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They were arrested, tortured and thrown in prison. Incarcerated like common criminals? No such luck. It was the maximum security block for them. Everything pointed to a painfully long stay.
Put ourselves in Paulís stocks and our thoughts might be something like: ĎWhat an ant-brain! I walked right into Satanís trap! Things were going so well Ė converts were being baptised, Lydia had opened her house to us Ė and like a twit I blew it! Now Iíve been flogged. Poor Silas is in agony. Both of us are in the slammer, no longer free to preach the Gospel. All because of me! If only Iíd kept my cool ...í
Iíd have been as miserable as an elephant with sinusitis.
Yet instead of berating himself or being bullied by pain, the apostle sang praises. Almost instantly, tragedy yielded potent ministry. Not only was the Lord blessed and fellow prisoners touched, the jailer and all his family were converted. Praise turned misery into ministry.
Praise snaps locks. If a door slams, praise can burst open another.
If you think praise is hot air, you are right. Itís the hot air that makes faith balloon, lifting us to new heights in God, while warming the Fatherís heart.
Praise is life-changing. I could extol it for pages, but singing its praises is often easier than singing praises. It takes enormous energy for a spacecraft to blast off from earth on its way to another world. As it continues to leave earthís gravitational pull, however, progress gets easier and easier until it is actually pulled along by the heavenly body it is headed for. With praise, too, it is the first part of the journey that is so demanding. The wonders of the rest of the voyage, however, makes the sometimes-huge initial effort so worthwhile.
The less we feel like praising, the more we need its power. I suspect Paul used a couple of tricks to break through despair into victorious praise.
Paul and Silas had so mingled worship with lifeís humdrum that when things soured, their lips were still warm with his praises. There was no groping for a half-forgotten praise vocabulary; no brain-racking to find something praiseworthy in God. Praise was not a pill in their emergency kit; it was their way of life.
If one of their helps was habit, the second was song. When praise is a struggle, melody and beautiful words can bear us forward.
A third help was fellowship. They joined their praises. Where possible, do the same.
My next suggestion, like the others, is far from original. Multitudes have found that it works. Donít try to start at the top; just find a few reasons to be grateful. Things could be worse. Thank God theyíre not. Thank him that things have not always been as dire as they now seem. Lean heavily on tiny blessings. As they multiply in your head, they will provide a rich array of praise material.
You can even turn negative tendencies into an asset. We all need reminders to praise throughout the day. If your mind regularly clogs with negative thoughts, train yourself to use each recurrence of doubt or fear or gloom as a reminder to praise God. Each negative thought is packed with potential praise material. If, for instance, you are hounded by the thought that you are getting older, let it nudge you to thank God for the years he has given you. Praise him that your times are in his hands. Take comfort that at least someone is older than you Ė God Ė and revel in the knowledge that he will never fall for modern societyís infatuation with youth. Every time you feel old, rejoice that Jacob was in his nineties when he had his all-night wrestling match with an angel (Proof). Exalt the One who empowered eighty-five-year-old Caleb to conquer the enemiesí mountain strongholds, (Joshua 14:10-15; 15:13-15) gave Job his greatest blessings in his later years, (Job 42:12) and bypassed millions to show the Christ child to elderly Anna (Luke 2:36-38).
Yet if being filled with the joy of the Lord were as easy as flicking a switch, there are still times when we would prefer to sulk. Forgetting that it is faith, not tears, that most moves our Lord, we secretly hope that if we are sufficiently miserable, he will have pity on us. Thatís like trying to scale a mountain by digging a hole. Praise achieves things self-pity or self-recrimination could never do.
ĎI will give you all my praise,í I sang in a congregational song. Suddenly I realised I had lied. Every time I grumble I am praising the devil. Every complaint is an insult to God.
For balance, however, listen to Psalm 13. This dirge opens with, ĎHow long will you forget me, Lord? Forever?í With similar moans in the next few verses, the ancient blues singer continues his sob story. Then, just when we know where he is heading, he suddenly slams his song into reverse and declares, ĎI will sing unto the Lord, for he has dealt bountifully with me.í The tail end of that little psalm looks as out of place as a fan of peacock feathers on the end of a pig. Yet no matter how odd it seems, psalm after psalm confirms that we can mingle praise with our pain. These inspired prayers prove that our Lord wants us to vent on him our grief and frustration. He wants honesty, not denial, and still he wants our praise.
Try hard enough and in every circumstance we can find reason to complain and reason to rejoice. To praise is to feast on the goodness of God. To complain is to languish in the squalor of self.
To praise is to party. It is cutting the cords to earthly burdens and heading for heavenís joys. It infuriates the devil because it not only plucks us out of the misery he had meticulously planned, it lets us sneak into the victory celebration ahead of time. To praise is to cheat the devil, laugh in his face and step into Godís time machine.
Praise magnifies God. The alternative magnifies the problem. The last thing we need is a Ďsmallí God and large problems! What will we choose to exalt: the mighty, eternal God, or the puny, temporary problem? Praise pricks bloated problems by empowering us to glimpse the enormity of God.
Build muscle on your faith by constantly praising God, delighting in his answer ahead of time. It takes the wait off your mind.
Iím so sorry the fire engine ran over your mother on the way to your home that burned to the ground because your dog caught fire after you knocked the heater onto him when you fainted upon hearing that you had been dismissed from your job because your best friend interrupted making love to your wife to call the police to say it must have been you who embezzled the company to pay for the heart transplant you desperately need now that the chemo therapy is beginning to work.
Nevertheless, God's love and power blaze as infinite and unstoppable as ever. Regardless of how overwhelmingly oppressive circumstances get, the truth remains unshakable: ďIf God is for us, who can be against us?Ē (Romans 8:31). Nothing in heaven or earth or hell can change the fact that God works (not causes, but works) all things together for good for those who love him. No matter how hopeless things seem, as you yield to Christ and resist the devil you can keep saying over and over until you are convinced of it in every fiber of your being:
That might seem beyond belief, but with God on your side, you truly are a winner and you will spend all eternity celebrating that fact. It is undeniable that trying to celebrate ahead of time begins by making eating concrete seem intelligent fun. Despite everything, however, immense rewards await those who dare to persist with this apparent insanity. Even if you are only minimally successful in cheating time by celebrating before God's surprise twist is finally revealed, your best attempt will not only lessen despair and build faith that is valued far beyond diamonds, it honors the God who deserves all honor and will even flood yourself with never-ending glory.
Comment by a reader
Iíve struggled with my Christian walk for many years now, always feeling heavy and depressed. Quite recently I discovered that praise in church made a big difference and was the one thing that lifted my depression, but it was always temporary. The depression would return later that day or the next day.
So I searched the web for information about praise. I came across Godís Anti-Depressant. Itís really been life-changing for me.
I was definitely one of those people who believed that the way to become free of depression was to complain to God and that if I became sufficiently miserable/depressed God would then be moved to help me. I believed that this attitude was right and that this was just a lengthy process of testing and becoming sufficiently broken.
Well how wrong was I! Your article showed me that faith, praise, rejoicing and thankfulness form the key to overcoming depression and heaviness.
Iím not completely free yet but I realize itís a process and it can take a while to change mindsets that Iíve had for many years! But Iím experiencing freedom on a daily basis that Iíve never known or imagined I could have.
Thank you for making the article free and available on the Internet.
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