Devotions – uncertainty 

It was my turn on the rotas to do devotions for both songsters (choir) and band last week, and thought I’d share them on here. Shares a tiny glimmer of where I’m at just now, and the holy and biblical parts are stuff I really do believe and hang on to. Well, I like to think I do. Sometimes. Or on good days at least. 
Uncertainty is something we all experience. It’s a natural part of life, but it’s something we generally don’t enjoy or like to deal with. I’ve just finished all uni exams and coursework and am now waiting on results and my degree classification. All being well, I should hopefully graduate next month with a decent degree in psychology; but where I’m going after that I have no clue. As much as I enjoy sitting in my pyjamas watching Grey’s Anatomy repeats all day, I’m reasonably sure that’s not a great long term goal, and finding a job or career or future studies would be a better plan. But for the moment, I don’t have any idea what direction I’m going in in that respect. Combine that with planning for a wedding and getting the keys to our first house this week, it’s clear that there’s a lot of excitement going on, but also change and uncertainty. Plus on a wider scale; general elections, brexit negotiations and general turmoil such as the incident in Manchester this week, signify a huge amount of uncertainty both nationally and globally. 

However, whilst we may have uncertainty in our country or in our individual lives, we can always have certainty in God and his love for us. In the Message translation of Isaiah 42v16, the Lord says, 

“I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, making sure hey don’t fall. These are things I’ll be doing for them – sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.” 

While in Philippians 4v7, Paul writes that, 

“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guide your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

These verses remind us that regardless of uncertainty, our peace comes from the confidence that the Lord loved us and He is in control. He alone provides the comfort that settles our nerves, fills our minds with hope and allows us to relax even in the midst of changes and challenges. It will all be okay. 

— I did borrow the second last sentence from a devotional reading I came across online —

Happiness in God – Youth Band Devotions

Thought I’d post the short devotions I shared at youth band last night: 

So I sat my second last exam at uni this morning for a class called Positive Psychology, and one of the main topics on the course was Happiness. It looked at what it means to be happy, and what makes us happy. One of the arguments was actually that people who are religious or spiritual are happier than those who aren’t. I won’t bore you with the details of the literature or studies I wrote about this morning, but the gist of the 3 studies I focused on was that regular churchgoers are happier because they (a) have larger, higher quality support systems, (b) are more likely to maintain good health behaviours (e.g. not smoking/drinking, routine exercise etc.) and (c) often have better mental health as well. 

Now whether the research behind these things is solid or not, and whether I agree with all of the points is debatable, however what I do agree with is that one of the most positive aspects of a church community – particularly in the army world where you’re all linked through divisional things like this – is the support network you can build. I think this youth band is a great example of that, as we’ve got a pretty strong sense of community and fellowship within the band. It is definitely about so much more than just making music. 

However since it was a secular subject I was studying for, what none of the studies really mentioned was the happiness Christians find from their faith itself, and the apparent joy that can be found in and through God and Jesus. I know how hard it can be and how far from happy getting out of bed on a Sunday morning can make you, and even once you get to your meeting it doesn’t always feel all that joyful or cheery, but there is a deep, intrinsic, internal happiness that can be, and is, found through God. 

Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!”, while Romans 15:13 says

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

It’s important to remember that when things aren’t going too great or you’re not feeling very positive, that God is always there, and things can always get better if you go to him and trust in him. 

— I really do believe that one of the best and most positive aspects of being part of a church is the support and care people (hopefully) have for each other. As I said, particularly in a divisional setting within the army, and further than that, it’s a huge source of strength and encouragement for so many. Matt pointed out to me after band last night that over the past 6/7 years since we both left school, many things have changed, we have changed and the people we spend time with have changed – neither of use have any school friends coming to the wedding for a start – but the thing that has remained constant during that time are our friends and support network within, or that was grown in, the Salvation Army. I would not be who I am today without the people I have come to know, befriend, love, and rely on that I met through the army. Regardless of what people, or even I, may think of the religious or Christian side of things, that will always be a positive for me. ⭐️

Plans or a purpose? 

I am so incredibly cool these days that when I’m in my car, if I don’t have my phone plugged in playing music, I listen to a Christian radio station. I know – could not be cooler. It’s called Premier Praise, and is a sister station of ‘Premier Christian Radio’. The reason I like premier praise is because it basically just consists of worship songs being played all of the time. There are very very few, if any, adverts, and minimal presenter talking. There is a short prayer on the hour, and intermittently there will be a 2/3 minute ‘thought’ by either a minister or someone from some sort of Christian organisation, and a bible reading thrown in every now and again. And that’s it. The majority of the music is stuff I’d probably have on shuffle on my phone anyway – it sounds like normal vocal/pop/rock/’singer-songwriter’ music (although there is the odd hymn or gospel track that’s just a bit much for me!), but with holy lyrics. Initially I’d roll my eyes or even mute it when it got to a ‘holy bit’ like the prayer or the thought, but I’ve grown to get used to it and actually find some of them quite challenging. It’s interesting hearing people from different denominations share short thoughts, and often it’s easier to take something from them – be it challenge or comfort or whatever else – than it is from a half hour church sermon. The original station, Premier Christian, is far too much for me – too much talking, and way too in depth and holy. I like premier praise because it’s light and not too ‘in your face’.

Anyway, the reason I’m sharing this cringey fact is because I got in the car the other day and a man from something called ‘the Grace project’ was just starting to give a short thought. He went on to speak about Jeremiah 29:11, a very well known and frequently quoted (and often misinterpreted!) verse. “For I know the plans I have for you”, declared the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future”. This is a popular ‘fridge magnet’ verse, that people use to reassure themselves and others that God is in control, and that he’s got your life all planned out. The man on the radio explained however, that the original Hebrew version of the verse actually translates the word ‘plans’ as ‘purpose’. So, it’s saying he has a purpose for us, rather than a concrete plan. He then said some people might be distraught by the thought of god not having a solid plan for us, whilst others would be freed by this knowledge. I’m certainly in the latter group, as wondering how to find out what that plan is or how to follow it is something that’s always bugged me and made me stress – if you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know that this is true!! I wasn’t sure whether I was convinced by his explanation or not though, given that everyone else so readily uses the word ‘plan’, so I did some googling. From what I could find, the original translation would actually read “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you”, which isn’t great English, but apparently ‘thoughts’ could be replaced by ‘purpose’. 

I really like this concept – that God has a purpose for our life, rather than a solid plan. It seems to make more sense, fits in better with the whole free will thing, but keeps in line with the concept of him being in control. – side note, I do know that the context of the verse itself was of God speaking to a whole group of Israelites in Babylon, and not just one individual person, saying he’ll prosper them and their nation after 70 years in exile…

I find the bible super confusing, and struggle to understand when you’re supposed to look at context and take things literally and when you’re not. It’s a minefield. Someone quoted a verse tonight about God knowing us and knowing what we would do before we were even born, and this confuses me and creeps me out in equal measure I think. I don’t see how it can make sense. (And yes, I know we’re not supposed to be able to comprehend the full extend of God etc. etc., but still) 

I’d be interested to hear opinions though. How does the ‘plan’ thing work? Is it really a plan? Or a rough guide or general direction? Or is it like the guy on the radio said, and it’s a purpose rather than a plan? Does anyone more wise and well read than me know what the proper translation/context/intended meaning is? Does anyone have a clue? Or are we all just meant to interpret it how we like? All opinions and answers welcome!!