Crabtree, Sam. Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in all Circumstances. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021. 145 pp.
Don’t you love it when you are surprised with a blessing? Rooted in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, my pastors hanged Thankful as the theme-banner over 2021 here at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church. With the theme in place, I began to look for supplemental resources to help our church family grow into thankfulness. Right off the bat, I found a brand-new resource from Sam Crabtree entitled Practicing Thankfulness, a book right on topic by a trusted pastor-author I was eager to read. Not only was I eager to read it, Crossway was eager to let me read it as they graciously granted me a review copy upon request, a surprise blessing indeed!
The aim of Practicing Thankfulness is as straightforward as the title. “I want to encourage you to get on with what you already know is good: practice thankfulness” (13). In the first three chapters, Crabtree explores the rightness and wisdom of gratitude along with the Christ-centered posture of a grateful heart. Chapters four and five contrast the fruit of gratitude with the dangers of ingratitude. Thankfulness in action is the theme of chapter six. Chapters seven through nine relate thankfulness to contentment, wonder, and suffering. The book concludes with chapters on hindrances to thanksgiving, frequently asked questions regarding thankfulness, and a list of 100 ways to be thankful.
Reflecting on texts like Acts 17:25, 1 Corinthians 4:7, and Romans 8:32, which declare that everything we have or will have comes from God, Crabtree posits, “There will never be an end run around his provision. If God doesn’t supply something, we won’t have it” (17). He continues, “God owes us none of this. He never has. Not a thing. All that we have is by grace—undeserved, unearned, and even unsolicited” (18). Here Crabtree fights our entitlement tendencies by laying bare the truth of our lowly estate. This step is vital because our entitlement mentality draws us to grumble against God by pointing us to all the things we “deserve” that God is keeping from us. Entitlement questions God’s goodness. As such, it’s impossible to give thanks to God when all we think about is what good thing he’s holding out on. It’s only when we realize that we’re owed nothing except hell that everything we have can rightly be viewed as a gift from a benevolent giver whose unmerited generosity deserves thanks.
In chapter four, Crabtree describes an entire cluster of fruit that thanksgiving produces in the life of a Christian. “For example, thankfulness liberates from envy. It’s virtually impossible to be envious and thankful simultaneously” (44). “Gratefulness has a sanctifying effect on meals and marriage” according to 1 Timothy 4:3-5 (44). Thanksgiving guards our hearts in Christ according to Colossians 4:2. Studies have demonstrated that growth in gratitude “reduces inner stress and produces peace” (46). Romans 1-2 indicate that thankfulness leads to repentance rather than hardness of heart (46-47). “Thankfulness is energy-giving to the thankful as well as to those around them” according to Proverbs 16:24 (48). “With gratitude, everyone wins. You get more delight in God, God gets more glory from you, and people around you find enjoyment from your words and gestures of appreciation” (43). Simply put, thankfulness is good, and we should practice it, because God has designed blessings and glory to come through it.
In terms of accomplishing the aim of the book, chapter twelve does just that. If the goal is to practice thankfulness, the 100 ways to practice thankfulness help the reader to turn knowledge into action. This chapter is a large—though not exhaustive—thanksgiving “how to” guide.
Critically, I found chapter five on the dangers of ingratitude a strange chapter. The primary danger of thanklessness that Crabtree runs toward is homosexuality. He runs there because “there has been so much discourse in the public square about the roots of homosexuality” in terms of nature vs nurture (60). I agree with Crabtree’s assessment that thanklessness can lead to homosexuality; however, the chapter would have been more robust by focusing on more of ingratitude’s dangers—including eternal death—because there are vast multitudes of ungrateful people who will go down equally treacherous paths besides homosexuality.
Finally, I think there will be pushback over Crabtree’s insistence that we should give thanks for everything, not merely in everything (20-21; cf. Eph. 5:20, 1 Thess. 5:18). While I concur with Crabtree that we should give thanks in everything because God is working everything for the Christian’s good, the moral question is whether we should give thanks for the evil that was chattel slavery, the evil that was the 9/11 terrorist attack, or for any other sinful evil. Crabtree says we should give thanks for it all, but is this what Ephesians 5:20 really means?
On the whole, Practicing Thankfulness is a practical and helpful resource on the goodness and godliness of gratitude. Laymen, pastors, and scholars—in short, the Church—will be edified through this resource. Sam Crabtree, thank you for using your God-given gifts, abilities, and time to serve the Church with this resource, and thank you Crossway for your generosity in providing me a review copy.