Perhaps the simplest positive test for reverent love is the presence of gratitude. Gratitude combines much of what humility is: a sense of unworthiness, a glad indebtedness, a sense that God’s beauty is a gift, a sense that all things are of Him and through Him and to Him. Gratitude recognises that we are not the self-sufficient I AM, but beneficiaries of God’s goodness.
Gratitude is not a mere decorative nicety. Nor is gratitude merely a pleasant mood you are in. As far as the Bible is concerned, gratitude is one of the signs of being born from above, of having met the Saviour, of growing in grace. At least twenty-one times in Scripture we are commanded to be thankful, to give thanks, to offer thanksgiving. In many other places, gratitude and thanksgiving are commended as good and right, and fitting and normal for a believer.
Negatively, in Romans 1:21, one of the indictments against mankind is this: “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful.” Unbelief and unthankfulness always travel together. Those who are unthankful are in fact tempting God, as the Israelites did with their unthankfulness.
In other words, gratitude is not so much a matter of how you are feeling about life, it is a matter of what you believe is true about life. Gratitude rises and falls based on two beliefs: what you believe you deserve, and what you believe you have received. An unthankful person believes he deserves much good, and thinks he has received little of it. A thankful man believes he deserves little good, but has received much of it.
The human heart drifts to taking things for granted. It loses wonder and amazement if left to itself. Soon you have more and more, but your heart has less and less amazement. Your gratitude is proportional to what you think you deserve. The unthankful are simply proud people exalted in their own eyes. Unthankfulness in my heart reigns when I am so great in my own eyes that I expect the world to lay its presents at the feet of King Self, and arrogantly spurn the gifts that do not meet my expectations. When people or circumstances fail to meet my proud expectations of what I deserve, I become unhappy and unthankful. I grumble and murmur because I feel I am being mistreated.
Spurgeon once remarked, “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”
Interestingly, before Jesus cleansed 10 lepers of whom only one was thankful, he gave a parable on servanthood. He said that a slave does not get thanked for the things he does, nor does a master reward the slave for the things he is expected to do. In the same way, Jesus said we as Christians should not walk around with the haughty expectation that God must give us a pat on the back and gift us with all things. Rather, we should regard ourselves as unprofitable servants, who are simply doing our duty. Because from there, we will be so surprised and amazed at the generosity and kindness of our good Master.
The word gratitude is closely related to the word for grace. A believer with gratitude is a believer living in response to the grace of God: I don’t deserve, but I have yet received. Arising out of that wonder and joy is this quality of reverent love. Nothing here is cocky or demanding, nothing is sulky or murmuring, nothing is self-pitying or petulant. This is an attitude of open-handed receptivity and joy.