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Archive for the ‘Priorities’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Two years ago, my mom bought me a lilac bush for our first home. Her gift left me—someone whose thumb is more brown than green—equally elated and terrified. I was even more scared when she told me it wouldn’t bloom for at least the first year. How in the world am I supposed to know if it died or not? I thought in a panic.

The bush was dutifully planted where I would see it every day and remember to water it. I inevitably forgot about it, anyway—just like every other “brown thumb” I know. Occasionally, I’d water the plant faithfully for a few weeks, but overall, I was just too exhausted by life to spend much time nurturing it.

Imagine my surprise when my husband announced one day from his view of our backyard, “Hey! It’s blooming! The lilac bush. It actually has flowers on it!” I had considered the bush just another lost cause, but it had survived multiple years of not-so-great care and bloomed anyway.

Sometimes, it can seem like we all have a spiritual brown thumb. We come before the Throne of Grace and mutter, “This is all I have the energy to offer, Lord.” Seeds of belief and strength have been sown, but it’s hard to keep the faith when our faith feels dormant.

If that’s your experience, take courage. Maybe you’re like my lilac bush, and God’s allowing those seeds of truth to rest hidden in your heart for a time. Just because I couldn’t see the lilac bush’s growth didn’t mean it wasn’t there. If God can make a plant bloom after years of dormancy, he can do the same beautiful transformation in our hearts as well.

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

Have you have ever seen salmon during spawning season? Thousands of salmon struggle against the current to reach their destination of calm pools where they can lay their eggs. In their pursuit of survival they end up fighting against their own kind.

This past year I have felt like a salmon. First it was masks or no masks, then it was this president or that president, and now it is vaccine or no vaccine. I always admired salmon for their strength and determination, but I never wanted to be one.

I am not alone in all the mixed feelings and thoughts swirling around from the impact of the last year. People talk about a new normal, but aren’t we all reaching for the old one? Although we may get back to our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly trips, will relationships will get back to the old normal?

I want to be human again. I want to have a simple conversation without conflicting opinions on this or that. I want to talk about what is important like how are you, and how are you managing it? Because that is the real matter at hand.

The last year has unveiled diversity of thought. I find it hard to rest easy re-emerging into friendships because we are no longer focused on common ground. I don’t want to be so shallow as to cut off relationships of those who think differently than myself. I love my people with an undying passion.

The truth is we are called to be like salmon. We are called to go against the flow of this world. We are not; however, called to fight amongst ourselves.

Lord, help us keep our eyes on you through the strong currents.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

His question couldn’t have come at a harder time. I had just lost my job and was walking the tightrope of paying the bills but knowing my heart was called to ministry. It felt more hopeless than it was, but at 21, I was convinced God had it out for me.

Then, to pour salt on the wound, a deacon in my church approached me and asked, “If God provided a sustainable job for you where your main job was to pray for the Body of Christ and its ministries, would you take it?”

What? I remember exclaiming mentally. I mean, absolutely, but there’s no way God could do that. None. Thanks for reminding me ministry doesn’t pay, friend.

Still, my mind wandered through his inquiry for months. What would that look like? Is it feasible? Are there really employers out there who just want believers behind them as a prayer force? If that’s true, sign me up! Ultimately, my dreams of having an office with an ever-growing online prayer database and a warm reading chair to pray in eight hours a day never turned into reality.

I think often of my friend’s inquiry about getting paid to pray for a living. My current job is the farthest thing from “ministry” I’ve gotten in my lifetime as an employee. I sit at a computer and punch numbers, verifying an endless number of accounts and faceless customers. It’s a blessing of a job for my family’s current situation, but it’s not the glorious ministry position I once envisioned.

And yet, the job pays. My mind is allowed to wander often, and it wanders towards people and ministries within the Body of Christ. Often, while inputting data, my mind is in the Throne Room, interceding for whoever comes to mind. Eight hours out of the day, if my spirit is willing, I’m paid to pray.


This year has countless people—including myself—muttering, “This isn’t what I wanted!” It’s so easy to focus on the negativity that statement presents, and yet, what if we just need to step back and look for how God works within the shadows of these otherwise-inconvenient changes?

After all, of all the things that have changed, Christ and his character have not.

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~ Written by Sharon MacMillan

Recently, I pulled out my mom’s photo album and came upon some family memorabilia. I eagerly shared my recently-discovered treasures with my two sisters. There were recitals, high school plays, charity sports events, school projects, etc. I sent up a brief ‘thank you’ to my parents for all they had poured into our lives.

There were no pictures, though, of the arguments over who would dry or wash the dishes. What about the complaining over what someone had done to the other? We had differences in personalities which strained our relationships. As we left home, those rifts became a habit for me that alienated my sisters from me and me from them.

What happened? My sisters had wanted to connect with me but in my insecurities, I had mastered the art of isolation and self protection. . It gave me a false sense of security and comfort. This pattern of sin also developed in other relationships: people I didn’t feel an affinity for at church, people in my neighborhood who seemed different from me, and people in my own family whom I said I loved, but only conditionally. It was painful to face this truth.

As I began confessing these attitudes and behaviors to my sisters, healing began. I saw a readiness in them to listen to me and love me in my vulnerability. I found a oneness with my sisters when we prayed together. . A new humility emerged, and surprisingly, God showed up and began to work in us. We celebrated answers to prayer. We were united in love with our Father.

I recognized I had distanced myself from my godly neighbor and her family because I didn’t understand our ethnic differences. I confessed my sin of isolation to her. We prayed together, feeling love for one another, free to explore a deeper relationship

This is why Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God was slain. It was to save us from our hiding, our alienation, our own boundaries of comfort that end up dividing us and hurting others. Instead, we take on the risk of knowing God, becoming one with Him and His Son.

God’s big household of faith is a currently a messy family with all our self-protections, isolations and misunderstandings. Now wouldn’t be a good time for a family photo. But Jesus prayed for us and that prayer is certain to be answered:

“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory, which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. . . And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You love Me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:24-26).

There is a future photo of God’s family album revealed in Revelation 5:9-13. Our Eternal Father is there on His Throne, popping His buttons as siblings from every tribe, tongue, people and nation on the earth bow before His Son, singing praises to the Lamb slain for the sin of the world. Everyone has eyes only for Him. How long our Father and His Son have waited for this moment! God has answered the prayer of His Son so beautifully as His children begin to look like their Brother in unity and love.

Always remember that in his great mercy, our Father lavishes his patience on us as we endure the process of becoming like Jesus. Let’s live with this picture of unity at the forefront of our minds!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

We had no clue when we set out for the forest preserve that we would get to see bald eagles—three at the same time, to be exact. They were perched in a tree close to where we stood, easily visible. The preserve was trying to reintroduce them, and for several years we had thought from time to time we saw one fly over, but never were close enough to be sure. Now there they were, watching us with their sharp eyes.

Of course, the first thing my husband did was grab his camera and start shooting. We were thrilled at the amazing opportunity that had opened up for us. When we finally left, I was eager to view what must be sensational photos. When I pressed the button to review them, however, a square with a menu showed up over the photo, blocking everything but the edges.

“How do I get that out of here?” I asked my husband. He shrugged. “It’s been doing that for a long time. I can’t figure out what to do about it.”

It was frustrating to wait until we finished several errands and got home so we could download and get a glimpse of the photos. It gave me a resolve to get the camera situation fixed. Nothing I tried worked.

Finally, as a last resort, I sat down and read the manual. Guess what? There was an easy solution for the problem! Why didn’t I do that to begin with? My only answer is that sometimes I’m a lot like a two-year-old who insists, “Me do it!”

I’m afraid the same attitude is at work when I go through times when I can’t see God. I often try everything before I give up and pour over the Manual, His Word. But I find it’s the only way to eliminate what’s blocking His precious image. Only there will I find the answers my soul craves.

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

I’ve been thinking of Jonah. His experience, described in the book that carries his name, is brief and pointed. He receives instructions from God but chooses to run away and disobey Him. God intervenes and sends a storm. Eventually Jonah is thrown overboard. He is on the brink of death when God intervenes again and saves his life by sending a large fish to swallow him. Jonah remains in the fish for three days and three nights.

It would appear that this near-death experience, coupled with the quiet dark of the three day stay in the fish, was transformative for Jonah. While in the belly of the fish Jonah cries out to God. So the next time God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah obeys. If we stop reading there. it’s a beautiful story of second chances!

Unfortunately, there is more to the story. Jonah doesn’t celebrate when the people of Nineveh turning from their evil ways. He does not understand the Lord’s compassion and completely misses the parallels in his own story to that of the people of Nineveh.

Jonah’s experiences on the boat, in the stormy seas and in belly of the fish were transformative for one area of his life–his willingness to obey God. But the story ends with an obvious need for further transformation. This is why I relate to his story. I wish I could say that the transformative experiences in my life were long-lasting and all-encompassing. But that simply is not the case.

Still, I am encouraged by this truth: he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Even when it seems like I am learning the same lessons over and over, I can be confident that God hasn’t given up on me! He is patient with my shortcomings and gentle with my rough spots. His plans are unhindered by my imperfections and his love for me is unconditional!

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~Written by Samantha Freds

I grew up under the impression that to be a good Christian I had to develop a daily routine of “quiet time” with God. This period of time should consist of personal Bible reading and prayer. It should last for no less than thirty minutes, but a full hour or more would be admirable. Furthermore, it would be best if my “quiet time” was in the morning, otherwise I was telling God that He wasn’t as important as whatever else I chose to start my day with. Maybe you can relate?

Now, I’m not denying the importance of daily connection with God. We do need to spend time in the Word! I even see the value in intentional connection in the morning. It’s a good way to set the tone for the day. But I think the idea that everyone has to connect to God through quiet, morning Bible reading is unfair. God created each of us uniquely and He is not limited by our traditional ways of relating to Him.

Gary Thomas wrote a book called Secret Pathways where he presents nine modes of connection with God. Several of them lend themselves to the expectations engrained in me as a child. But several others break the mold in a very powerful way. Some individuals connect to God most naturally by taking a walk outside – admiring the little details of creation and the Creator. Other people find connection by caring for a person in need or by fighting injustice. Still others find connection with God through the liturgical traditions and rituals of the church.

These things count! There is no “right” way to connect to God. In fact, Jesus demonstrated many different ways of connecting to the Heavenly Father during his earthly ministry. He spent time in quiet prayer, he fed thousands, healed hundreds, studied the Scriptures and cleared the temple, to name a few.

May you be freed to connect to God in a variety of ways.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Sis? A little help, please?” My brother puffed out behind his stack of books while he attempted to open the door to the stairwell. His grunts made it obvious he wanted me to treat his predicament with urgency. Usually, I would’ve jumped at the chance to get an atta-girl from my eldest sibling, but not right that second.

“Ty, can’t you see I’m reading my Bible?! Ask someone else.” I remember looking back at my Bible absolutely peeved Ty had dared take me away from its sacred pages. I knew Ty needed me, but wasn’t my time with Jesus supposed to take priority over all else? Couldn’t Ty appreciate my attempts at becoming a more pious saint?

Although the memory still makes me cringe, it now makes me chuckle at my childish perspective on what it meant to spend time with Jesus.

Over 15 years later, I constantly find myself revisiting my “Devotions corner” and huffing out a quick, “Sorry, Jesus. Where were we?” Seemingly on a daily basis, just when I’m sitting down to spend time in the Word or my prayer journal, my husband needs help with a project, my phone rings with an urgent need, or I need to get the cookies out of the oven for Sunday’s fellowship time before I can focus in the Throne Room.

It’s easy to feel guilty about those moments; especially if you grew up in the “Quiet Time” culture where your 15 minutes in the Psalms came first. But if we treat our time with the Lord as a checklist, we forget the heart of God—the ultimate Servant.

What would it take to see our acts of service, the times we sacrifice our moments of peace for a need in front of us, as a way to spread the love of Jesus by our actions? What if more times than not, Jesus is nodding at the person asking for our focus and saying, “It’s okay. I’ll teach you my heart while you serve them”?

How much more sincerely would people see the Body of Christ if we saw our mundane service as worship to the invisible Audience of One?

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~ Written By Viki Rife

“Mommy will go to the hospital and be there for several nights, then come home with our new baby,” I told my two-year-old daughter enthusiastically. She had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of “her baby,” but it was the first time I had explained to her that I had to go away for a while. My goal was to break the hard parts of the experience into small sections for her to digest.

“Will I go with you?” she asked. I explained that she would be at Grandma’s for a while, and then Daddy would pick her up and bring her home.

A look of horror swept over her face. “But what will I eat?” she asked plaintively.

I had to laugh. Cooking was not a part of my husband’s skill set. But I have to admit, there was a side of me that thought: I’m her mother. Doesn’t she even trust me to take care of her? Have I ever left her to figure out how to get her needs met? Doesn’t she realize that isn’t her job?

She looked so forlorn, I had to stop and take her seriously. I explained that Daddy could fix her cereal and toast, and that he could make hot dogs, too. She still looked rather doubtful.

I was reminded of that incident recently when my mind was in a turmoil over a rough situation. I had become so obsessed with solving the problem (which actually had no solution I could control) that the foundation of my world was shaking. At one point of desperation, I sensed God asking me: “Who told you that you’re responsible for fixing this? I certainly didn’t.”

The memory of my daughter’s distressed face flashed through my mind. “I’m doing the same thing to God,” I thought. Then I remembered the rest of the story.

When the time came for me to go to the hospital, we dropped our daughter off at my parents’ house. We allowed Grandma to break the news to her that she would be able to spend the night, as we had planned to do all along. Our daughter was overjoyed. “Grandma knows what I like to eat,” she reassured me as we left. My solution to her problem was much more satisfying than she could have imagined.

Now when I start feeling like it’s my responsibility to solve problems that are out of my control, I try to remind myself, “God has it figured out. Maybe I’ll end up at His version of Grandma’s house!”

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~Written by Samantha Freds

I wanted to write about how we, as Christians, should have eyes like our Heavenly Father to see the world around us. It seemed fitting right after Father’s Day, but the words were not coming. I quickly realized why. I have been struggling with discontentment lately, and I doubt I’m alone. I needed to be real and raw this week.

Contentment. I don’t even like the word. It seems so nondescript. It’s not happy or sad, excited or melancholy. It’s not one extreme or another. Contentment is about being satisfied wherever you are. But, what if I don’t like where I am? How do I find contentment if my circumstances were supposed to be different by now?

Does God really expect us to be content if we are underpaid and under-appreciated at our jobs? Or if we are still waiting for marriage or for children while all our friends are enjoying both? How can we possibly be content after the latest diagnosis?

I think God does want us to be content in all circumstances, but I’m not pulling any punches. I started by saying I’m struggling with areas of discontentment, so I don’t pretend to have the answer. I am distinctly aware that even if I received all the things I thought I deserved or wanted, it would not be long before I was back to feeling discontent. That seems to be the nature of this life between two gardens.

I don’t take lightly the reasons for my own discontentment, and I certainly don’t mean to say “just get over it.” Here is the verse I keep coming back to: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). And the very next verse promises that the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will be ours.

Later in the same chapter, Paul says he has learned the secret to being content in all circumstances: God. No, seriously. It’s not a Sunday school answer and I’m not a simpleton. Discontentment is real, but the only way out of it is to give thanks to God for everything we do have.

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