Already Included #29 – Works versus Work

By Sarah Nyhan

Life is so funny and God is so much bigger than the boxes I try to nail Him into. When I first started these “Already Included” posts, I had such a different idea of what I’d be talking about. My desire was and still is to be able to explain and expound on all the purely intellectual theological aspects of this already included message.

Much to my surprise, it was rather revealed to me that I spent the overwhelming majority of my life in my mind and now I was going to learn how to really rejoin the human race and learn how to live again. To really live. Something that I had forgotten how to do after so many years spent just reading the Bible and listening to preachers. Hours and hours every week.

I am confident that once I learn to live again, once I really am living then God will open my mind again to allow me to be able to fulfill these pressing desires I have, these heavy burdens I have to be able to first share what has happened for and to me. And then be able to explain this new-to-me way in terms that will be understood by those that are still where I was.

But first things first. Jesus didn’t say the number one law was to learn the Bible. Jesus said to love God and love others as you love yourself. All of those I’ve had to learn from a totally new angle. Start from the beginning. Back to basics, almost like a newborn. Hmmm. 😉

All to say my ideas of how I wanted to post were in short time thrown out of the window. Instead real life took and is still taking priority. This is a very good thing. But it took me a long while to come around to accepting it and seeing the good in it. To be able to let go of my plans. To let go of my ego also.

If there is one thing I hate, it’s being so sure of something and then having to eat humble pie with those I’d like acceptance from when things turn out differently. So frustrating. Sometimes I feel so humiliated. But even that is helping me let go and not tie my value to the acceptance or lack thereof from others. Kinda needed in this business of going against the grain. Not that I aspire for that life; just how it played out. My Ezekiel experiences, as I call them. Funny from my perspective because most of the time I am clueless to the bull I can be in people’s china shops. A former pastor called me a pitbull more than once. Apropos in terms of my pursuit of truth, for sure. It’s taken me many years to realize others have a limit for truth. I’m sure on some level I also initially resist difficult truths, but at the end of every day there is something so innocent in me that is truly relentless in determining what is real and what is not. In every situation. Realizing lately that the journeys I take in those efforts are not wasted time even if they take longer than others.

After the first decade of so of my life, after I saw hypocrisy in adults I previously took at face value, I have always needed to make everything add up. It wasn’t enough to just tell me. I needed to see it for myself. I needed to know how A led to B. I needed to know the why. I would pray nightly: “Lord, please help me not to be deceived.” Be careful what you pray for. Truth is a blessing that sometimes feels like a curse. There is a certain appeal to ignorant bliss. As much as I needed to know, this left absolutely no room for mystery. No room for God to be God and surprise us. Trusting Him has been the hardest thing in my life. Letting go and trusting His heart for me.

All the reading in the world won’t move your foot to step out into the water. I wish it worked that way. Real life takes God out of your head and makes all of this come alive. Just like a baby cries when leaving the womb – every cell, every feeling in me aches as I stretch into this person I am fully intended to be. Not just a brain. But a heart, a soul, a body, a spirit. I feel set on fire sometimes. Every step out of my mind and into the moment like leaving a completely dark cave for high noon on a hot summer day. Often I collapse in the real physical exhaustion of it all. But I sleep better these days. Especially as I learn to talk to God more versus allowing anxieties to paralyze me. Because there is so much to learn and do. So easy to get discouraged if you don’t stay in the moment and if you forget you are in God’s eternal embrace.

And these are the things I still wrestle with still: prayer and work.

I think for the majority of my life, my view of prayer was really wrong. I saw it more like a way to manipulate God into doing something. I still don’t know and haven’t had the time to dive into the old texts with this new-to-me lens. Maybe I’ll see things more clearly one day. But so far I’ve surmised that prayer, if we want to keep calling it that, is merely conversation. And primarily for the purpose of changing MY mind.

I used to do the whole prayer and fasting bit. But with what I now believe is the wrong way of going about it. I used to fast and pray for specific things to happen. Now I hardly fast like I used to. Now fasting is more for me just a concept of isolating myself from distractions. And then for me now the prayer aspect is just asking for God to help me see things His way, to see the truth. To clear my mind from all my own ideas and make room to see things as they really are. I have had such powerful experiences and successes in approaching prayer this way. It has been an absolute joy.

If only all of me would catch up and on. After so many years of doing things the wrong way, I find I still miss now more than I hit. But the times I hit are becoming more frequent. That is very encouraging. I am so blessed to have sojourners who have come alongside me and paved the way by their examples. We give each other grace, eh?

And so this work business. I don’t think I have this mastered yet. At all. But I certainly have come a long way from where I started. Thank You, Holy Spirit and those who have been patient with me. I really want to talk about what I think is such an incredible and important distinction that I personally feel was not adequately communicated in previous churches I attended. Actually, their rhetoric may have contributed greatly to how confused I became.

Because I remember I was not raised the way I turned out. I was raised to always work hard and take care of business. At least those that claim to follow Christ never approved of any kind of “crazy faith” or “prosperity gospel”. I have no idea how I fell into that. I imagine it was just little changes in language that eventually added up so that I was gradually led over a period of decades to where I ended up. And yet you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Which is this super difficult line for me to figure out.

As an example, I recently met with a former youth pastor of mine from the church I attended with my parents decades ago. He tried to tell me that any experience or feeling I have is basically inadmissible in the court of truth. Yet I’m sure out the other side of their mouths they tell people to have a relationship with Christ. How exactly am I supposed to have a relationship with Christ if I never experience God?! Ohhhh, do you mean I am supposed to have a relationship with the Bible instead? Or that only those in power have the authority to say that their experiences are valid but others’ experiences are conveniently not valid?

That is probably the kind of treatment that initially led me to be more and more open to other lines of thought. But I think I went to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum in my pursuit of truth. I ended up in a group where they preached basically that if I was good enough then God would provide everything I needed in the physical. Note, it wasn’t said exactly that way. Of course. But that’s basically what it boiled down to. If I had enough “faith”, if I “believed” enough, if I “followed Christ” enough, if I “died to myself” enough then God would provide for all my physical needs. And the real evil in that was there was this unspoken but understood condemnation that was communicated when your physical needs were not met: it meant you were doing something wrong or not doing enough. So the answer was easy: just do more, just be better. Because there is no end, eh?

I spent YEARS on that horrible rollercoaster. Fear consumed me because there was no love in that god we created through our own projections. It literally drove me to feeling suicidal and then eventually giving up instead of killing myself. Because even at my worst I didn’t kill myself for fear that would send me to hell before I had a chance to figure out the “right” way, how to get back to heaven. Little did I know my blindness was hell enough; no more hell was needed.

And in giving up, the pendulum swung again. I let go of thinking that I had to do anything for God to give me anything. And that was a good start. I finally realized, through Holy Spirit, that God’s perfect love casts out all fear. I accepted it like a thirsty man accepts water after walking through and almost dying in the desert. BUT… I only solved half the equation. I laid down works but I didn’t know yet how to value work. Only one letter difference but worlds apart.

If I could tell my former self what I know now, I’d say: start everything from the position of refusing to compromise on the fact that God is anything besides absolutely good! That has to be the beginning of any conversation we have. And so…

If God is always good, then it’s my perspective and understanding that is wrong if I’m doubting His goodness. This is where prayer comes in. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, go to God. And He will help you. Maybe not by providing you with the explanation you want, but always with the step you need to take next. Trusting His heart and thereby His timing and ways. I realize this sometimes seems like a trite statement in the faces of very real significant losses and pain. But I am sharing what has worked thus far for me.

So that’s what I did after I felt so disillusioned when God did not provide for all of my worldly needs in the ways that I expected after I accepted this already included message and rested from all my “works”. I was angry. I thought I had been given something really important. I didn’t understand why my desires to focus on sharing it were not rewarded in the physical in the ways that I thought were reasonable. This was an extremely difficult time.

Finally I stopped praying for God to do specific things and instead I started to quiet down and ask Him to show me what I was missing. Every time I felt abandoned in the physical, I would feel Him so strongly in the spiritual. There was no denying it. Even if I tried. What gives, God?

Slowly my mind started to shift. I started to understand that work is very different than works. Work is not “bad” in general. But “works” tend to not be great when commonly misused. Work is what you do to pay your bills and put food on the table. Works are things you maybe only unconsciously do in order to manipulate God into doing something for you.

Works can look like a form of religious superstition. Like I have to give the church 10% of my income in order for God to bless my business to make more money. We could go down a rabbit hole on this one, but to keep the focus, in practical matters – ONLY giving 10% to the church will not make your business successful if you sit at home on your laurels and wait for money to fly into your bank account. Work is also required. And work in this context is good.

I hate to go here because I still believe God does miracles, but I think it is cruel to preach from the pulpit that paritioners should ONLY pray away certain health conditions. I’ve heard some churches get crazy with this and attribute every negative thing to a “spirit”. To the extreme this can look like people praying away the “spirit of diabetes” or “the spirit of lung cancer”, etc. Unfortunately some of that thinking got into my head and I think it is wrong and kills people. Literally.

The alternative is to explain to people that it is ok to pray for miracles, but in the meantime we live in a physical world where if you jump off the edge of a skyscraper, probably 99.99% of the time you are going to die. Not great odds. And similarly if you don’t put in the WORK of stopping smoking and getting your diabetes under control then your chances of dying from those things are very high. All the Bible reading, serving at church, praying, tithing, etc probably ain’t gonna save your lungs if you keep smoking.

I’m one of the last to give up on a miracle, but I’m also starting to become one of the first to get to work doing what I can do in the meantime.

Does that make sense? Once you start to accept this, I’ve found you can experience a lot of anger. You can feel cheated out of sooo much by all these pastors that were more concerned about you helping build up their kingdoms while appearing completely unconcerned about how your life was being neglected and destroyed in the process. Countless people have burnt out physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Others have experienced their families and marriages falling completely apart. Even suicides and worse. Now you know why I am so passionate about seeing people freed from wrong thinking!

They are afraid the pendulum will swing all the way back again. That we will give up on God totally. I admit some or my actions might lead outsiders to wonder. I haven’t picked up a Bible in a long time. I don’t have a church I attend. But these desires are slowly coming back in better measure. I’ve learned to look to God first.

I turned a really hard corner this week: I realized the feeling of love is not enough. It might sound unrelated, but it’s not. It’s easy to feel love for someone. It’s a lot more rare to find someone who does the hard work of being a loving person. To find a person who loves because that is their character whatever the weather. Versus a person who feels love but only behaves in like kind so much as serves their purposes. Then they jump ship and leave you high and dry.

Too long I have confused the two. Works and work. And those that feel love versus those that truly are loving.

As I accept this knowledge and move forward, I have enough work to do in minding my own business. But I share for any on the same journey.