Editor's note: This is the seventh and last post in a special Christmas devotional series, focusing on Isaiah 61:1-3.
Despair turned into Praise
By Phil Altmeyer, Executive Director
“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:3
“Eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle.”– Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts
Gratitude has amazing power. When we acknowledge God’s grace in our lives, it changes us. When we consider how good He has been to us in the past, we are confident that He will continue to bless us in the future. Our eyes are opened to all that is right and good around us, which causes us to be even more grateful, and the cycle continues.
“A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” I like that word “garment.” Praise is like clothing; you choose to put it on. And, just like clothing, it can make a statement: “I belong to a great God. He has been good to me. Let me tell you about it.”
Paul Stankiewicz is a perfect example of despair turned into praise. Paul is a smart man. He earned his PhD in biochemistry from Penn State University in 1980, taught high school and college and did post-doctoral research in professional labs. Paul has a strong work ethic and is careful with his money. He does not struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Paul has A LOT going for him, and yet, he became so severely depressed that he thought he was dying. So for an extended period of time last year, Paul came to live at the UGM Men’s Shelter.
At first, Paul hid in his room, but gradually he took baby steps back into community, and with every step, he experienced gratitude. Gratitude for the people who prayed for him. Gratitude for the food and shelter provided. Gratitude for the opportunity to work and help around the Mission. Gratitude for God’s love and forgiveness. Paul’s gratitude and healing went hand in hand, and his “garment of praise” shown on his face.
Sometimes praise doesn’t even require words; it’s evident in a person’s countenance. Other times, it is as simple as saying, “God is so good.” Whatever the form, praise cannot be separated from gratitude. When we correctly see God for who He is – powerful, trustworthy, loving and good – and we ponder His relationship with us – how He forgives us, waits for us, guides and teaches us – we cannot help but be grateful. When we praise Him, we enter into His presence, and the close proximity changes us.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the purpose of the Christian life like this: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Gratitude does both – glorifies God by acknowledging His goodness to us and creates joy in us by reminding us of how beautiful life really is.
You’re probably familiar with the words of the old hymn, “Count Your Blessings.”
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Worth Thinking About: When are you most inclined to experience a “spirit of despair”? How can you plan to meet that spirit with a reminder of God’s goodness?
Take Action: Count your blessings. Literally. Start a journal and write down the things you’re grateful for this season. Number them. See how high you can get.
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Read the rest of this devotional series: