace the light to its source: “Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.”

That’s what we need to do ourselves and also to encourage in our children—to look along the beam to see the Creator and appreciate all that he has given us. Here are six ways to help your child see the connections between the Creator and creation, and to cultivate a heart of thankfulness:

1. Take a “praise pause.”

With your child, stop at various times in the day and give ten seconds of thanks and praise to God for something you’ve seen and enjoyed or admired.

2. Ask “Who made that?”

When you see your child doing something enjoyable (playing, eating, singing, laughing), ask them who made the thing or activity they’re enjoying? (“Who made your leg muscles for running?” “Who made the ice cream so good?”)

3. Create thank-you notes.

Work with your child to make crafts or art projects that compliment neighbors, friends, or family—and thank God for specific things about them.

4. Use a thank-you string.

Take a length of light-colored yarn or string for your child to hold up and connect to various objects that God made. Then, like the streams of light in this book, children can “see” that God made everything and give thanks.

5. Teach “beside” prayers.

For example, we often give thanks for our food, but what about the items all around the meal? Help your children say thank you for forks, plates, tables, water, etc.

6. Teach your children to be thankful they are forgiven.

It’s so important to remind your children that we will all fail in being thankful, but because of Jesus’s sacrifice for us, we can be forgiven as soon as we ask. Even on a bad day (or maybe especially on a bad day!), all who love Jesus can be thankful for forgiveness and eternal life.


Why Do We Say Thank You Frontcover 1

Why Do We Say Thank You?: Learning to be Grateful

From the moment he wakes up, the young boy complains about everything. The sun is too bright, his pancakes are icky, and everything is so terribly boring. He can’t see why everyone else is having such a wonderful time—until his eyes are opened to the wonder of God’s world. Now he begins to see all the great things he’s missed and learns to be grateful.

About the author

Champ Thornton

Champ Thornton, PhD, and his wife, Robben, live in Newark, Delaware and enjoy being parents to three energetic children. He is the host of "In the Word, On the Go," a ten-minute podcast for families and is the author of several books, including Radically Different, The Radical Book for Kids, Pass It On: A Proverbs Journal for the Next Generation, Why Do We Say Goodnight?, Wonders of HIs Love, The Serpent Slayer and the Scroll of Riddles, and Why Do We Say Thank You?.

1 Comment

  • Hi Champ,
    Thank you so much for yet another great book! I am thankful to God for your !ministry.
    I am thankful to have had you and your family in my life for 10 years.
    May The Lord Bless You and yours this Christmas season !
    Blessings
    Shirley Wine

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