If the gospel doesn’t break my heart and open my eyes to see the kindness of God, then I haven’t heard the good news. To be sure, the problem is me, not the message or the messenger. When it finally hits home, I bow my head and bend my knees. I give thanks. This grateful response may, or may not be accompanied by ecstatic or charismatic experiences. But gratitude will come and so to will change.
Gratitude is what the Holy Spirit cultivates in our hearts. From this springs the transformation of instinct, passion, thought, and action — everything. Without gratitude, there is only presumption and entitlement; resentment and rage; meager survival.
Gratitude is worship.
“Or do you presume on the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV).
The church has often worked to provoke guilt and shame in an effort to get people’s attention. I certainly felt that growing up in the church. Those feelings and those responses only made me want to run and hide, mostly in my own efforts. Without grace and truth, I get hard on myself and on others. Sermons, summer camps, and books all had the cumulative effect of motivating me to do more, try harder — to no avail. I had missed the forest of God’s grace in my life for the trees of lackluster achievements.
The gospel breaks in and breaks open my heart. One of the ways in which God softened my heart was through my wife’s love. Her kind response to my harshness was used by God to open me in new ways to the real power of the gospel. She didn’t run and hide. She wasn’t as much a victim of my hard heart as she was an agent of God’s love. She loved me, by God’s grace. She persisted, by God’s grace. And, that kindness thawed my heart. It isthawing my heart.
In my counseling work, I think nearly every single day how God used her. I think about it when I see someone who is not being kind; or, even more so, when I see someone in critical need. I’m moved to tears when someone experiences the kindness of another amidst hurt and trauma. The seeds of hope are planted when people get grace and truth instead of revenge and retaliation. Similarly, the one offering grace and truth is freed from anger and resentment. True freedom.
God’s kindness comes alive in Jesus. This kindness isn’t codependency or manipulative. God’s kindness is merciful and strong; it is empathetic and emphatic. Sometimes it brought Jesus to tears and at other times he was turning over the crooks’ tables. There were moments when he let the children distract him and when he looked with love at the rich man’s distracted heart.
That’s allkindness. Sometimes it turns and walks out the door; sometimes it looks you in the eye with tears and speaks truth to your lying heart — with or without words.
When I say that my wife was kind to me when I least deserved it, I don’t mean she rolled over and just “took it.” You haven’t met my wife if you think that! Thankfully, in her beautiful strength she has (for nearly 30 years), shown kindness with truth and grace. According to John 1:14, that’s a lot like Jesus.
Giving and receiving kindness facilitates the work off the Holy Spirit to bring about gratitude. That, in turn, is a blessing to others and glorifies God.