Book Review: Practicing Thankfulness, by Sam Crabtree
Sam Crabtree, Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances. Crossway, 2021. 129 pages.
The last 12 months have provided plenty of opportunity for discontent. A global pandemic, quarantines, natural disasters, social strife, political division—these traumatic events have caused pain, fear, anxiety, anger, doubt, and despair for many. Thankfulness hasn’t come easy.
But God hasn’t left us in the dark about his purposes. His Word tells us that in a fallen world we should expect trouble and trials. Even so, he’s working all things for our good and his glory. He’s proven his love for us at Calvary and defeated our greatest enemies. He’s purchased an eternal inheritance for us and empowered us with his Spirit. And he’s working in every circumstance to make us like Christ and prepare us for glory. That’s good news—good news that’s powerful enough to conquer ungrateful hearts and replace them with thankful ones.
THANKFULNESS: A MARK OF MATURITY
Practicing Thankfulness by Sam Crabtree is a much-needed resource in waging war against discontent. In the opening line Crabtree writes, “Thankfulness is neither trivial nor inconsequential. On this one quality pivots the difference between maturity and immaturity” (11). The rest of his book expands on that point by showing how thankfulness is a fruit of the Spirit that overflows from a heart that rightly understands all Christ is and promises to be for us.
Thankfulness is a mark of faith; birthed out of a humble submission to God’s sovereignty. As Crabtree argues, the presence or absence of thankfulness sets a trajectory for our lives. Thankfulness to God is at the root of our pursuit of holiness while ingratitude towards God lies underneath our idolatries. Thankfulness is a gift of God’s sovereign grace, but also a practice that must be cultivated by Spirit-empowered effort.
What I found particularly challenging is his reminder that believers are called to give thanks for all things, even trials and seasons of life that don’t make sense—seasons like 2020. Yet a theology that acknowledges God’s sovereignty, goodness, wisdom, and purposes over and in suffering empowers us to have thankful hearts, even in difficult days.
A WORTHWHILE RESOURCE FOR ALL, BUT PARTICULARLY PASTORS
Believers at any level of maturity would benefit from a slow, reflective journey through Practicing Thankfulness. I would encourage pastors to pass out a few copies to their congregation.
But let me encourage pastors and ministry leaders in particular to feed their own souls with Crabtree’s lessons and apply the principles in this book to your calling. Pastors, we are called by God to shepherd in both our homes and our churches. Shepherding is slow, often frustrating work. So often we want to microwave disciples to maturity and experience rapid church growth. Sometimes we just want to see some visible fruit from our labor. But God isn’t just sanctifying those under our watch, he is sanctifying us as well. Crabtree has helped me see how the difficulties of ministry, while inviting discontentment, are actually an opportunity for thankfulness.
Practicing Thankfulness challenges pastors to depend joyfully on God in every facet of life and ministry. We have many reasons to be thankful for our small (or large) church. We have reasons to be thankful for the slow (or rapid) spiritual growth in our congregation. We can be thankful for the good (and hard) days shepherding our families. We can be thankful for the immense privilege of being called by God to tend his sheep who are precious to God and empowered by his Spirit—sheep who are sometimes stubborn and bite. We can be thankful that God is working in a million ways to conform us into the image of his Son. If you, like me, want to be more faithful and thankful in your calling Practicing Thankfulness is a good place to start.
12 Helpful Quotes
Everything that afflicts or wounds and traumatizes us . . . is under the total control of a God who is unchangeably for all who are in Christ. (22)
Ingratitude prejudges God before more of the story is revealed. God is not done. He never is. (23)
People who think rightly thank humbly. (28)
In this very moment [God] is using your current set of circumstances as one link in the unbreakable chain of links forged by his unrelenting love and infinite wisdom to accomplish for you the unspeakably valuable privilege of being conformed to the image of his Son. (30)
None of us live the life we would plan. We live the life God planned for us. Above our kitchen sink my wife has a small placard saying, “We plan. God laughs.” (54)
The doorway to joy is opened by putting to death a spirit of entitlement. (56)
People who can envision the most improvements can also become the most negative and critical. (72)
Two things that don’t coexist are whining and being grateful. (73)
Thanksgiving is the antidote to peace-destroying anxiety. (77)
Gratitude is thus a subcategory of a larger thing: worship. Thanksgiving is a form of exaltation, for it exalts the generosity of the giver. (82)
Counting blessings can reorient disoriented hearts. (90)
In the same way that unsavory manure produces savory crops, unsavory adversity and tragedy is productive, producing the good fruit God is aiming to produce in our lives. (91)