Of all the holidays that our nation pays tribute to, Thanksgiving might be the one we have the strangest relationship with. Perhaps we owe it to being in a Christ-haunted culture, where the art of “giving thanks” seems lost. Many simply have no one to present their gratitude to. But even Christians struggle here. Many Thanksgivings feel like walking a minefield with certain family members and conversation topics. We are alarmingly content with recognizing how much we take for granted. Our consumerist mentality reveals itself not only in the anticipation of Black Friday, but even in our spirituality — our prayers are focused on what we need and want, and not our gifts and Giver.
But what we find in the Bible is a much different story. From Adam’s “At last!” to the twenty-four elders’ “Hallelujah!” we find an ongoing thread of gratitude characterizing how creatures relate to their Creator. Over and over again in Scripture, we see a pattern of giving thanks as (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ phrase) the “appointed consummation” of man’s enjoyment of God. If our chief end of man is this enjoyment, then gratitude really is that critical.
Author Dustin Crowe addresses this important topic in his latest book, The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of a Lost Spiritual Discipline. He names the four features of biblical thanksgiving as 1) feeling thankful, 2) attributing that thankfulness to God, 3) actively giving thanks to God, and 4) finding joy in God.
The Grumbler’s Guide succeeds in a few key ways. First, it is not browbeating in tone. It is convicting, to be sure! But many books on spiritual growth and disciplines can come across as bullying and badgering. Yet Crowe writes with a genuine, grace-filled pen that aims to heal, not harm. The introduction begins this way: “I want to be honest up front. I’m not writing as an expert.” (17) Talk about a book I can resonate with! The Grumbler’s Guide succeeds in that it draws you into a desire to recover a spirit of gratitude, one step at a time. It makes a habit of gratitude feel within reach.
In one of my favorite chapters, “Recognize. Reflect. Receive.” Crowe argues that if we are going to learn the habit of biblical thanksgiving, it won’t happen overnight. You have to learn to “walk before you run. Enjoy the little moments. Savor small gifts. Hold on to anything God teaches you or does for you.” (77) A simple cup of coffee can help us savor our Creator. Gratitude helps us combat distracted, busy-bodied detachment from Him.
Another aspect of The Grumbler’s Guide that makes the content accessible to readers is the “Putting It into Practice” section that ends each chapter. Crowe rightly spends a lot of time giving us the foundation and the theology for biblical thanksgiving, but never leaves it only in the clouds. He brings each chapter down to earth and helps us with some practical ways to apply what we’re reading.
At the end of the book is Crowe’s “Gratitude Challenge,” a 30-day primer including Bible readings, prayer, and writing down our gratitude. This last part is especially important. As I’ve written elsewhere, biblical authors consistently make the act of thanksgiving primarily something we say. As someone who struggles to keep a regular journal, I am motivated and confident that implementing a “gratitude journal” will stick for me after reading this book. This has given me the encouragement I’ve needed to get it started and maintain it.
While Crowe sees a biblical approach to giving thanks as “a lost spiritual discipline,” he is convinced it is within our reach of recovering. Indeed, it seems that gratitude of the most counter-culture and Word-centered practices we can engage in. Why wouldn’t we strive to learn more about its benefits and value for our spirituality? We’re all aware we could grow in gratitude. The Grumbler’s Guide is an excellent place to help us get started.