Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Looking for Trails of Blessings

Dannah Gresh: Pastor Sam Crabtree thinks we all need to express thankfulness to God—even for simple things, like that yummy hamburger you ate recently.

Pastor Sam Crabtree: You [God] nourish with the sun, the grass. Your invention of photosynthesis combined the sunlight with the water and the carbon dioxide in the air. And You formed the grass, which was eaten by a cow that has four stomachs, and they digested the stuff and turned it into hamburger for me. Thank You.

Dannah: This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for November 2, 2021. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, we’ve turned the page to November. A big holiday coming up this month, here in the United States at least, is Thanksgiving Day. Our friends in Canada are ahead of us. They celebrated it last month. But as believers, every day should be a day of thanksgiving, shouldn’t it?

In fact, recently I’ve been soaking in the book of Colossians, and it’s amazing how many times the apostle Paul talks to these believers about thankfulness, about gratitude. He says in chapter 1, verse 3, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.”

Then he talks about having great endurance and patience, “joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light” (1:12 CSB).

And then in chapter 2 he says we should be “overflowing [or abounding] with gratitude” (v. 7).

And in chapter 3 he says, “Be thankful . . . singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do . . . do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through [Christ]” (vv. 16–17 CSB).

And then in chapter 4, he says, “Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving” (v. 2 CSB).

This thing of thanksgiving is a big deal to God, and it should be a big deal to us. But practicing thankfulness doesn’t come naturally to us. I think it’s more natural to focus on what we don’t have than to thank God for what we do have. But I believe one evidence that God is at work in us, that He’s made us new creatures, is a grateful heart—even when times are hard.

So even though Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, let’s start practicing right now. And to help us do that today, we have joining us pastor and author Sam Crabtree.

Sam and I first connected in the early days of Revive Our Hearts when he wrote a letter I’ve never forgotten. He wrote to thank me for a letter that I had sent out to our Ministry Partners. He identified specific things in my letter that he was thankful for. Well, that was the beginning of a friendship, and Sam’s thankful heart has been a huge encouragement to me over the years.

That’s why I was delighted to learn that Pastor Crabtree was writing a book on this subject. It’s called, Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances.

Recently, Dannah Gresh talked with Sam about some of the principles found in that book and why this quality of thankfulness matters so much. If you missed the first part of this conversation, you can find it on your Revive Our Heartsapp, or at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Now, let’s listen to part 2 of that conversation.

Dannah: We’re talking about thankfulness today on Revive Our Hearts, and just in case you’re about to switch over to another podcast, don’t touch that screen. Research reveals some truly great benefits from being grateful.

We talked a little bit about that yesterday—the why, the what of thankfulness. But today, we want to talk about how. How do we practice thankfulness?

Hello again, Pastor Sam.

Pastor Sam: Hello, and thanks for the opportunity again.

Dannah: Well, I have been wondering: Why did you select the title, Practicing Thankfulness? What’s with that word “practicing”?

Pastor Sam: There’s a difference between just having this feeling of, “I owe somebody a debt of gratitude,” and doing something about it. I think it affects the world when we practice thanksgiving. It affects relationships, horizontally. People thrive more when they thank more, when they practice the thanking, not just feel it, but they do something with that feeling

It greatly intensifies one of life’s most precious capacities, namely the capacity to marvel at what’s marvelous. Marveling is one of our highest pleasures. When I go on a hunt for, “What should I be thankful for?” I start to spot stuff. I enjoy that stuff, those things. Yesterday, we mentioned the sunrise. We enjoy those things more when we express our thankfulness for them.

Thankfulness frees me to be content and not disgruntled because there’s a whole conveyor belt of stuff I could complain about in my life—good grief! We live in a fallen world, so all kinds of stuff is wearing out and breaking down and has gone off the rails. But that impedes my contentment. And “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). Why wouldn’t I want the gain? So one of the ways to grow the contentment is to practice. You’re asking, “Why did we call the book, Practicing Thankfulness? Practice thankfulness.

Thankfulness for God’s means opening up the ability to see more of His ends and vice versa. If I can see what He’s doing, I can see where He’s aiming for. And if I can see better what He’s aiming for—my sanctification and my becoming like Christ—I can be more thankful for the means that He’s using to get me there. That’s why we have to practice, so we can work at it. It’s like a muscle that we can grow.

Dannah: Today we’re going to work that muscle out. That’s what we’re going to do.

I want to start with this question: I’m assuming that it’s possible that there’s a reason we don’t practice thankfulness, that there might be some things keeping us from gratitude. What do we need to get out of the way so that we can practice thankfulness?

Pastor Sam: That’s a good and practical question. For one thing, we’re busy. We’re just running life at a high pace, and we don’t pause to write that thank-you note to someone or to say thank-you to that clerk or thank God in a momentary prayer. We’re just busy.

Another is that we’re blind. We just don’t see the value in it. We don’t see the blessings in our lives nor the benefit in naming blessings as blessings. “Oh, that’s a good thing! That was a gift from God right there.”

Another example that we probably can’t do much about is poor modeling. If we’ve lived around people who are curmudgeons and take things for granted and are selfish, and they huff and puff and blow the house down, we can’t do much about that. But we can seek to be around people who are thankful, reading biographies of people who are grateful.

Another reason we fail is our expectations. We can see so much that isn’t as good as it could be. We focus on how the pastor’s sermon could have been better, and that book could have been better, and our child could have kept their room more neatly, and so on. We can see what’s missing rather than seeing what’s there, what was good, what was beneficial.

And another reason—and this is a scary one—is spiritual deadness. We’re just not alive to what God is doing all around us all the time. Blind people can be alive, but dead people don’t see, don’t want to see, because they’re dead.

And another reason we are not thankful is because of a lack of the indwelling Word of God in us. We’re not as biblical as would be helpful to this. Let me give you one text for this, Dannah.

From Colossians 3: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thanksgiving [with thankfulness, with gratitude] in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (vv. 16–17).

So the Word is one reason why I’m not as thankful as I should be. I’m just not as marinated in the Scriptures as I should be. Our hearts pivot on the Word of God. When the Word of God comes to me, my soul can swivel and go in a direction it wasn’t going.

And so, those are some reasons why we’re not as grateful as we should be.

Dannah: You started, I think, by saying the first reason was busyness. I thought, Oh, I feel that. I feel like the Lord is always convicting me to find out how to create margin in my life so that there’s peace, so that I do have time to say “thank you” to people, write those thank-you notes.

And then you ended with being in the Word. I think on the days that I’m in the Word, my whole life slows down. When I start my day really in God’s Word, (there are days when I kind of rush through it, I don’t have a soaking time in it, I don’t study) I am a different person on those days.

When I skip that time with the Lord, I’m rushed. I’m hurried. I’m stressed. I’m anxious. I guess that’s who I am naturally without the Word washing over my heart.

But on those days I am in the Word, the busyness is one of the first symptoms that calms because instead of saying, “I have to do this; I have to do this,” I’m thinking, “Lord, what do You need me to do today?” His yoke is always a lot easier than mine. I wish I could figure that out, but after all these years, I’m still learning it.

Pastor Sam: You’re right. And not only are those daily seasons in the Word good for giving me the information I need and the guidance and I need and that sort of thing, but one of the aspects of being in the Word that has helped motivate me over the years is that the Scripture is food. It’s nourishment for my soul.

And I might not get any new information from my devotions this morning. I might not make any discovery that’s life changing. But it’s food for my soul. It’s energy for my spirit for the day. I just need to eat. I need to have a meal.

Dannah: Yes. That makes me think of when my husband and I sit down every night—empty nesters—and we eat our dinner together. Barbara Rainey actually told me, “Eat dinner with your husband. It’s going to get harder now that there’s not kids that you need to have a meal with.” And that’s not just because my body needs the food that I’m putting in it, but our relationship needs the nurturing of that fifteen or twenty minutes or thirty minutes that we talk and we visit. Our relationship with Jesus needs that nurturing, that time. It’s essential.

Pastor Sam: That’s true. There’s a communing reality, a communing dynamic that presents a value to our relationship that’s missing if I don’t just sit and eat with Him, the Scriptures.

Dannah: So, those are some things that might be keeping us from being thankful. What do we need to do to really start to put thankfulness into action, to be intentional about it in our lives?

Pastor Sam: Well, if I recognize that I want to grow, need to grow in this area, I think one of the first things I can do is just ask God for help. Just say, “Lord, I want to be more thankful. Help me be more thankful. Help me be on the lookout for stuff.”

Years ago we had a young woman in our congregation. She happened to be the captain of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team. Brittney McCoy was her name. And she, for a one-year period of time took a picture every day of something that she was grateful for that she hadn’t been grateful for before. And I thought, What a clever idea! What a practical way in response to asking God, ‘Make me more grateful,’ that she got out her camera and looked for something to be thankful for every day.

Now, not everything that we’re thankful for can you take a picture of—love and justification and propitiation. There’s a bunch of stuff you can’t take a picture with your cell phone, but there’s a ton of other stuff that you can. So, I would start with asking.

On the flip side of that coin, I think it’s helpful to warn myself of the consequences of failing to give God the glory that He deserves

  • I’m going to become an old grump.
  • I’m going to discover that I’m taking God for granted. 
  • I’m dead towards Him. 
  • I’m remaining immature. 
  • I’m becoming ugly and hardened and maybe cocky, haughty, bitter.

There’s a rash of consequences caused by thanklessness. I just need to warn myself. And that can help motivate me to become more thankful.

Here’s another one: I need to think on His promises and His “wonderful deeds for me.” It’s been said by somebody (I would give a credit, but I can’t remember who said it), “Thinkers are thankers.” If we think, we’ll thank.

I know it was Tripper Longman who said, “The real difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the former gives thanks to God.”

A while ago I was interviewing a Chinese woman for becoming a member at our church. She said that before she became a believer (this is her generalization, this is her observation), she could tell who the Christians were by who was thankful. Isn’t that a remarkable generalization to make? “Thankful people? Those are the Christians.”

Dannah: That’s beautiful.

Pastor Sam: Yes. That sobers me.

Another way to become more thankful is to absorb Scripture. Another way is to say “amen” to the gratitude of others. When somebody appreciates something, say, “Oh yes. That’s good. I agree with that. Yes. Good call.”

Dannah: I agree.

Pastor Sam: “Yes. I see that, too.”

Another way to grow in thankfulness is to—and here we get back to the title of the book—conscientiously practice thankfulness.” Just practice it. Just decide you can get up in the morning and do this.

This is so helpful to me. Let’s say you’re struggling with . . . oh, we could pick any number of things . . . let’s say, envy. You don’t want to be envious. Or anxiety. You don’t want to be anxious. You can’t just command yourself, “Well, don’t envy,” or “Don’t be anxious.” That will not work.

But you can command yourself, “Be thankful. Look for something to be thankful for.” When you grow in that thankfulness, it automatically reduces your envy or your anxiety or a boat load of other things because it’s virtually impossible to be thankful and envious at the same time. It’s almost impossible to be thankful and anxious at the same time. Or try this one: It’s almost impossible to be thankful and suicidal at the same time.

Dannah: Well, He is asking us to worship and direct our gratitude towards Him. God’s commands are for our goodness. They’re for our best. When we are thankful, it really does redirect things, doesn’t it?

Pastor Sam: Well, it helps me focus my attention. I encourage people, and I encourage myself, to thank with specificity. So rather than thanking God generally, “Thank You for this food,” be specific. “Thank You, Lord, for broccoli and for the way that You’ve positioned that sun out there 93-million miles away, that it would shine on somebody’s field of broccoli. And You sent rain, and You put that soil there. I’m thankful for all of it. And now my body gets to be nourished by this broccoli.”

Or you can take a hamburger you’re eating and say, “You nourish with the sun, the grass. Your invention of photosynthesis combined the sunlight with the water and the carbon dioxide in the air. And You formed the grass, which was eaten by a cow that has four stomachs, and they digested the stuff and turned it into hamburger for me. Thank You.”

So I see a trail of God’s blessings through this specificity of the meat on that burger rather than, “Well, thanks for the grub.” That kind of thing.

Those prayers are fine, too, in their place, but I find that specificity helps me be more thankful.

Dannah: Yes.

Pastor Sam: Have you ever thanked God for your eyelids and the work they do for you?

Dannah: No, not actually. I’m probably going to end up doing it today or tomorrow. But, no, I never have.

Pastor Sam: I mean, without your eyelids, in just a matter of minutes you would experience a lot of pain. There would be copious tearing. Your vision would become increasingly blurry. And in a matter of days, you would be blind and infected. You could go crazy from not having eyelids. And yet, who of us says, “Thank You, Lord, for my eyelids”? He gave us a pair of them . . . not just one. He gave us two of them!

Dannah: Point well taken.

You’re getting very practical, very specific. That makes me . . . well, going back to the Asian woman that you said testified about the fact that it was the thankfulness of Christians that she noticed. Hopefully that was part of what drew her to Christ.

What would happen if we got our thankfulness in terms of bringing people to Jesus? Like, how would they see Him in us if we did that?

I don’t normally say it, “In your book,” but I’m going to say it. In your book, you have 100 ways to be thankful, and they are fascinating. I want to just go through a bunch of these randomly, because I want to issue a challenge to you as you’re listening today.

Pick up on just one of these things and just do it. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of women and men listening to this program. If we would just practice a little bit of thankfulness, what an army we would be testifying about the goodness of God as we direct credit to Him.

So let’s go through a few of these.

Let’s start in the checkout line. You write, “In the checkout line, when receiving my credit card from the credit card reader, I pretend the little screen says, ‘Be sure to thank helpful and intelligent (name of employee).’”

Do you actually do that? Do you actually imagine that when you’re in the checkout line?

Pastor Sam: I do it almost every time—probably 95% of the time. As they’re handing me the receipt, I’ll put my finger on the little tiny screen there where the credit card reader is, and I’ll say exactly that sentence that I put in the book. “Well, it says here, ‘Be sure and thank helpful and intelligent Robert,’” or whatever the name of the clerk is, because they’re usually wearing a name tag.

I get all kinds of reactions from that, that are all positive. There’s laughter. Sometimes the customers behind me in line chuckle at it. Sometimes the clerk leans over and says, “Really? Does it really say that?”

Dannah: I love that.

Pastor Sam: It elevates the morale in that environment right there.

Dannah: It does. I think you probably tell great dad jokes. That’s what I’ve decided based on that. Okay, so the challenge is: Thank your cashier. Just thank them.

Here’s one I really love: During holidays, thank people for decorating.

Pastor Sam: Doesn’t that sweeten the environment? Doesn’t that elevate morale? There’s corny decorations, sure, that are, like, “What? Really? Are you serious? You decorate your lawn with that?”

My wife does an amazing job. She just changed all the decorations in our house because the season just changed, and I thanked her. I said, “You just have a touch for this.” I’m so grateful because I wouldn’t think of it. I would just muddle along, but she does it. I think, “Hey! That really does brighten the atmosphere around here.”

Dannah: I love that. You know, as we go into the holidays, Christmas is sort of a part-time job for a woman with the decorating, with the gift wrapping, with the meal planning, and all that kind of stuff. So, what a cool thing to bless your friends, Christian and non-Christian, by thanking them for that.

What about our civic leaders? How can we be grateful to them? What are some practical things we can do to express our thanks?

Pastor Sam: One of the things that comes to my mind is that before I thank them, I need to settle in my mind that they don’t have to be perfect before I thank them. They might even be from a political party that I have profound, deep philosophical disagreements with.

But they did repave that street over there with those pot holes, and I appreciate that. And they did keep the water system in the city running. I mean, where would we be without flowing water? And so forth. So I don’t have to wait until they agree with me on everything before I say, “Thanks for your service.”

I know that politicians at all levels receive criticism because that’s one of the only times many citizens will communicate is when there’s something they don’t like. So I think it’s helpful to affirm things that we can appreciate, and we don’t have to comment on the rest of everything that we don’t like.

By thanking them for the things that we do appreciate can gain us a hearing for that time later on when we need to say something about something that’s not right. They’ll hear us because they know we’re not just cranks, that all we do is complain and whine and fuss and protest.

Dannah: Exactly. I’d love for Christians to be known for what we are for—which is the goodness of God, the greatness of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God. And being grateful to our civic leaders for what we can be grateful for is a great thing.

Pastor Sam: I hope this doesn’t seem self-serving, Dannah, but I did write a book called, Practicing Affirmation, which is the other side of that criticism coin. It’s how to commend the commendable wherever you find it.

Dannah: Yes. We always need to remember that, don’t we?

Okay, I want to also talk about waiters and waitresses. How can we infuse thankfulness into that sometimes very transactional process?

Pastor Sam: Well, one of the ways is, in many restaurants, they wear a name tag. You can call them by name. And when they serve your beverage, or whatever it is that they bring to you, you can just say, “Thank you.” Just that simple. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

Toward the end of the meal, “Thank you for the good service,” if you’ve had good service. You can leave a note with a tip, although I rarely do this.

There were two politicians—one of them said, “Every time I stop at a restaurant, I leave a $5 tip, and I tell them to vote for me.” And the other politician said, “Every time I stop at a restaurant, I leave them a nickel tip, and I tell them to vote for you.” (laughter)

Dannah: As I said earlier, I think you probably are great at dad jokes. You just proved my point.

It makes me feel happy just thinking of these ideas, and how it can make people that don’t know the Lord feel happy when they feel our happy through our thankfulness being expressed. That’s the challenge we want to give you today.

Nancy: Pastor Sam Crabtree will be right back with a beautiful story of how he recently had to practice thankfulness in his own life. So stay tuned.

But first, let me tell you how you can get a copy of Sam’s book. It’s called, Practicing Thankfulness. And it is a practice, isn’t it? It’s something we have to work at, something we have to keep learning, keep doing. The subtitle is: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances.

Today, that book is our thank-you gift to you for your donation of any amount. We all need coaching to help us have grateful hearts, and Sam’s book will be a great coach for your heart.

Again, be sure to ask about Sam’s book on thankfulness when you contact Revive Our Hearts with your donation. To do that, just go to ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Now, tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at how we can stay grounded or rooted in Christ as we begin a two-week series of messages from our recent Revive 2021 conference. I know you won’t want to miss that series.

Dannah: Sam, thanks for being with us these two days, teaching us how to practice thankfulness. I am thankful for you.

Pastor Sam: Oh, you’re very gracious, and God is good.

Dannah: He is—all the time.

Before we’re done, you told me something I really would like our listeners to hear. You said you had shoulder surgery in October of 2020. Is that right?

Pastor Sam: Yes. While they did the surgery, they pierced one lung, and it collapsed. So the next day I had to go in for surgery on that lung. And for four days I was in Intensive Care, trying to breathe. So now, here’s why I was telling this story.

After I had come out of the surgery, and my lung was re-inflated, they wanted me to do an MRI, or a CAT scan or something, where they slide you into a tube. I’ve been in those machines before, and there was no problem with claustrophobia or anything like that. “Just put on the headset and listen to the music, and you’ll be fine.”

But this time, I was wearing a COVID mask, and I had a dry throat that day, and I had a nasty bit of phlegm in the back of my throat that I couldn’t discharge. So they slide me into the machine, and they tell me I’m going to be in there about a half hour. And this voice comes in over the headset that says, “Take a deep breath; hold it.” And five seconds, eight seconds, whatever, and then expel.

And I’m starting to get dryer in my throat. And when you’re in there, your hands are down at your side. Now, they had given me a bulb in my left hand that I could squeeze if I wanted them to extract me from the tube if I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I’d never had trouble with that before.

But they started me holding my breath for longer periods of time—20 seconds. And after you hold your breath for 20 seconds, then you breathe a little harder—you pant just a little bit because you’re recovering the oxygen that you weren’t processing and blah, blah, blah. And I’m starting to sweat. I’m praying, and I’m trying to listen to the music in the headset, and I can’t do it. I want out of there desperately, and with my left hand, I’m starting to fondle that bulb, like, what good is this?

It occurred to me at the very tail end of that half hour when I was in there, that Jesus had a bulb. He told us in Matthew 26, “I could just say to My Father, ‘I want out of here,’ and He’ll send twelve legions of angels.”

I think that’s what He was praying in the garden that night before. He said, “Is there a way I can get out of this? Is there any way this cup can pass from Me?”

And so, on the issue of thankfulness, I’m so thankful for that claustrophobia in that tube. I mean, I’m just lying there with a headset on. I don’t have any nails through my hands or my feet. I haven’t been bludgeoned. I haven’t been beaten to a bloody pulp or anything. And I want out. And thought of how Jesus wanted out and decided not to. Not only that, the nails didn’t hold Him to the cross. He held those nails to the cross. 

The fellowship of His serving was very dear to me at the end of that half hour in that tube so that I could thank God even for that phlegm in my throat and the fact that I had no control other than that bulb, which I wanted to squeeze but didn’t. It was an elevated gratefulness for the obedience of Jesus and the beauty of His fidelity in the face of difficulties.

Reminding you that Jesus didn’t squeeze that bulb. Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shows you freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

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About the Hosts

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.

About the Guest

Sam Crabtree

Sam Crabtree

Married to Vicki since 1973, and a former public school teacher, Sam has been a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis since 1997. His book Practicing Affirmation (God-centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God) exemplifies his reputation as an affirming individual. His desire is to image forth Jesus.