When No One Notices

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15
I did the right thing.
I laid down my desires for the sake of another.
It was hard.
But then the really hard thing happened.
No one noticed.
Can anyone relate? Have to ever felt like you did the Christian thing, that you were “devoted to one another in love,” “honor[ing] one another above yourselves,”* and though it was hard, you felt good for doing the right thing—until no one noticed?
Perhaps you cleaned up the break room at the office, or made sure the house was neat and welcoming when your husband walked in the door.  Or you made your child’s favorite dinner although you can’t stand it yourself. But no one said a word.
Maybe your sacrificial act was much bigger. You left friends and a job you love so your spouse could pursue an opportunity in a different city.  You gave years of your life to care for an aging parent or in-law.  And the words of thanks came rarely, if at all.
Perhaps you started by sacrificing with joy, out of love for God or for a specific person. You felt good about doing the right thing, the Christian thing.
But soon, you started feeling sorry for yourself.  You complained to God that life’s not fair.  And then a root of bitterness started to grow:
“He could at least say ‘thank you’!”
“Why am I always the one who has to sacrifice?”
“When will it be MY turn?”
When I’ve gone this far down the bitterness road, things start to get ugly. I become an angry, resentful person.  Selfishness is the name of my game, because, after all, I deserve to take care of me. I’ve done my share!
Also about this time, I do begin to get reactions from those around me—not the thanks I crave—but comments and stares that ask, “what’s YOUR problem!”
What IS our problem when we get to this point? Perhaps the key is found in the first part of today’s verse, “see that no one falls short of the grace of God.” The CEB translation is “make sure no one misses out on God’s grace.”
In other words, we have to make sure we see, understand, and experience GOD’s grace, so that when we do things for others, we do so as people who have already received, not as those who are still looking for something.
Does that make sense? When I walk in God’s grace—the unmerited favor that has not only given me eternal life but also daily spiritual blessings—then I am filled by God and am not needy for the gratitude of others.
So today, as I honestly feel disappointment for thanks not given, I give my disappointment to God.  And I thank Him for the gifts He gives.
As I practice the discipline of gratitude for God’s grace, my sacrifice again becomes the gift to another that it was meant to be!
*Romans 12:10
By Sandy MacMillan, Take Heart Founder/Director

I Didn’t Sign Up For This

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by Brenda Blankenship

  • Advertisers boldly announce the benefits of their latest wonder drug, while hiding the side effects in fine print.
  • Teachers needing extra help tell of the blessedness of being homeroom mom, while minimizing the number of field trips, classroom parties and cupcakes involved in her duties.
  • Team leaders appeal to the benefits of serving while downplaying the effort needed when no one notices, no one applauds and no one seems to care.

While all of these things are so worth the effort required, we would be smart to count the cost before signing on the dotted line, so to speak.

We sign up for the prize but forget the effort that must be exerted for endless hours, days, months and years before the glory arrives.

Even when you think you are prepared for a new call on your life, you really don’t know all that will be required of you until you get there.

And then, like me, you may hear yourself muttering, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

This is true in every arena of life:

  • As a business woman, you signed on to use your creative skills, your business prowess, and your people skills with a team of equally motivated workers.  You just didn’t factor in their laziness, the apathy, the financial nosedive, or the overtime required.  Soon, you are crying, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
  • As a mom, you signed on to raise godly offspring to love the Lord, to respectfully learn from mother and father, and to be a blessing to the world around them.  You just didn’t factor in sleepless nights, monsters under the bed, colic, stomach viruses, 5492 diapers a year, “No!”, “Mine!”, and a strong will.
  • As a wife, you signed on “to love and to cherish, to undergird and respect, to honor in sickness and in health ‘til death do you part.”  You just didn’t realize your man would be out of a job for a full year, that cancer would come calling at age 30, that children would bring an unparalleled damper on dates and conversation, or that weariness would snuff out candlelight and romance.
  • As a woman, you didn’t realize that your parents would age and need your care at the exact time your young adult children were leaving the family nest.  You didn’t realize that hormones play a very real part in your emotions.  You didn’t consider middle age bringing achy bones, sagging breasts and extreme needs for a nap and a snack.  Hey, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

“In this world you will have much tribulation, but TAKE HEART, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

This past year I have found myself telling the Lord, more than once, “Thank You, Lord, that I don’t know what I don’t know.”

Thank You, Lord, that you don’t tell us every ‘tribulation’ we will face.  You simply remind us that You have overcome!  And that You will be with us all the way Home. Thank You, Lord, that though I don’t know what I don’t know, I do know these promises:

“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”  Deuteronomy 33:25

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13

“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

Though I don’t know what tomorrow holds, I am confident that the One who holds my tomorrows is able to make me an overcomer too.  Thank You, Lord, that even though I didn’t sign up for this, you are right beside me, giving me strength for all I need.  So I take heart in knowing You are all powerful and able to equip me for each day’s responsibilities.  You will never leave me or forsake me.  You will strengthen me…even when I didn’t sign up for this.

ImageBrenda Blankenship is a speaker at women’s events across the country, Women’s Ministry Director at Milestones Church in Spartanburg, SC, and will be leading the breakout session entitled “The Bare Necessities” at Take Heart 2014. Find conference information and a description of Brenda’s session at www.TakeHeartTogether.com/conference.

Calgon, Take Me Away!

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by Sandy MacMillan

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John16:33

I barely remember the commercials that popularized the expression, “Calgon, take me away!”  But I remember the wistfulness in my friend’s voice when—after a hard day with preschoolers—she would echo the expression, one of her favorites.

My friend was a single mom, a widow. She was left alone to deal with challenging parenting issues, financial difficulties, and grief.  I wished with her that Calgon could take her away from her trials.

Through the years, I’ve had my own share of trials, as I’m sure you have.  Trouble is unavoidable, as Jesus reminds us in John 16:33. He says:

“In this world you WILL have trouble.”

We know that trouble is part of life.  Yet it is never a welcome visitor.

As I dealt with a recent version of life’s troubles, I wished once again that Calgon could take me away, that I could avoid my trials and skip to life’s next, hopefully more pleasant, scene.

Instead, I found myself camping out in two passages of Scripture: James 1:2-4, and Romans 5:3-5. (I’ve included both passages at the bottom of this devotional.) Both of these passages focus on the unpopular idea that we are to somehow be joyful—to boast about—the trials we have.  In the past, I’ve tweaked the meaning of these passages, deciding I needed to be joyful DESPITE my trials.  Yet a careful reading doesn’t give us that option.

We are called to be joyful, to boast, ABOUT our trials, not despite them.

As I read and reread these passages, I felt God’s persistent urging to rejoice about my current troubles. I could neither understand why or how to do so.

But the more time I spent thinking about these verses, the more God’s Spirit pointed me to what they say will be the result of my trials.  James says that the perseverance that I gain will make me “mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  In the Romans passage, Paul says that the suffering that leads through perseverance and character will produce in me the kind of hope that doesn’t disappoint.

I want to be mature and complete, not lacking anything. I want the kind of hope that doesn’t disappoint. And I’m beginning to see that those things cannot be gained apart from trouble.

Wise friends remind me that God is more concerned about my character than my circumstances.  They remind me too that it is God’s goodness that uses my trials as tools to make me more like Jesus.

I confess that the moments I “consider it pure joy” to face troubles are still rare.  But I’m finding it easier to Take Heart as I remember the promise of a hope that doesn’t disappoint, as I remember that my trials are making me more like the Christ who has overcome the world.

Do you want to be like Jesus—mature and complete, anchored by a hope that doesn’t disappoint? I pray that as we strive together to trust God in the midst of our trials, we can encourage each other. And as we trust God to work through our trials, we can rejoice together!

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (NIV)

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 (NASB)

ImageSandy MacMillan is the founder and director of Take Heart. She will be leading the breakout session entitled “The Blessing of Not Enough” at Take Heart 2014, March 28-29 (for more information, go to www.TakeHeartTogether.com/conference).

A Different Kind of Toolbox: Learning to Apply the Truth of God’s Word

By Ruth McWhite

My co-worker provides me great pleasure in her ability to fix anything!  She can ALWAYS help me on the computer!  But other days, she fixes my watch; she takes my desk apart to fix the drawer; and yesterday, she installed a sink in her home!  This morning, she used a box cutter for fix a sharp edge on my bracelet!  She has the tools at hand, AND SHE KNOWS HOW TO USE THEM!

bible toolsGod has given us this incredible toolbox called HIS WORD that He intended for us to use.   He doesn’t just hope we will open it and admire it, but ACTUALLY PUT IT TO USE!  He describes His Word in Hebrews as ‘living, sharp as a two-edged sword and ABLE’; so how it is that you and I can feel so terribly inadequate to live the life He has called us to live?

I am more convinced than EVER that He meant it when He said in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and I will tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”  I read just this morning from Matthew 7 to ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK!  Then my paraphrase of the next verse is this:  How ridiculous to think that He would not give good gifts to those who ask Him!

Just when I thought my ‘in home parenting’ days (for the last 27 years) were over, God brought me a precious 11 year old daughter who would take our last name exactly nine months to the day from her mother’s funeral.   All of the sudden, I am in brand new territory.  I have no idea how to meet all of the needs of her grieving heart.  In all of my questions and doubts about my own ability here, He speaks truth into my soul MORNING by MORNING.  (Look up Psalm 5:3, 119:130, and 130:5-6.) It is a call to open this massive toolbox, take hold of what I need with great confidence, and then go into my day based on the Truth of what He has spoken and revealed to me just that morning.

The marvelous thing is that something as simple as pen and paper makes all the difference.  I have learned to grab my pen before I even open the Word.  I come before Him in great expectation, and so far, He has not let me down!  I never cease to be amazed at how deep this toolbox goes!  It is a never ending source of all that I need!

Ruth McWhite will be leading the breakout session “Applying the Truth of God’s Word”  at Take Heart 2014, March 28-29th in Greenville, SC. For more information or to register, go to www.takehearttogether.comruth mcwhite 2

Even If… by Guest Blogger Jessica Mast

My friend Jessica was widowed at age 25, after spending months in the hospital beside her husband, whose illness was never diagnosed. Yet Jessica has learned what it means to take heart in even the worst of circumstances. She shares some of the lessons she learned in today’s guest post:Image

Even If…

We’ve all been there: in a situation where we feel like we’re pushing against a brick wall. We try to change what’s happening in our lives, and nothing budges. We feel defeated. Our situation doesn’t change, and we wonder why we haven’t overcome.

In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 1 John 5:5 says, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” Jesus has overcome the world, and because we believe Jesus is the Son of God, we have overcome the world as well. The enemy just tries to convince us otherwise.

So whether or not you overcome is not measured by the outcome of your situation. The battle isn’t over our tangible, outside circumstances. God can change that faster than you can blink your eyes. The battle is over our minds and hearts. If the enemy can get you to think you’re defeated and make your problems look monstrous, then he can get you to lose sight of the greatness of our God. Our faith is then weakened.

In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” What the world gives us is temporary, but Jesus gives us what our souls are truly longing for that keeps our foundation in life solidified: everlasting peace.

You might ask, “How do we walk in God’s peace?” A few of the things the Bible tells us is to think on what is praiseworthy (what you have to be thankful for in a situation) (Philippians 4:8-9), seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first (Matthew 6:33), and keep your focus on Jesus where He is seated at the right hand of God instead of on your earthly circumstances (Colossians 3:1-2).

I believe to truly overcome means to live in peace no matter what the circumstances are. So even if the physical healing doesn’t come, or the wayward child hasn’t yet returned, or the job is lost, or the marriage has failed, or even if _____________________ (you fill in the blank) you can have peace and rest in spite of the storm. Jesus wants to give you peace in exchange for your burdens. Seek to live closely to Him, and then all your work is done. The rest is His.

“Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” (Psalm 55:22 NLT)

Jessica Mast is the author of The Call of a Caregiver and a Take Heart speaker. (www.takehearttogether.com)

Almost Like Magic (What It Means to Take Heart: Part 4)

Have you ever wished for a magic wand to whisk yourself out of difficult time? to change a flaw? to gain more faith? I know I have. But you and I know that it’s not that easy. Our faith journey is more of a walking tour than a “beam me up Scotty” kind of thing.  The lessons learned on the journey are an essential part of becoming who we are meant to be in Christ. Generally we must walk through trials instead of being rescued from them.

But when in comes to choosing to taking heart (our Part 2 topic) and getting a new perspective (Part 3), I’ve discovered something that is, well, almost like magic. Ann Voskamp uses the Greek word Eucharisteo. Some call it an Attitude of Gratitude.   I like the simple instruction from Scripture:

“Give Thanks!”

In my personal experience, there is nothing that brings me to a place of encouragement and faith more quickly than the discipline of giving thanks. I can be in the pits of despair, but as I take out my “gratitudes journal” and start listing things to be thankful for, I am transformed.

I’m not saying that giving thanks is always easy.  And it doesn’t make our troubles any less real. But I believe that giving thanks is a God-ordained prescription for daily changing our hearts.

On days when trials weigh heavily, my thanks may start with something as basic the roof over my head (something I have learned not to take for granted)! I thank God for the sunshine or the rain.  As I move to thanks for family, for friends, for what health I have, it’s like the sun creeping out in the midst of a hurricane. It’s crazy, but for me, it’s worked every time.

Soon, I thank God for the kindness of a cashier, or the taste of honey on whole wheat, and my vision seems to clear. Instead of seeing only my troubles, I see blessings peaking around them. I see God’s hand of protection in the midst of trials, and I see the blessing of lessons learned from them.  Then, by faith, the unimaginable happens. I thank God for the mess, for the challenge. I take heart.

I know, it sounds too simple. But I know that it has worked for me. And as I look at Scripture I see it as a call for all of us. Giving thanks is one of the most common commands God gives to His Children:

  • “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name…” (1Chronicles 16:8)
  •  “Let us come before him with thanksgiving…” (Psalm 95:2)
  • “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this it God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

And my personal favorite:

  • “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Have you ever wondered why God commands us to give thanks?  God certainly deserves our thanks for all the blessings He has given us, but God doesn’t need them. God is perfect and complete whether I say “thank you” or not.

I think the key is in the phrase “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)

When we give thanks to the Lord, we are reminded that God is good, that His love endures forever. Our thanks put whatever circumstances we face into the context of God’s goodness and love. It opens our hearts to the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit.

ImageMany of you already know the transforming power of giving thanks.  To those who are hesitant, I think of the old cliché, “Try it, you’ll like it!” Grab a pen and a notebook, or even an old napkin.  Choose to write down 10 things a day for which you are thankful.  And let me know if it isn’t almost like magic, only better!

A New Perspective (What It Means to Take Heart: Part 3)

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I love the mountains—the colorful trees, the sound wind through leaves, and the beautiful views.  But I have a fear of heights.

I have hiked to the top of a mountain and missed much of the view because I’m afraid to get close to the edge. My head can declare that the railing at the edge is secure, but convincing my feet to move towards it is easier said than done!

Last week, I said that taking heart is a choice.  A big part of that choice is embracing a new perspective, choosing to trust that God is loving and faithful even though the circumstances around us seem to tell us otherwise.  But trusting God in the midst of a difficult time can be like trusting the railing on an exposed mountaintop—easier said than done.

When I’m afraid on a mountaintop, all I can see is the distance to the bottom and the rocks that could crush me on the way down. When life hits us hard, all we can see are our losses, our heartaches, our fears.

Do you remember what people say to folks who are afraid of heights? Don’t. Look. Down.  Again, easier said than done. The dangers of the mountaintop and the uncertainties in our lives draw our eyes down.

Yet, the advice-tellers are right. If I can raise my eyes and look at blue skies and mountain silhouettes, I start to forget my fears. And amazing, the same is true in our “take heart” challenges.

So, how do we keep from looking down? How do we look up instead?

We remember.

  • God told Noah that whenever he saw a rainbow, it was a sign to remember “the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16)
  • The Israelites were told repeatedly to remember how God rescued them from Egypt (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:9, 5:15, 7:18) and led them in the wilderness. (Deuteronomy 8:2)
  • As a nation they were told again to remember God’s great works on their behalf. (e.g., 1 Chronicles 16:12)
  • While in exile, the Israelites were called to remember God’s faithfulness. Isaish 44:21)
  • As the prophets called to God for help, they remembered and reminded God of His covenant (e.g.,Jeremiah 14:21) and of his actions on behalf of Israel (e.g., Habakkuk 3:1ff)
  • And finally, as Christians, we are called to remember what God has done for us through Christ (e.g., Ephesians 2:11-13)

Throughout Scripture God called His people to remember. From the covenant after the flood through parted seas and conquered lands, God told His people to remember what He had done for them. As Christians, He continually points us back to Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Why does God so often call His people to remember?  Because as we remember what God has done, we are reminded what God is like. As we remember God’s faithfulness, we are reminded that He is faithful. Remembering lifts our eyes from our circumstances to our God.

Remember. Don’t look down.

An interesting thing happened when afraid-of-heights Sandy decided to run a race that goes up and down a small mountain near our home.  The roads are the kinds that hug the mountain on one side and drop off steeply on the other.  To train for the race, I ran on the mountain several times a week for months.

At first, I hugged the mountain side of the road whenever possible.  But the more I knew the mountain, the safer I felt. I know it’s not a perfect analogy, but as I developed a history with the mountain, I “remembered” that it was secure. Soon I began to relax and see the beauty in the woods around me. Instead of worrying about obstacles at my feet, I raised my eyes to see the sunrise. I stopped looking down and gained a whole new perspective.

When we remember who God is, that He is faithful, loving, and worthy or our trust, we stop looking down at our circumstances and gain a new perspective. From our new perspective, we can see that—even as our challenges remain difficult—God is faithful. Though our trials aren’t removed, we see God at work in the midst of them, caring for and protecting us, offering us His help and hope.

Gaining a new perspective is easier said than done.  It takes practice. Sometimes our circumstances make it hard to remember the good God has done for us.  But as we choose to take heart, as we practice this new perspective, we find that we are encouraged, that our hope is renewed.

Next time: Take Heart Magic–almost!

“Remember these things, Jacob,
for you, Israel, are my servant.
I have made you, you are my servant;
Israel, I will not forget you.” Isaiah 44:21