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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Formation’ Category

~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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~ Written by Viki Rife

In the aftermath of a recent storm, my husband and I were walking a familiar trail, now littered with fallen branches and uprooted trees. According to the news, the damage had not been caused by a tornado, but by what is called a straight-line wind.

What struck me, though, was that some trees in the center of a stand were broken when those surrounding them weren’t. Even more puzzling was some trees looked like their trunks had been twisted. They had fallen in a different direction from the one expected by the way the wind hit. How could a straight-line wind cause such unpredictable results?

The answer, of course, is that in the end, whether—or how—a tree falls is not about the wind. It’s all about the integrity of the tree. Any weakness in the structure of the tree can cause it to twist and break. The flaws that developed in the tree as it was growing are literally its downfall.

As I look at the generations coming behind us, my heart longs for us to understand our role in helping them grow strong. More than opportunities, education and social justice, what they really need is to have integrity of heart. They need to know how to stand firm against the winds of change. It’s so easy for us as parents to try to orchestrate our children’s external circumstances to make sure they are comfortable. The result is that we fail to help them develop the strength to withstand the winds that will surely come into their lives. May we wait on the Lord’s instructions on how to help them develop according to His purposes.

“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you” (Psalm 25:21).

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I almost never got what I wanted when I was a little girl. Birthdays, Christmases, random special occasions—they all brought gifts (some of them were fantastic!), but they were rarely what I really wanted. The gifts were well thought out, but I remember thinking more than once, “My siblings got what they wanted, why didn’t I?”

It wasn’t until adulthood that I brought it up with my mom and I understood why. Apparently, I had never told her I wanted a Suzy Homemaker Oven, a specific instrument or special trinket. I remember believing as a child that if I needed a toy, my parents would just know. Otherwise, I didn’t need to be so selfish as to ask them outright to give me what I wanted.

“Why didn’t you just ask?” My mom asked when I told her the truth. I didn’t ask because I was afraid I’d disappoint her. At times, she knew exactly what I wanted, ended up getting it for me, but would have enjoyed hearing what I thought about the gift first.

Although the memory makes me chuckle now, I can’t help but see a correlation between myself as a kid and myself as an adult in front of the Father. His patience is never-ending with me. Often, though, when anxiety, fear, or misunderstanding keeps me silent from truly telling Him what I want, I can hear Him whisper, “Child, why don’t you just ask? Can we talk about it?”

He doesn’t always give me what I want. He doesn’t give me exactly what I want when I want it. But I’m learning it’s okay to climb up on His lap and just ask Him because I trust Him. Whatever the outcome, those conversations increase my intimacy with the Father. Simply because I asked.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

It was my first trip to Alaska, and I was deeply disappointed. We landed in heavy fog, and for the next two days I strained my eyes trying to see where I was going. I started to wonder whether the scenic views I´d heard about actually existed!

A friend had invited me to her home, and as I wound my way up what was obviously a mountain, deep insecurity set in. The fog felt heavy and threatening. I really didn´t like this place at all.

Then, in an instant, I saw sunlight ahead. In no time I was completely out of the fog. The atmosphere was bright and cheery. Birds were singing—had I really not heard them when I was in the fog? My heart started to soar. All was right with the world.

But what had changed? The beauty was there all along, but I couldn’t see it. I find that doubt has the same effect on me. God hasn’t changed, but my ability to see Him has. When that happens, why do I stay in the valley with my fears instead of climbing up to meet Him?

The experience gave new meaning to an old hymn that has gotten me through many hard times throughout my life. Think about breaking into the sunshine as you read the lyrics:

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

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~ Written by Viki Rife

It wasn’t until I was fifty years old that I discovered a shocking truth. I wasn’t my grandfather’s favorite grandchild.

Up until that moment, I had assumed our special times together were unique. Surely no one else spent hours sitting with him on the riverbank watching leaves float by, or on a park bench writing poetry to share with each other. Surely I was the only one who took walks with him through the nearby cemetery and made up stories for him about the people buried there.

I left California for college at 17 and settled in Indiana. It wasn’t until my uncle passed away and different ones of the cousins helped their elderly parents travel to the funeral that I had the joy of sitting with cousins and reminiscing. As they mentioned childhood memories, the truth hit me. They had special, tailored-to-them experiences with Grandpa, too. I was not the favorite grandchild.

It only shocked and disappointed me for a moment. Then I was overwhelmed with a wave of gratitude. Here I was, sitting with the few other people in the world who had enjoyed the beautiful experience of being valued by this amazing man I had loved so much. All I could think was, “This is what family is about.” We shared a bond that no one else could fully understand.

Since that day, there have been times when friends and I were sharing what God was doing in our lives and I got that same feeling, “This is what family is about.” The only way to explain the feeling is the word “Heaven.”

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

During my missionary kid days, silence used to terrify me. If no one was talking, that meant they might not feel connected with, treasured, or heard. I found myself filled with anxiety quite often, trying to make sure the silence on mission trips was rare. I never wanted my visiting team to think I wasn’t invested in the overall mission. In my childish mind, silence gave them a reason to doubt my passion.

I guess you could say it was common for visiting teams to get a “Cassie show,” whether they wanted one or not!

Looking back on that season now, I’m in awe that my little shoulders survived carrying such a heavy load. I thought people needed me much more than they actually did. I’ve now learned the world’s survival doesn’t pass or fail depending on my performance. My assumption was childish, and more than a little self-centered. I may have learned my lesson over the years, but I find myself slipping into that prideful worldview much more than I would like.

Though it’s a beautiful thing to actively pour into people around me, silence allows God the chance to speak in ways I never could. I’ve come to grips with the fact that, ultimately, God doesn’t need me as much as I may think He does. When I can focus on Who’s in control of the overall outcome, my passion for people and my desire to make God famous becomes more about Him, rather than me.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

In the eight months we’d been married, prayer had never been a harder task. Words were said, expectations weren’t met, and feelings were hurt. After a long discussion, I kissed my husband on the cheek, walked away from him, and went on a walk alone. The moment the door closed behind me, I whispered desperately, “Please, Jesus. Please help me pray for my husband.”

The reality was, I knew I couldn’t pray for him in my own strength. Every prayer I’d initiated ended in self-pitied anger, complaints, and the good ole, “If you’d change him, Lord, this wouldn’t be so hard.” I wasn’t praying for my husband. I was licking my wounds.

Words eventually dried up, and I stopped in my tracks. I starting singing hymns I had learned as a child. I sang songs like Rock of Ages, Glorious Day, and Create in Me a Clean Heart. As my tears dried, I somehow went from focusing on the hurt between my husband and I, and started focusing on my Savior.

After a while, the songs faded, and I was able to pray. “Lord, I’m hurting. Make me more like Jesus anyway. What do you need to change in me so I can encourage Peter to become more like you, too?” The following season of prayer was more about restoring my brokenness at the foot of the cross, rather than fixing Peter’s humanity.

Sometimes, the greatest hurdle standing in our way of interceding for our spouses is ourselves. When those days come, there isn’t a self-help book out there that can truly fix that issue. Our only option is to run to the Father, and ask Him to change our hearts so we can love as deeply as He does.

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