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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Formation’ 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

The furnace had the potential to erase their faith instantly when you think about it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego stood up for their faith in Yahweh. Their reward for doing so was to be thrown into a furnace so hot, it melted flesh and turned bone to dust.

Were these three men anything like me, I wonder? Did they proclaim their faith, confront the threat of death by fiery inferno, and then silently pray God would deliver them before the flames truly touched their skin? Wouldn’t that be just as powerful a divine plan as making His followers actually burn?

But that’s not what happened. The men were still conscious when they were tossed into the flame. They had made their allegiance to Yahweh clear, but I wonder if, even for a split second, they felt the heat on their faces and wondered if their faith was worth the burden.

In Daniel 3:24-25, we see a glimpse of the divine reason Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego weren’t rescued. King Nebuchadnezzar—the man who had ordered the men’s deaths—had to see how his power stacked up against Yahweh’s power. He had to see the flames. He had to see the trial take place. Only after he observed those things did he come to realize that Yahweh was truly God and worthy of worship.

More often than not, our own trials—our own fiery furnace—is so the world can see God at work in an undeniable way. No matter how hot the flames get, it is so the world can say with undeniable certainty, “God was with you in that fire.”

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Adobe stock photo

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

When you grow up flying in “Alaskan Bush planes,” you have two reactions to a village runway landing. You’ve either experienced it so many times, you’re annoyed that your nap is over when you land. Or, you’re still new at the experience and you’re on edge because you realize a village runway can feel more like a driveway!

As a missionary kid in Alaska, I was more often than not the first type of frequent flier. Turbulence in a small airplane made me feel at home and often made me fall asleep. But that wasn’t the case the first time I headed out to Kako, Alaska. The pilot, Joel, spoke over the headset, “It’s windy, if we don’t descend correctly the first time, we’ll be in trouble. I’ll circle a few times to see if there’s a pocket of calm we can trust.”

No one had to ask what “trouble” meant. At the end of the alarmingly short runway was an abrupt stop at the foot of a mountain. I didn’t need to have my pilot’s license to know that metal, aviator gas, and several humans do not collide peacefully with mountains. I didn’t finish my nap that trip. I was completely awake to see this whole experience from beginning to end!

Joel only had to circle twice before he found what he was looking for, descended, and taxied us to the end of the runway seamlessly. He seemed relaxed, but those of us who had never been to Kako were somewhat tense! He’d trained for this type of terrain, though. Those of us on the plane were never in danger because our pilot knew what to do.

Life can be much the same way. When we see the next event or experience gearing up, it’s easy to forget we aren’t in the cockpit of life—Jesus is. We may feel inadequate to handle the trouble, uncertainties or curveballs God allows, but we’re not the ones in control—He is.

The challenge isn’t whether we can accomplish the impossible; it’s whether we’re willing to keep our eyes on him despite the wind.

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

“Is that all you have to say? Aren’t you gonna fix this like you’ve fixed everything else?” My friend’s disappointment in my response to his crisis broke my heart. I really had done my best to always rescue him in the past. Once upon a time, fixing loved ones’ issues is where I secretly found my worth. I truly believed I always had their best interest at heart.

And yet, when my lifelong friend’s world crashed yet again, this time I firmly heard the Spirit whisper, “Do not steal my glory, Child.”

Tears came to the surface. I obediently gritted my teeth and repeated, “I’m sorry you’re angry. I’m sorry this doesn’t make sense. God is big enough to hear those complaints and handle your anger.” As I knew would be the case, my words did not go over well.

Our phone call ended on a sweet note, but I could tell he felt like I had ripped the already-shaking ground out from under him. But I couldn’t stop mentally repeating what the Spirit had just whispered moments before, “Don’t steal my glory.”

As is often shared among Christians, “Our ways are not God’s ways.” It’s tempting to find an easier path. It feels better to tangibly do something for a loved one in crisis, rather than stand in the wings merely praying. It’s more comfortable to try doing God’s work for him rather than stand by and watch someone suffer.

Right?

But when we push ahead of God, we steal his glory. Spiritual growth is born in crisis, and if we take away the crisis, we cripple the other person’s ability to see Jesus for who he is.

After all, in the end, do we want people to need Jesus and know he can handle anything, or need us and watch as we fail them every time?

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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 Cassie Rayl

The once-sweet child reared his head and backed as far away from me as possible. His whining quickly escalated to screams and crocodile tears as he discovered I, the very mean aunt, wasn’t going to relent about giving him medicine.

“I know you hate this, Buddy. I do, too. But you need this. You’ll feel better before you know it. Trust me. I promise.” My attempts to reason with a panicked kindergartener fell on deaf ears. I decided to hold him tight and do what every guardian or parent has done—force the nasty liquid down his throat for the split second he wasn’t screaming.

In just a few moments, his gulps of air turned into sighs, his tears stopped, and his eyelids got heavy as the medicine went to work. Rest was the only thing which would help my nephew recover from what ailed him.

I’m not much different than my nephew—even as an adult. I often envision myself in the Heavenly Throne Room screaming, panicking, and resisting a new lesson or change God has made obvious to me. My life is fine the way it is. I did not give him the go-ahead to fix things his way instead of mine.

Yet when I finally calm down, trust Him, and let Him lead me to true healing, I see the truth. The reality is, He knew what I needed and is always willing to do the hard thing, even when I’m not.

And when I think back on those seasons, though I may remember some of the pain, I remember how I can see Christ more clearly because of the changes he made.

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

Earlier this summer, the hydrangea plant in the landscaping around my house started sprouting an odd-looking stem. When I first saw it I thought, “That’s a weed, I should pull it up.” But then I started to look closer and suddenly wasn’t sure exactly what it was. The leaves, though a darker color, looked like the rest of the plant. They all had jagged edges. I lifted the leaves to trace the stems to the roots and I could not separate the stems of this thing from the flower. I thought, “Let’s just see what happens. I don’t remember what it looked like last year.” So I left it.

Before long, the weed completely took over! You could hardly see the hydrangea under the looming weed. And it took everything my husband had to wrestle it out of there. We attacked the root with a shovel and took turns twisting and pulling until finally he was able to yank it out.  When he did, we realized that the root of the weed had grown about a foot directly into the roots—the foundation—of the flower.

That is exactly what happens in our thought life when we do not take captive the thoughts that threaten us, threaten our identity, security and freedom in Christ, the reality of who we are because of Him. It’s what happens when we let thoughts run wild about other people. When we compare ourselves to them or make quick judgments about them.

It’s what happens when concerns and worries about our circumstances plant themselves so strongly in our minds they threaten to steal our joy. And it is certainly what happens when our thoughts tempt us toward all kinds of destructive habits and attitudes. Even while everything on the outside still seems to blend in, that pesky little thought is burrowing its way into our very core.

We don’t have to be held hostage by our thoughts. Instead, we can tell them the truth about who God says we are in Him!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I finally found the place I had always dreamed of—that place where I would find perfect peace. You see, when I was a child, I had to have allergy shots every week. I would throw a fit every Thursday when the time came to go to the clinic.

My mom finally sat me down and helped me see I just needed to get used to it. She advised me to imagine a beautiful place and pretend I was there instead.

I knew exactly what to focus on. A painting I loved showed a babbling stream running downhill through the rocks, surrounded by forest trees and ferns. I dreamed of walking along the little path that wound alongside the brook. I pictured myself sitting on the rock under one of the trees and reading, journaling, maybe even trying some sketching. I would be completely at peace.

It became my mental go-to place when life got hard. Going to the dentist? Picture myself in my happy place. Waiting for a tow truck for a broken-down car? Mentally spend that time in my beautiful forest.

One day while traveling we passed it—a place that looked like my perfect place. We had to stop and enjoy it!

I stepped out of the car to the rich smell of balsam fir. This was even better than I had imagined. I hurried toward the little path. The fern slapped at my legs and the going wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. Then I felt a stinging sensation, followed by another and another. The little pools among the stones formed a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes! Soon I started sneezing uncontrollably. The strong scent of the firs was too much for my sinuses. I headed back to the car. As I tried to skirt the ferns, my foot sank up to my ankle in mud.

I had fallen in love with a two-dimensional picture! I never imagined the realities of my idyllic scenario. It helped me realize how I’ve deceived myself all my life. I keep thinking the next season of life will be easier/happier/freer.  I look at others and assume their lives are easier than mine. The truth is that the life of my dreams not very realistic.

It was a wake-up call. Life just isn’t going to meet my expectations. The real thing is sometimes hard. However, I’m glad I experienced the real thing. I no longer waste my time dreaming of the day life will be perfect.

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

I don’t want to brag but I am an expert on being oblivious. It is human nature to be self consumed and society encourages it. Being oblivious feels comfortable. I was so oblivious I was oblivious to being oblivious.

For years in my oblivion, I was running the show in my Christian walk. I believed I was allowing God to be in charge. The fact was I saw God as my puppet and I held the strings. I told Him what to do and how to serve me.

One day I found an old journal. As I flipped through the pages, I watched my prayers go from humble fervent requests to micromanaged demands. I realized my daily Jesus time routine went from something I enjoyed and needed to a reason I deserved God’s love.

One day it all came together. All the little hints turned into a picture that I then recognized as myself. It was not the picture I had in my mind. I was an ugly prideful twit. I had to repent and ask God to help me.

My Heavenly Father began to readjust my thinking in my times of prayer. Slowly but surely, He held up the mirror. I could only see a little piece at a time.

I’d like to say I did this willingly and all went well and quickly. It did not. I was ashamed of what I saw and who I had become. I wept bitterly, and had a long pity party.

In attempts to fix myself, I allowed lies from the devil to comfort me. I began to believe I’d never be enough for God. I stopped writing. I even stopped praying. I was mad and hurt, but I still made feeble attempts to seek HIm.

One night I woke up and heard the words “God doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.” I realized that was the lie I had been clinging to.

I repented. I asked God to help me be a servant like Him. I surrendered myself up to His work and asked Him to transform me. I couldn’t do it myself.

With God’s help I am stepping out of being oblivious to become more self-aware for God’s glory. Won’t you join me and ask God to continue His good work in you?

Humble us, Lord, that we may receive Your grace.

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