Thanksgiving is a reliable hallmark of maturity in the Lord.
Sam Crabtree’s Practicing Thankfulness makes a significant and important contribution to the literature on spiritual disciplines. He argues that “Thankfulness is neither trivial nor inconsequential. On this quality pivots the difference between maturity and immaturity.”
Gratitude is just right, he writes: “Like a continental divide determining whether adjacent raindrops flow to the Atlantic or the Pacific, gratitude and ingratitude are a dividing line, bringing vastly different outcomes…” He defines gratitude as “the divinely given spiritual ability to see grace, and the corresponding desire to affirm it and its giver as good.” We should give thanks in everything and for everything, Crabtree insists, because God doesn’t waste anything, but works all things together for our good. We are constantly confronted with reasons for giving thanks to God. Every breath, all of creation, everything in and around us comes to us as a gift; we are remiss if we fail to recognize and acknowledge this. We are blessed the more we do.
Thankfulness is good, he argues. “It suits God, and it outfits the worshiper for relating rightly to God and to all of life.” Gratitude leads to wisdom and righteousness. Our ability to give thanks comes from the Lord Jesus, and we should be thankful even for this. The more we give thanks, the more spiritually alive we become. If we’re not grateful and don’t give thanks, our loyalty to God may be suspect. We grow in giving thanks by giving thanks in all things and for all things. He offers plenty of examples – including 100 in the last chapter! – to guide us in being more consistently and sincerely thankful to the Lord. We are happier when we’re grateful, and we are more likely to make others happy as well.
By contrast, ingratitude, and the failure to give thanks, lead to all kinds of spiritual, psychological, and moral dangers, such as Paul outlines in Romans 1.21-32. We need to be diligent and active in giving thanks, because thanksgiving is more than just a feeling or an attitude. It is actually giving thanks to God, speaking our gratitude to Him as often as we may throughout the day. Doing so leads to greater contentment, peace, and joy, and is thus good for us spiritually.
But to develop this discipline, we need to learn to pay more attention to what’s going on around us: “By learning to pay attention—to recognize the vast plenitude that already surrounds us—our alertness and attentiveness will fuel thankfulness, which in turn heightens more wakefulness in a wonderful and satisfying upward spiral.” We need to engage our sense of wonder and marveling at the many gifts of our lavish and generous God. And we need to practice thanksgiving even in midst of suffering, since we know that suffering is not the end, but that God is using even this for our good. God, Crabtree writes, “is producing something through our suffering. He is producing some in us, and he is producing some through us for others.”
The last three chapters deal with hindrances to thanksgiving, basic questions regarding the discipline, and practical ways to nurture the practice of thanksgiving in our daily lives.
This is an important book. By taking up the recommendations and practices outlined here, we may expect to grow in the Lord and to improve in our witness for Him. I found Practicing Thankfulness to be encouraging, convicting, helpful, and hopeful, all at the same time.