How Thankfulness Pivots Our Souls
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How can we give thanks in the midst of hard things? Pastor and author Sam Crabtree talks about how practicing thankfulness helps us see with fresh eyes.
How Thankfulness Pivots Our Souls
Bob: What’s your mood today?—are you encouraged?—are you discouraged?—depressed?—anxious? Sam Crabtree says there’s a link between your mood and what I’ll call your GQ/your Gratitude Quotient.
Sam: You can’t just tell yourself, “Well, don’t be depressed today.” That’ll get a person nowhere. But you can decide, “I’m going to find something for which I can give thanks today.” It’s hard to be envious and thankful, depressed and thankful, outraged and thankful; it’s nearly impossible.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 18th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Gratitude, as it turns out, is a pretty big deal for you and for your children as you raise them. We’re going to talk about that today with Sam Crabtree. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know that I ever stopped to think about this until I was getting ready for the conversation we’re going to have today. I have always thought of gratitude/thankfulness as a good character quality. It’s something you want to teach your kids—to be grateful—right?
Bob: It’s something—that people who lack gratitude—you don’t like hanging around them.
Dave: I’m trying to figure out where you’re going to go with that, because that’s true!—no question. [Laughter]
Bob: I have come to realize, in getting ready and reading the book we’re going to talk about today, that gratitude is not just a nice add-on, like hot fudge you put on top of the ice cream; it’s more critical/more essential to who we are and how we live before God than that.
Dave: I would agree. I think you’re going to say, and we’re going to find out today, it’s at the root of happiness.
Dave: I do. Everybody wants to be happy.
Ann: Well, and I think it’s easy to be happy and grateful when things are going well/are easy; but it’s not quite as easy when things aren’t.
Bob: Well, Sam Crabtree is joining us, again, on FamilyLife Today. We are always glad when we can spend time with Sam. Sam, welcome back.
Sam: It’s such a pleasure to hobnob with you guys. [Laughter]
Ann: Yay, Sam!
Bob: Sam is an author; he’s a speaker; he is a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis; has just written a book called Practicing Thankfulness. I’m if you had a sense of how significant gratitude is before you really got into praying through, and studying, and researching for this book.
Sam: Yes, I did have a sense; but that sense gets enlarged as you write about something, as you dig into it, and you peel back some layers. You find out, “Wow, this goes deeper; it goes farther; this is more significant than I thought, even though I started out thinking it was quite significant.” So yes, there’s more to this than I first thought.
Ann: Sam, why this topic?
Sam: there was a guy named Peter Olney, who was in our small group that meets in our home. He said, “Sam, I have the next book you should write: Practicing Thankfulness.” You know, “Hahahaha; thanks for the idea.”
But as I thought about it: “Yes, he saw something in the way I tried to interact with people in our congregation that he thought was a pattern that came out of something that I was seeing in the way God has designed the universe and who God is.” The more I thought about it, the more I thought, “Peter, I think you’re right. I think that’s a book-length project that would be worthwhile for people’s edification; and to increase their delight in God; and for God to get more honor from these people, who are increasingly grateful to Him for all that He’s doing.”
Dave: So he saw this in you.
Dave: I mean, a person that practices thankfulness.
Ann: is why we all want to hang out with Sam. [Laughter]
Sam: Thank you! [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, some would say, “Well, it’s just the demeanor. That’s just the way a person’s wired.” Is it, or is it bigger than that?
Sam: Well, I think there is something to that. There is an array of personalities that God has given in the world, so that it’s easier for some people to be certain ways than for others to be those same certain ways. Nevertheless, the ability to see what God is doing is a divine gift. You have to be alive, spiritually, to be thankful to God for what God is doing.
This is how explained the problem with the prodigal son. I’ve asked over a thousand people: “What do you think is the problem with the prodigal son? Is he just narcissistic, or is he selfish, or is he materialistic, or is he just lustful, or what’s the problem with this kid?—because his brother doesn’t run off.”
Jesus tells us twice in that what the problem with the prodigal son is: “This, my son, was dead, and now is alive.” Until that son turned toward the father, instead of away from the father, he was dead toward the father. He was not appreciative toward the father. He didn’t think that going home was a good place to be: “Let me out of here!” The father says it twice; he says it when his son returns, and he says it when he’s explaining to the older son what’s going on here.
Even if a person is more wired to be thankful, pleasant, sociable; nevertheless, to earnestly thank God from the overflow of the heart—that I’m really trusting God that He’s working this together for my good—that’s a faith thing, and faith is a gift. It’s not a personality thing. The ten lepers—nine of them didn’t come back and say, “Thanks,”—one of them did. Of course, he enlarged his own joy, and satisfaction, and delight in meeting the Savior by his being different from the other nine.
I don’t know if I’m answering your question well or not; but yes, some will find it easier; but to do it thoroughly, in a God-centered way, requires God to do a work in the heart of the individual.
Dave: Is thankfulness/gratitude a choice? Is it something we choose?
Sam: It is a choice; it’s also a feeling. It’s also a way of seeing; and fundamentally, it’s a way of valuing, which is why it’s so dependent upon God—that He realign the compass of our hearts—so that we value what should be valued. But the choice part is so hope-giving, I think, because thankfulness is antithetical to so many other emotions and behavior patterns.
It’s hard to be envious and thankful—nearly impossible. It’s hard to be depressed and thankful—nearly impossible. It’s hard to be suicidal and thankful—it’s nearly impossible; outraged and thankful—nearly impossible. What is so hopeful about that is you can’t just tell yourself, “Well, don’t be depressed today.” That will crash; that will burn; that will get a person nowhere. But you can decide, “I’m going to find something for which I can give thanks today.” You can just decide that; it’s a choice in that sense—you can go on the lookout for stuff to be thankful for—so there is a choice involved.
That’s why it’s helpful to read a book about it, or listen to a radio program about it, or something like that; because you can reorient yourself and decide: “I am going to give focus to this,” “I’m going to work on this; I’m going to work toward this.”
There’s a choice, but I wouldn’t say it’s just a mere choice. It’s a choice that is aimed at, and motivated by/incited by the prospect of delight. You look back, with thankfulness, for what God has done; that fuels future-oriented hope for what He’s going to yet do that He hasn’t done yet.
Dave: I know I was reading—I don’t know, years ago—an author who was saying it was about perspective. He says, you know, a practice you should put into your daily routine, when you’re not thankful or not seeing the good in your life, is just this phrase, “It could be worse.”
I’ll never forget reading this; he’s like: “You know, if you’re in your car, and it’s a ten-year-old clunker, and you drive by a really nice sports car, and you look over there and you feel like, “I wish I had that,” just say, “It could be worse!” It is a perspective; right? I mean, it is a choice to say—you said it earlier—seeing something that a lot of people don’t see.
Sam: Yes; I think I could say that that approach—“It could be worse,”—is a
1 Thessalonians 5:18 approach: “In everything give thanks.” You’re skiing down a hill; you break a leg—well, give thanks you didn’t break both legs and you didn’t break your neck. [Laughter] You have a certain illness, but you don’t have another illness—you know, I think that’s legitimate.
But I think the Bible wants more for us than just to think, “Well, it could be worse,”—which is true; it could always be worse—and for those that are not in Christ, it’s going to be worse. But Ephesians 5 says, “For everything”—not just in everything—“For everything give thanks always,”—everything/always; two universals there—because—and this is a test of our faith, partly—“Do we really believe that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him? Do we think He’s sovereign in everything?—wasting nothing that He’s [ever] done?”
This is the lesson I think that Joseph had in the Old Testament when his brothers took him hostage; they threw him in a pit; they sold him into slavery. Joseph said, “You all meant this for my harm; but God meant this for my good/our good that many would be saved.” It’s not just: “In it, be grateful”; “For it, be grateful.” It was that famine that brought his brothers to him.
Bob: I’m thinking about people, who are in very difficult marriages or very difficult family situations. They think, “I’m supposed to—for this difficulty/for this spouse, who is not responding to things in a godly way—I’m supposed to be thankful for this?” There’s almost a feeling like, “If I’m thankful for this——
Ann: —“it will enable them to stay the same.”
Bob: Yes! “I want things to change. How should I be grateful and still want things to change and get better?”
Sam: Yes, it sounds like crazy talk: “I don’t want a God who’s like this.”
Let me at it a couple different ways. First, is just the clear biblical teaching that God is behind everything:
He in Isaiah 45: “I form light and create darkness, I make wellbeing and create calamity; I am the Lord who does all these things.”
Or Lamentations 3: “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
Just to get the doctrine that God is sovereign—universally, in everything, all the time, without exception—He’s there behind it, holding all things together. It’s from Him, through Him, and to Him. He gives to all—life, and breath, and everything else—the Bible says. So to get that clear.
Then to acknowledge, and learn, and build on the fact/the observation that He’s never done, ever. He wasn’t done with Joseph when he was in the pit. He wasn’t done with Joseph when he was in Potiphar’s house. He wasn’t done with Joseph when he was in prison. He wasn’t done when there was this seven-year famine. God is not done.
You know, we prayed for my mother, who was on a five-year downward slide with dementia until she died. We prayed that she would be healed and so forth. We prayed that God would take her; if He was waiting for our permission, He had our permission. But when she died, there could be some, who would say: “Well, God didn’t answer your prayers,” and “He failed.” “What do you think?—God’s done with her?”—that’s not the end of her life; that’s not the end of her story. She just entered into the greatest chapter of her existence ever.
God is not wasting the affliction that He brings into our life, even if it’s a difficult spouse, or it could be a difficult illness, or a difficult financial pressure, or something like that. It’s good to look at texts that help us with that. Psalm 90, Moses says: “Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us.” James said: “Count it all joy, brothers, when you encounter these many trials.”
Who likes trials? Who wants to get in the trial line and sign up?—“Can I have some extra trials, please?” “Count it all joy when you encounter these trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces”—what a key word, produces!—these trials are productive; they’re not wasteful. God is producing something; specifically, the character of Christ in me. These trials are producing for you “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” How big?—beyond all comparison.
Sam: That’s how good it is.
And these momentary light afflictions that Paul’s talking about—I mean, he’s been beaten, and left for dead, and all kinds of stuff that’s happened to him—when you’re in these afflictions, they don’t seem light; and they don’t seem momentary, and we cry out for relief. That’s a legitimate cry—to cry out for relief—we’re not masochists; we’re not sadists. We want to fix all the problems we can fix: we want to fix famines; we want to fix drought; we want to fix diseases; we want to fix broken marriages; we want to fix domestic problems. We want to fix them.
But when done our best, and we have the problem still unfixed, then God’s not wasting it; He’s doing a thousand/ten thousand things.
Bob: So we can pray, and ought to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” or “Fix this broken situation”; and at the same time, be thankful for what we’re in the midst of?
Sam: —because God is not wasting what we were not able to fix, and He is producing. It’s productive; Romans 5 says the same thing: that “These afflictions produce hope.”
Sam: We want the hope; we want the patience, but the only way to develop patience—there’s no Plan B—the only way to develop patience is to have something to be impatient about; there’s not an option there.
Ann: There is Sam—I think you’re right that thankfulness changes us; gratitude changes us. I know that in our marriage, I was in a bad pattern and habit of looking at our marriage, and looking at Dave, and seeing the negative—not being thankful for him, not seeing the greatness, not seeing the good—it took me down this path of pity and anger. Yet, I remember the day that I went before God and I said, “God, show me. Show me the greatness of Dave, and help me to be thankful for what I do have.”
I started praying that, thanking God for all these great things that God had put into Dave. My eyes started to change as I was thankful/as I was grateful for Dave, for who he was. Then I started to verbalize that to him. My heart started to change! I became more grateful, and I started seeing him in a totally different light.
I really do think that that can change our marriage when we start being grateful and, then, even verbalizing that to our spouse.
Sam: I argue in the book that I believe gratitude is soul pivoting. If you’re grateful, you pivot towards God; and there’s a growth trajectory there. If you decide, “Instead of being grateful, I’m going to complain, whine, fuss,” the soul pivots/swings like a hinge.
Ann: You’re right; you have both.
Sam: They’re antithetical to each other. As Jesus said, you know: “You’re for Me or you’re against Me.” That pivot—if you want to be a complainer, then there’s a downward spiral that’s hardening to the soul and blinding to the soul, where you stop seeing the good things that God is doing.
Dave: I think the amazing thing is—it’s contagious in some ways. When Ann complained and grumbled, I sort of became what she saw, maybe even worse. When she started to speak—and I know you’ve written about this as well—when she was affirming and thankful, it made me want to be better; and it made me rise up. Thankfulness/gratitude is contagious; is that true?
Sam: Oh, true; yes. People love to be around a grateful person, and they pick up on it. It is infectious; there’s a contagion. Take your gratefulness mask off and splatter gratefulness all over people. [Laughter]
Dave: It’s a magnet. I mean, people run/think about if your home was known by your kids/by your spouse as a place of thankfulness. They would run home. They’re going to run somewhere; right? Why not run home?
Bob: If I’m not feeling grateful for something, should I pretend like I really am grateful for awhile?
Ann: Yes, that’s a good question.
Bob: Or do I wait until I’m feeling it to try to act it?
Sam: Yes; I think we should give thanks before we feel like it, for several reasons. One, we’re commanded to give thanks: “Give thanks.” You’re not seeing anything for which you should be thankful—well, wake up; look around; there is some stuff there. Get on with the command—fulfill it; obey the command—that’s one thing.
Second—on the way to, hopefully, growing in feeling thankful—looking for things for which I ought to be thankful opens the door, at least a crack, to let in some light that: “You know, I really am grateful for ‘x’ or ‘y’ or ‘z.’”
Third, you can pray, “Lord, awaken in me a more grateful attitude—a more humble, alert, alive, attentive attitude—that sees the showers of blessing that are all around me all the time, every day, everywhere.”
Ann: I remember I was in a fitness class with a bunch of women. I got there early; and these women were all sitting around, talking about how horrible their husbands were. They were going into specifics: “My husband comes home, and all he does is sit down and watch TV,” and “He never helps with the kids.” They’re going on and on. I was thinking, “Oh, this is so sad! They could have it so much better if they would trust Jesus!”
I get home that night; and Dave came in the door, and he had had a bad I don’t remember a time that he came in the door and sat down and watched TV; but on this day, he came in the door; he turned on the TV, started watching ESPN. I’m getting dinner—the kids were younger—and I’m looking at him, like, “Look at him! He’s just like all those other husbands! Look at him!” I looked down this negative road. He very seldom does that; but it’s interesting—sometimes, when you’re around the negative—that also feeds your soul.
Bob: Yes; if contagious, so is negativity.
Ann: So is negativity; so do we need to be careful? I’m thinking, when we’re in the Word, it breeds thankfulness.
Sam: Yes; I’ve tried to address the question with teenagers, who have asked: “Is it okay to go into such and such an environment?” “Is it okay to go into a tavern?” “Is it okay to go to such and such an event?”
One way to answer that question is: “If a person goes there, who’s influencing whom?” Jesus could have lunch with prostitutes, because He wasn’t becoming one. They were being redeemed; He wasn’t falling. I think it’s important to ask: “Do I think I can make a difference?”—if I don’t think I can, beware. “Go into a dark, dark world and shine your light; the darker the world, the more one light will matter,”—that’s true—but a little self-awareness that: “I might not be able to withstand the culture in my workplace,” or “…my school,” or something. Don’t be naïve that I will turn the tide, necessarily.
Ann: I think the importance of being in God’s Word—of always being grounded/of being in prayer continuously—because I think you’re right. I can make an impact wherever I go with my thankfulness/with the light of Jesus.
Bob: But I’ll you—I have a friend who quit her job; because she was daily with three other women, who were routinely negative about their husband. “After awhile,”—she said—“This conversation is so toxic for me that—even if I am prayed up, and missionally minded, and all of that—I just come home drained and not in the right state of mind.” This was a significant economic choice for her to quit her job; and yet, she was saying, “My heart is more important/my marriage is more important than how much money we have here.”
Bob: To quit the job and come home—she told her husband that’s why she was quitting the job—and they talked about it, and they agreed that was what she needed to do and ought to do. They had to tighten their belt for a little while; but they’re so glad, looking back on that, that their marriage is not a casualty, as it might have slowly become over time.
This is why I think thankfulness—learning to be grateful in the midst of all things—why this is so important. Sam, it’s why we’re so glad to have copies of your book available for our FamilyLife Today listeners. Sam Crabtree’s book is called Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances. It’s a book we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy of Sam Crabtree’s book, Practicing Thankfulness. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; you can order the book from us online; or call to order at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when Sam Crabtree will be back with us again. We’re going to talk more about how we practice gratitude, especially in the midst of very difficult circumstances. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch; he got some help from Bruce Goff this week and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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