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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

When I look at her, I see myself. Her anger used to be my anger. Her fear used to be my fear. Her sin used to be my sin. Last but not least, when I watch how the bondage impacts her, it’s almost as if I can feel the shackles of my own Christ-less life. She and I are so much alike.

She and I are also very different. My bitterness scared me, so I prayed. My fear crippled me, so I ran to the only One who could heal me. My sin broke relationships, so I asked the Spirit to give me courage to start the journey back to restoration. That journey nearly broke me, it was so long.

But Christ, hope, and truth made redemption my greatest gift. As I stand and watch my loved one sink deeper away from redemption, I can’t decide whether to bestow empathy or lose my patience. Why did I find freedom and she didn’t? Why did God wipe my eyes clean but not hers?

Believing in God’s goodness while observing a prodigal is probably the hardest thing my heart has ever experienced. How long before God brings this lost sheep back? How long before He lets this burden from my heart lessen? Why is He taking so long? Doesn’t God realize the sooner the better is the best approach to things like this?

But then I have to remember this person is God’s creation and her story is not the only story in the world. God is behind the scenes weaving a tapestry I’ll never begin to understand, but I can sometimes see its beauty as God reveals His zealous desire for every “lost sheep” to be found. I may understand this precious person’s struggle, but God understands her heart and has an intimate knowledge of how long she needs before coming Home.

Now and forever, that truth will be sufficient as I rest in God’s goodness.

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~ Written by Cassie a Rayl

“You’re one of the most joyful people I know,” my friend said as she hugged me tighter. “For someone to go through as much as you have, it’s just shocking, I suppose.” I smiled and thanked her for the compliment, and then walked away trying not to cry. I’m joyful?

People actually see joy in me? How?

Life hasn’t been easy lately. Friendships have disappeared, dreams have been put on hold, and loved ones are in constant turmoil. I feel as if my entire countenance is filled with processing these things and begging God for relief and restoration. Nothing seems joyful about that right now.

But then I have to remember joy, unlike happiness, is a choice. Joy doesn’t mean the tears stop, the heart burdens are lifted, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Joy means I know Who holds the future, and I’m willing to trust the God Who holds all my unknowns.

Proverbs 31:25 (ESV) says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” It doesn’t say anything about her troubles disappearing, but it does speak of the God she trusts. Her trust in God is her identity. It’s her joy.

At times, joy may not feel joyful. But God remains our absolute constant when circumstances change and our hearts experience valleys. Because of that—because of Him—joy can always be our first choice.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Does your heart break at times when the news is full of violence? Do you ache when you see injustice? You are in good company!

Throughout the history God’s people have had to face a world where things are being done the opposite of what He intended for humanity. We recognize that all is not as it should be.

It’s comforting to read how God views those who long for the world to do His will. In Ezekiel 9, the prophet has a vision of God’s judgment. The Lord calls for those appointed to execute judgment on His people, and He appoints one to “go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” He then commands the destroying angels not to touch anyone who has the mark.

If we are not grieved by the decline of our society, it may be that we are not in tune with God’s ways. On the other hand, our pain over what is happening is evidence of our awareness of how right God’s ways are. May we intertwine our laments over our world with prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven!

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I was spiritually dry. For weeks, I would sit with my Bible open, reading its words, yet comprehending nothing. I’d open to a blank page in my prayer journal and struggle to write anything beyond, “Hi, Jesus.” Some days, even writing those two words took an amount of energy my mind and spirit didn’t have.

At one of my lowest points, someone asked me what I was learning through my personal time in the Word. Because I didn’t want to be a discouragement to my friend, I simply told her I was learning patience. Understandably so, she assumed I meant patience in regards to normal newly-married things.

I wasn’t sure how to tell her I was learning patience in waiting for God to show up in an otherwise seemingly endless spiritual desert.

Coming to Christ through my distress was difficult. Late one night I whispered, “I don’t feel like coming to You, Jesus, but I’m here. I’m not here out of desire, but I’m here out of obedience. Right now, that’s all I have to give You.”

It wasn’t an easy fix. My dry season had left my heart so parched, joy wasn’t immediate. But Christ honored my obedience to come to Him, and slowly revived my joy.

Obedience can often feel like a sacrifice—especially when we don’t understand every aspect of that obedience. Yet God honors the sacrifices of our hearts, even the sacrifices which were made in a spiritual desert.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Rarely has God woken me up in the middle of the night to sit at His feet in prayer. Typically, when I’m awakened past the midnight hour, my prayer is a simple, “Jesus, please, put me back asleep.” But the other night, my eyes weren’t tired, my heart kept racing, and I heard the Spirit whisper, “Get up, Child. We need to talk.”

I’ll be honest, I laid in bed counting ceiling tiles for a few minutes. My alarm would officially wake me up in five hours; God could wait till then, right? But before I knew it, I was on the couch with my prayer journal in hand. The second I wrote the words, “Hi, Abba Daddy,” the tears flowed with heart-wrenching intensity.

In the previous 48 hours, my hopes and anticipations for the future had been crushed. No one knew about it other than my husband, and life had continued on at a breakneck speed. The only healing I’d allowed my heart was a quick, “Thanks Jesus; you’re sovereign. We’re trusting you.” I hadn’t taken the time to realize how broken my spirit was, or to acknowledge the self-resenting lies my disappointments had created.

I learned that night what it meant to be honest before the Lord. I had to let myself weep till there were no more tears. I had to actively acknowledge the lies before the Spirit could refresh my heart with truth. I had to sit in silence before God could administer healing I didn’t realize I needed. I had to be broken before I was ready to receive truth which brought me closer to the heart of my Heavenly Father.

There are moments God requires us to go through more pain before He brings healing. It doesn’t make sense at first. But the reality is, God is not afraid of our tears. He knows exactly when all we need is to be held and reminded that we’re loved.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Freedom!” His unnaturally high-pitched voice echoed throughout the jail’s cold, cinderblock chapel after the chaplain had asked his audience, “What does every man want the most?” When my client’s announcement was met with shocked silence, he turned to me and signed angrily, “Tell him what I mean!”

With my hands corresponding with my voice, I explained to the audience that my client — we’ll call him Caleb — believed no man could know what he wanted if the person was not free. Mentally, I reminded myself he meant free from the jail cell he was confined in. He wanted freedom; he didn’t seem to know how to want God.

After my explanation, Caleb patted me on the back in affirmation that I had interpreted his anger efficiently. He seemed proud of himself for speaking up. He no longer wanted me to interpret the service and sat there annoyed and impatient, waiting for the guard to come and return the inmates to their cells.

My heart ached when I left work that day. Caleb may have had deaf ears, but he had a jaded and uninformed mind when it came to things about God, love, and true freedom. The week prior, I had asked him to define words like “salvation,” “grace,” “love,” and “sin.” None of his definitions made sense. None of his explanations came with conviction. He’d told me rather nonchalantly, “I don’t really know what these things mean, I just know you want to hear me say them. You are a Christian after all.”

I was reminded during my time with Caleb that often times people who need truth the most long for freedom, but don’t know how to ask for it. Such a reality means we as Christians — freedom and truth holders — must be watching for them and be willing to pour into them.

They may think they’re free, but are they?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

“Blame my dad.” That was my answer when a friend, somewhat annoyed, said, “Do you have to spiritualize everything?”

To my dad, everything was an illustration of a spiritual reality. He took his cue from Jesus, turning anything in life into a teachable moment. Even when I was too young to fully understand it, he would point out a butterfly and tell me about how its time in a cocoon transformed it. Packing our barrels for the mission field became a reminder that we must prepare well for our spiritual journey (any other MKs remember taking jars of peanut butter or else we wouldn’t taste it for the next five years?).

Dad was a master at object lessons. Our evening family devotions included healthy doses of them. I still remember when he put different powders in water until it turned black, then poured in some red liquid and the water became clear again. My young heart embraced the illustration that Jesus could remove all sin.

I couldn’t yet have been five when he used an illustration that has deeply affected my life. He borrowed a spool of black thread from Mom and had me hold out my wrists. He wrapped the thread around them once and asked me to break out. It was a bit hard, but I did it. Then he wrapped the thread around my wrists five or six times and asked me to break out again. It was impossible.

He went on to tell me that sin was like that. You try it once and you might be able to escape. But it might make you overconfident, and as you continue to allow it in your life it will trap you. He used the object lesson to help me understand the meaning of the word “addiction.” It left me with a healthy fear of dabbling in something that could entangle me.

As a parent, Dad took seriously the command in Deuteronomy 6 to teach God’s laws to his children. It sounds as if maybe God meant for us to spiritualize everything!

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