Podcast: The Power of Habitual Gratitude (Sam Crabtree)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Practicing Thankfulness in All Seasons

In this episode, Sam Crabtree discusses what the Bible really means when it says to be “thankful always and for everything” in passages like Ephesians 5:20. He explains why the topic of gratitude is actually more foundational to the Christian life than you probably think, offers practical advice for cultivating gratitude in the ups and downs of our everyday lives, and highlights how a belief in God's absolute sovereignty over all things connects to having a thankful heart in all things.

Practicing Thankfulness

Sam Crabtree

Pastor Sam Crabtree surveys the Bible’s teaching on gratitude, demonstrating that every moment is an opportunity to observe, embrace, and appreciate with thankfulness the wondrous workings of God in ordinary life.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

01:32 - Gratitude: The Place Where Life Pivots

Matt Tully
Sam, thank you so much for joining me today on The Crossway Podcast.

Sam Crabtree
The gratitude is from my end, which is especially fitting given the topic. But I really am—from my heart—grateful for this opportunity, hoping that it will really help your listeners—edify them, build them up, equip them—and that God would be pleased. So, thanks for giving me this opportunity, because that’s what my life is for. It’s what he put me on this planet for, and you’re helping me to fulfill his purposes for me. Thanks, Matt.

Matt Tully
Thank you so much. We feel the same way. Speaking of gratitude, in your book you speak of gratitude as the place where life "pivots." That’s a pretty big claim. We all are familiar with gratitude, we all think about it—especially around the Thanksgiving holiday and maybe other big events in our life that are really encouraging and good. But you seem to be raising the prominence of this topic of gratitude and thankfulness. Unpack that for us—how is it the place where life pivots?

Sam Crabtree
Thank you for asking that. You’re very discerning, Matt, in that you’ve picked up on one of the major motivations for me to write this. I’m not just trying to teach our children to say thank you to Grandma for the ugly sweater that she gave them for Christmas. There’s a place for manners and civility and courtesy, but I really do think life pivots around gratitude. Tremper Longman said, "The real difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the former gives thanks to God." I recently was interviewing a Chinese woman for membership at our church here, and she told me that before she was even a believer—before she became a Christian when she was just kind of listening and exploring the possibility—she came to the generalization on her own that the way she could tell Christians from others was that the Christians were grateful. It just overflowed from them. So it’s no surprise that somebody like Elisabeth Elliot would say that the surest indicator of our trust in God is whether we’re habitual complainers, or habitual praisers. That’s like, oh! She just shot me in the heart with an arrow because I’m an American murmurer. I’m a grumbler, a griper; I’m a complainer. On the interstate: Wah, wah, wah! Poor me! About COVID: We’re so sick and tired of being sick and tired! She’s saying that the surest indicator of trust in God is whether we’re a complainer or a praiser. So, I think this pivot that you raised is what thanksgiving, or not, does in our life. It’s an indicator as to whether we are going to be God-trusting or God-accusing. At that given moment, whether I will give thanks or not is the difference between whether or not I will incrementally ratchet it up in maturity, or I will nosedive a bit in immaturity. Small children are not grateful; they’re very demanding from the time they’re born. If you go to the hospital, where babies are born mostly in this country, there’s no baby in that hospital that is saying, Thank you. I’m just so pleased. They’re crying, and they’re not crying about That baby over there is wet or That baby over there is hungry; it’s all Me! Me! Me! I want! I want! I want, and I want it right now! It’s immature. We’re born immature, but we shouldn’t stay immature. At the point of thanksgiving, something happens to me: Am I going to thank God because I trust him, or not thank God? There’s a pivot between humility and a sense of a spirit of entitlement: I have my rights. I’m fed up with this. I don’t deserve this. I think there’s a plague on America with the word "deserve." People think they deserve things and they deserve what they call "justice." You don’t want justice. You want mercy. I think that thankfulness, or not, is the pivot between sweetness or bitterness. People who become old cranks are people who stop being thankful for stuff. And people who are sweet have an ongoing—in fact, a heightened and deepened sense—of appreciation for the fountain and stream of benefits that keep coming to us from God—the showers of blessing that are new every day. I think that the gratitude or not is the pivot between enlarged faith that says, Okay, God’s been good to me, and there’s going to be more good coming; or, hardness. Many, many people are not Christians today. They’re unbelievers, and they’re indicting God because they didn’t find a way to be thankful, trusting God in the difficult situation that they were experiencing at the moment. They maybe asked him for something, and he didn’t grant them their desire. They wanted their mother to survive her cancer or something, and she didn’t. She died, and so they couldn’t trust God that he was doing good even in her passing. If she’s a Christian, she doesn’t want to come back here. He’s still doing good to her; he’s not done with her. If they don’t think that God is doing good and he’s infinitely wise in her passing, or the death of a baby—my wife and I have lost two children—if we don’t think God is wise in that and doing good in that, then we become hardened toward him and hardened towards other people. Another pivot is the difference between wisdom and self-diluted folly. That’s what it says in Romans 1: “They did not retain God in their thoughts nor give thanks to him. Therefore, God gave them over . . . thinking themselves wise they became fools.” That folly, that foolishness, is rooted in the fact that they didn’t give thanks to God when difficult things came into their life. One more contrast that a soul pivots toward or away from based on gratitude is beauty or ugliness. Thankful people are way more attractive than people who are nit-picking and fault-finding and nay-saying and always finding the problem and seeing the things that are wrong. ‘Wasn’t that a good sermon?’ ‘Yeah, well, he left out . . . ’. That kind of failure to appreciate good is ugly. So yes, I am trying to say in this book that thanksgiving is not just a nice little caboose that you put on the end of your manners, but it is right at the core of whether you are moving towards God in faith, or not.

08:59 - The Mark of a Maturing Believer

Matt Tully
One of the things that stands out about what you’ve just said is how theological this topic is. It’s easy to think of it as just a state of mind that I am cultivating personally that is just about my own sense of the world and maybe even my own joy and happiness. But you’re really stressing the theological significance of thankfulness and how it connects to God. I want to get into that in a minute, but one other thing you mentioned early on is how thankfulness is a key marker of what it means to be a Christian. Can you press into that a little bit? We see thankfulness extolled as a virtue among non-Christians as well. Even in the midst of a very capitalistic society where it’s almost cliché at this point to say that we’re constantly encouraged in different ways to be dissatisfied with things; and yet, it seems like there is a lot of respect for the idea of cultivating gratitude and thankfulness. On the other hand, among Christians, I think we all probably would say, Yeah, there are those Christians out there in my life that always seem really thankful, and that really does mark them. But we can all probably think of a lot of other Christians where we would say, Yeah, they’re believers; but they do grumble a lot, and they are constantly comparing themselves to others and are upset. So, how do you reconcile those two things?

Sam Crabtree
I would say that the believer who exhibits a pattern of not being especially grateful has plateaued and maybe shriveled in their growth; and this ought not to be. We should go from milk to meat; we shouldn’t plateau in our spiritual diet. Neither should we plateau in being indifferent or unawake or unappreciative for things toward being appreciative and profoundly grateful and recognizing our utter dependence on God for life and breath and everything else. The fact that you and I can sit upright in our chairs here without drooling all over the place is God at work in us. So, what I would say about the difference between a mature believer and an immature believer is that a thankful believer has thankfulness and gratitude as a pattern of his life. For the unbeliever, I don’t want to make any argument against thanking people. We ought to be thankful to the grocery store clerk and the postman who delivers our mail and everything. I’m all in favor of that. But behind that, theologically, God is at work. The God of ends is also the God of means. If the God of all heaven has determined that I should be nourished in my body by vitamins and minerals and so on, he’s also ordained that I need to pick up my fork and eat it. Similarly, if he’s ordained that I get messages from Crossway, he’s ordained that the postman deliver those messages that come in my mailbox from Crossway. So there’s a God of ends and means. The unbeliever who doesn’t believe there’s a God, and maybe even rejects the idea that there’s a God, his rejection of God doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. It just expresses his blindness. In fact, Romans 1 would argue that he’s not only blind, but he’s suppressing the truth that he does, in fact, know that the God of heaven created everything and his invisible power is manifestly obvious. And so he’s doing some suppressing of that, whether he knows it or not. He might even deny that he’s suppressing the reality that he’s suppressing reality. So, that’s the world we live in. One of the puzzles for me is at the end of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says, “Narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but wide is the gate that leads to destruction and many there be that go therein” (Matt. 7:13–14). I don’t know why God has ordained that that be the ratio. Few find the straight gate; many go down the broad way that leads to destruction. But that’s the world we live in. What I’ve observed on the subject of gratitude in our culture—and I’ll illustrate this through public radio, which I listen to. I have my car tuned to public radio often because of the music mainly. At Thanksgiving time they’ve had different people come on and you can tell that they feel something and they want to put words around what they feel: There’s this national holiday called Thanksgiving, and maybe that’s it—maybe I feel thankful. But they cannot bring themselves to thank someone. That’s what thanks is. You give thanks. You give it. To whom do you give it? You can’t just say, Well, I feel thankful. To me, it’s like an Olympic athlete who is on the balance beam and they get all done and they’ve made their score and you say, What is that event called? And they say, It’s called the balance, and they leave out the beam—the thing that held them up the whole time. There would be no event without the beam. So, I’ve heard different people around the Thanksgiving season say, I just feel thankful for the cornucopia of vegetables, for the seasons

Matt Tully
It’s this general sentiment, but it doesn’t have an object.

Sam Crabtree
That’s right! I feel all these benefits, but I won’t acknowledge the Benefactor—the One who gives the benefits. So, there’s a short circuit there. There’s a failure. Even if they say thank you to the postman and other things, they haven’t gone deep enough. They haven’t gotten to the bottom, that God makes the sun to rise on the good and on the evil; he sends the rain on the just and on the unjust. Until we give God the honor for the sun and the rain and life and breath and everything else, we haven’t yet gotten around to being genuinely grateful to the One who should be honored for all this stuff that he’s doing.

15:59 - Do I Have to Thank God for the Pain in My Life?

Matt Tully
That gets to that theological foundation for gratitude, that ultimately it’s rooted in God and our relationship with him and what he has done for us. I think it’s really easy, for Christians in particular, to say they are thankful to God when he blesses us with good things like a new child, a wedding, a job, or a house—all these kinds of milestone events in our lives that are obvious blessings from God. It’s easy to be grateful to him in those times. But you’re taking it further than that by looking at some passages that would seem to suggest we should be grateful in more than just those positive things. Help us think through that. You’ve already articulated a very high view of God’s sovereignty—that he is, in a very mysterious and real sense, in control over every single thing that happens in our lives—but sometimes I think it can be hard, maybe especially for Christians, to then reconcile that with the question, Does that mean I need to be thanking God and feeling grateful when hard things happen and when he sends pain into my life?

Sam Crabtree
You’re very articulate. In fact, maybe I should be interviewing you about this because you turn a good phrase. My short answer is yes. If God is behind everything and he’s infinitely wise and he’s always good, then he is behind the things that feel painful to me that I didn’t think up and that I don’t want, because I’m not wise enough to be God. It’s not very hard for most believers to fall back to 1 Thessalonians 5:18. It says: “In everything, give thanks.” In everything. I recently had a punctured lung. I don’t know if you can see my gizmo on the screen here—I’m still recovering from some surgery. I can be thankful that I didn’t have two punctured lungs. So that’s in everything, give thanks. That is in the Bible, and it’s a legitimate thing that in a circumstance give God thanks for the stuff you didn’t experience. We have COVID, but not everybody is dying like in the bubonic plague; this is not the Passover where a firstborn is dying in every house; this is not the Spanish flu that killed 500 million—not just a million.

Matt Tully
Is that just the same as looking for a silver lining and thanking God for that? Is it thanking him in everything but not for everything?

Sam Crabtree
I think that is another way to put it. I think that’s well said on your part, but where I want us to go is that the Bible doesn’t restrict itself to 1 Thessalonians 5:18. There is more, and it does say not only “in everything” but “for everything.” In Ephesians 5:20 it says, “always and for everything.” So there’s a double emphasis there. Always—there’s no time when we shouldn’t be thankful. For everything—there’s not a thing that we shouldn’t be thankful for. That really tests our faith and we have to recalibrate our thinking and ask, How can God be good when the baby dies, when there’s a hurricane, when there’s financial loss, when we have a terrible disease, when the church is split? When there’s all kinds of problems that rob us of our sleep and affect our health and fracture our relationships? But it’s very clear that God does not back away from his sovereignty in and through and about everything, without exception. He repeats it in places like 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” So, he’s behind everything. One of the ways that’s helped me to think about this and to bring my heart around to thinking, Okay, God, I can trust you when life is hard—and I haven’t had many of the difficulties that many of your listeners have had, but I’ve had my share of difficulties to be sure—what’s helped me is (James the brother of Jesus points to this, Paul points to this) that all of our suffering, in the hand of God, is productive, without exception. Whenever there is suffering, it’s producing something. In other words, God is never done. When I’m in pain, when I’m suffering, when I am experiencing loss, he’s going somewhere with this loss. For example, I had a punctured lung and I was in the hospital for four days; couldn’t breathe for three days. While I was there, it occurred to me that this is part of what Jesus felt when he was on the cross—he couldn’t breathe. It’s hard to breathe during crucifixion. So, while I’m in the hospital struggling for breath, I was communing with him—the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil. 3:10), we could call it. That’s a benefit I wouldn’t sign up for. I wouldn’t walk up and say, Hey, please puncture my lung so that I can fellowship with Jesus. But, in the infinite wisdom of God, my lung was punctured. He was going to bring me into a dear communion with his Son that I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. He wastes nothing. So here’s what James says in James 1: “Count it all joy”—whoa! Stop right there. Count it—not just that it’s tolerable or, I’ll look for a silver lining in this situation. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know”—that’s the question for Sam Crabtree: Do you know this, Sam? “When you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces”—there’s the word I’m going after here: produces. Those tests of my faith are productive. That’s how the crop is produced, by that plowing work that he’s doing in my heart and in my life. Your faith being tested produces steadfastness, “and let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Most of us would say we would like someday to be perfect; we’d like to be complete; we’d like to be lacking in nothing. But we don’t like the conduit. We don’t like the route to get there, which is all kinds of trials. And God (the God of ends), that I would be complete like Jesus (Christlikeness), is the God of means. And the means he’s going to get me there is through trials. For example, most people would like to be a patient person. The only way to become patient—and I’m not talking about having an intellectual knowledge about patience or being able to write out a dictionary definition or write a dissertation on patience or something, but actually be patient—the only way in this life to become patient is to have something to be impatient about. Or, most people would like to be merciful; they would like to be forgiving. But the only way to be forgiving is to have something to forgive. In fact, to me, that’s one of the explanations of the question, Why would God invent a world in which there was sin? It’s because he’s massively merciful, and there’s no way he could show it if he didn’t invent a universe in which there’s something to forgive. So, we want to be merciful and forgiving, but we don’t want anybody to sin against us; we don’t want anybody to harm us, to do us dirt. Well, I’ve got to be offended by somebody if I’m going to grow in being merciful and forgiving. So the completeness that James is talking about arrives in my life through trials. Paul says the same thing in Romans 5. He says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our suffering”—that’s the same thing that James was saying—“knowing”—same thing James says—“knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope.” Produces, produces, produces. How does all of that productivity come into my life? Suffering. God isn’t wasting my suffering, so I can be thankful. In forty years of pastoring, I’ve interviewed a number of people who have been in very painful situations, very hurtful circumstances. When it’s far enough in the past and I can ask them, Did you gain anything through that intense suffering? The answer has invariably been, Well, yes. Priceless benefits came into my life through the difficulty that I experienced. I don’t want it; I don’t want my loved ones to suffer like I did, but God had good things in store for me when I suffered through that suffering that he appointed. So, there are benefits that come to us from the suffering that God appoints. It doesn’t mean we’re masochists or sadists and we go around trying to hurt ourselves or hurt other people. We don’t. Christians try to fix pain. But in a fallen world, pain is inescapable. There’s just going to be some pain, and until Jesus comes back and makes everything new, what are we going to do with the pain? Well, we need to thank our infinitely wise God for using it to produce. He’s producing Christlikeness in us.

Matt Tully
What does it look like, with that in place, to be thankful in all things, and yet lament difficult, sinful, painful situations that we face?

Sam Crabtree
Most of us would say, I don’t want to be a grumbler like the children of Israel in the wilderness—grousing like Moses and Aaron. We used to have a counseling pastor at our church, Tom Eckblad (he’s now deceased), and I came to him one day and asked this question: How can we just objectively recognize that there’s a lot of misery in our lives without complaining about it? Without batting an eye, he went to Romans 8 where it says, “All creation is groaning in the pains of childbirth together until now,” and we’re groaning with all creation. So if you ask a woman who’s in the middle of childbirth, How’s it going? she’s not going to say, Oh, just great! It’s fun! Can’t wait for the next time! She’s going to say, Owwww! She’s groaning. The Bible also says she doesn’t regret it, and she wouldn’t trade that child later. I think the King James says, “For she hath gotten a man child”—or something like that. She’s saying, It was worth it. If someone came up to her and said, I can remove all your pain, but you don’t get to have the child; what do you want? Do you want the baby, or do you want pain free? Most women would say, I want the baby; it’s worth the pain. So, that’s one way to think about it. We can register that something's not quite right, and it needs to be fixed. That’s why we Christians dig wells because people are suffering; we grow crops because people are suffering; we teach literacy because people are suffering; we build clinics around the world because people are suffering. A friend of mine is performing surgeries now in Egypt—he specializes in cleft palate. It just utterly changes the lives of these children, and a few adults even. We try to fix that suffering. But even in the lives of those who have a cleft palate, God is not wasting that suffering. He’s producing, producing, producing; relentlessly producing stuff—some of which we see, and some of it which is yet to be seen.

28:44 - Balancing Gratitude and Complacency

Matt Tully
That’s a really helpful nuance because I think sometimes we can confuse gratitude and thankfulness, in particular in the midst of difficult trials or suffering, with complacency or apathy or This is the way it is because God ordained it this way, and therefore, I don’t need to—nor should I—do anything to change things. How do you, even personally, figure that out? We’re facing something that we don’t like and that we’re dissatisfied in our life, and we want to be grateful to God for that; and yet, we also know if we should take action. For example, I don’t like my job; should I pursue a different job? How do we balance those things?

Sam Crabtree
When you ask How do you figure that out? don’t assume that I’ve got it all figured out! But I’m taking a stab at it with my life. If I just don’t feel like being grateful, I do take some hope in that I want to feel what I don’t feel. There is a desire to be grateful when I am not. If I don’t even want to be grateful, I probably should be very concerned at that point. But, the person out there who says, I’m not very good at gratefulness, but I want to get better at it—that’s a very good sign that God’s grace is already at work in that person. At that moment—or at any moment—a person can ask God for help: Help me be more grateful. I’m not grateful for this. This is a mess that I’m in right now, and I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It looks like I’m going to carry this problem to the end of my days. There are people in marriages like that, or people with rebellious children like that, or with snarky parents. Ask God for help with your own heart, that he’s not wasting this situation. Second, this is a little more heavy, warn yourself of the consequences. In my own case, I regularly warn myself: Sam, you don’t want to be an old grump, do you? Do you want to be that grumpy old guy, that Ebeneezer Scrooge guy? No, I don’t want to be that guy. Or, consider the prodigal son who took his inheritance for granted. I’ve asked many people about that parable: What do you think his problem was? Some will say, Well, he was greedy, impetuous, immature, or lustful. Jesus tells us twice in that parable what his problem was: he was dead. Even while he was partying, he was dead. When the son turns and comes back, the father says, “My son was dead, but now he’s alive!” When he turned away from the father, he was dead; when he turned toward the father, he was alive. When the father later explains it to the older brother he says, “Your brother was dead, but now he’s alive!” (Luke 15:32) I need to warn myself about deadness in my heart. If I am not grateful and I don’t care—I don’t care if I get grateful—watch it, Sam. Watch it. You’re in a perilous situation there. Then, one of the ways to become grateful is to think about what the Bible calls his wonderful deeds for men. He’s done wonderful deeds. Even in my life, and the lives of those who are in the Bible, he’s done wonderful things. Rehearse those things. Another way to become grateful if I’m not quite grateful—and this is a reason to go to prayer meetings—is to say amen to the gratitude of other people. When somebody else sees some good thing and they say thanks to God for it, I go, Hmm. Good point. Amen to that! God did that good thing. I wasn’t thinking about it; it wasn’t on my mind or my heart, but it is now. So I’m growing in gratitude because I’m spurred on by the gratefulness of other people. Another way is—and you’re asking a good question, Matt—consciously practice it. You can get up in the morning and say, I’m going to do it. We had a student in our church, Brittany McCoy (her maiden name), and incidentally, she was captain of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball team. She made a practice of everyday on her phone she would take a picture of something that she was grateful for. She would send me some of those pictures. That’s a discipline, and you can just decide, I’m going to get up in the morning and I’m going to be grateful for something today. And then you go on the hunt for what it is. So, there are ways that you can grow in gratefulness if you think you’ve plateaued or you’re dry.

33:44 - Making Gratitude a Daily Practice

Matt Tully
That brings us back to the title of the book, which is Practicing Thankfulness. One way to read that is practicing in the sense of just doing it—making it a practice of your life. But the other meaning that we could read into that is practicing in the sense of that slow, hard work of steadily working to improve, and over time, by God’s grace, we’ll be better at being thankful. As you think about your own life, what does it look like for you to practice thankfulness? Get practical. Are there specific things that you do on a regular basis? You mentioned this person that you know who took pictures everyday—are there things like that that have been helpful to you in your own pursuit of thankfulness?

Sam Crabtree
The thing that jumps to my mind first is I try to thank with specificity. I try to thank God for something that I’ve never thanked him for before everyday. For example, I recently had surgery on my shoulder and I was learning from the surgeons as they told me about what they were going to do about these little, tiny ligaments that are in my shoulder that have these big, long Latin names. I had never thanked God for those before. I didn’t know I had them. I didn’t know they were in there. They’re tremendously helpful to me! And he gave me a matching set—one on each side! I’m glad for that because now that the one on this side is no good, the one on this side is doing all the work. Typing on my laptop with one hand only—kind of a hunt and peck thing—a person could complain about that. Or, be thankful that when I lost one hand, God already gave me a back up, and I never asked for it. Well, thank you, Lord, for those little, tiny ligaments that are in there—and I forget the names of them already. When I am asked to pray at a meal, I don’t say, generally, Thank you, Lord, for this food. Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub kind of thing. But, look at what’s there and say, Lord, thank you for those Idaho potatoes that have been mashed and mixed with milk. Thank you for the cows that produced that milk. Thank you for the sun that grew the grass that those cows ate. Try to get into the specifics. If you’ve ever eaten an apple, they’re not just red or green; they have these little subtle stripings, polka dots, and dimples. There’s this little stem on the top—and I marvel at this—all that’s in that apple got there through that little, tiny, skinny stem. God did that, sucking all that stuff in there by photosynthesis—this amazing process that we’re still struggling to understand how in the world it works. God draws up nutrients out of soil and mixes it with air and water and sunshine from 93 million miles away—for our stomachs. This is just amazing. Well, I think it helps my heart to be grateful for what God went through to get that apple to my stomach.

Matt Tully
That’s so helpful. At the end of your book you list 100 ways to be thankful. How did you go about creating that list, and what are a few of your favorite ways that you listed?

Sam Crabtree
Part of it was that I prayed, in writing the book, that God would help me make it practical for people. That it’s not just another product to sit on a shelf, or something like that, but that people would find it useful. I thought in order to make it useful, maybe I should give some practical tips at the end, even though I want to be careful not to create a checklist mentality or a legalism that says, Well, I’ve done all the things on the list, so I must be a good Christian. That’s not the point. Gratitude really comes from the heart. It’s a divinely-given spiritual ability to see grace, and then the corresponding desire welling up in the heart that says, I want to affirm it, and I want to affirm the Giver as good. So, for people who feel that they want to grow in this area but need some jump-starters and something to help them get going, I thought I would put some ideas in the back of the book that maybe they would find helpful. When you practice thankfulness, you—intentionally or not—you shove some negative things out of your life. In Philippians where it says “Let your reasonableness be known to all. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make your requests known. The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” People who are being thankful are not being anxious. You can’t do both at the same time. You can’t be thankful and be envious. You can’t be thankful and be malicious towards someone. Here’s a person who is depressed, and you say to them, Don’t be depressed. That doesn’t work. You can’t just stop being depressed. But you could say to them, Let’s find some things for which you can be thankful. They can do that. You can just decide, I’m going to be thankful. And what happens to the depression? It gets pushed aside, at least for that time that you’re being thankful. So that’s part of what the motivation was, just to create a list for people and you can just do it. You can look in the back of the book and say, I’m going to do some of these.

Matt Tully
That’s so helpful to have a guide. If you’re struggling in this area, to have someone help—as you did, even with that example of the apple—to walk us through all the things that make that thing so incredible and make that a good gift from God. It can be really helpful to have that practical help. What are some of your favorite ones that you listed there?

Sam Crabtree
One of the things I like to do because of the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—I like to affirm lots of people and thank people in writing. One of the things that I do on Wednesday mornings—at least before COVID—when we had printed worship folders—which we don’t pass out now because of the possibility of contagion—I take my worship folder and I have a pen in my pocket or in my hand, and when I see things that are going on in the worship service, or between services, that are so commendable, I just make a little note. I should thank Hannah Smith for playing the chimes so well during that one song. And then on Monday morning when I get to the office, I write a note to Hannah thanking her for all the work that she must have done to rehearse those chimes to make it fit so well in the worship service. By expressing that thankfulness—if I thank Hannah or whomever—it’s usually thank you for doing that in the strength God supplied. In other words, God helped you play those chimes so well. He gets the honor, they get some thanks along the way and they can pass that onto God in their own worship of him. I love doing that, and I think it’s morale-boosting for them, it’s good for the whole climate of the church, it’s good for the people to know that their pastor is affirming stuff that they’re doing and appreciates what’s going on and doesn’t take it for granted. So, I’m a note-writer. I put several notes in the mail today to people.

Matt Tully
So, you write physical notes?

Sam Crabtree
Yes. I do emails too, but I have heard from parents of children who a year later they still have some note that I sent them and it’s sticking on the bulletin board in their bedroom. I hope that that’s uplifting and that that’s why it’s there, that they feel appreciated. I like to appreciate what’s appreciable. I like to commend the commendable.


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