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.

Already Included #26 – Signs

By Sarah Nyhan

As much as I’m ashamed to talk about this subject, I write for the little Sarah that I used to be – in case there is another like me out there that Holy Spirit somehow steers towards this page. So they’ll feel validated and less ashamed. So they’ll feel hope.

Today I had a breakthrough. A major victory. But there is quite a back story. Let me see if I can condense it enough to get you caught up fairly quickly.

I could unfortauntely write a book about the subject of “signs”. Maybe I will. But today I’ll just say that when I think back, I’m unsure of how long it’s been since I made decisions based on “signs”. I wonder when and how it started.

I know for sure it originated from being among religious people. I don’t think there was ever a sermon or study on “signs”, but more is caught than taught. I am now becoming aware that the language that people around you are using can subconsciously seep into your thinking and change you without your realizing it is happening.

For example, in the church that I started walking away from a few years ago, you could be telling someone that you were going to make a decision to pursue a certain thing and you might hear responses like: “Oh, is that what God told you to do?” Or, “Oh, so you received confirmation that that is God’s will for you?”

Another example would be when someone would be talking about a decision they made and they’d say something like, “I feel God is ‘calling’ me this way.” Or, “I’ve been led to do [such and such].”

The language is so subtle. And in that sense, insidious. No one actually ever tells you directly to start looking for “signs”. But their words imply that somehow they are hearing from God. So naturally just being around that language invites your mind to entertain those concepts.

My theory now is that unfortunately I think when you are looking for something, you will tend to only focus on seeing what you are looking for and ignore other evidence. I don’t think this is conscious. I think it’s just a fact of science and how our brains tend to operate.

The classic example is when you are looking to buy a new car. You have a car in mind and then every car you see on the road tends to be that car. Suddenly it’s like everyone owns that car.

Another example can be on the more negative side. Say you just broke up from a long-term relationship and your heart is broken. Suddenly it seems like every song on the radio is a love song sent to torture you, every person you see is flaunting the fact that they are in a happy thriving relationship, every movie is a love story, every advertisement you see is about love, etc. You get the point.

Again, this is only my opinion – but when you are in a group of religious people that tend to read the Bible in a literal way as God’s main Word to us, versus reading it more literarily and viewing Jesus as God’s Word to us, then I think we can basically end up using the Bible like a Ouija board or tarot cards.

Let me be clear: I have been one of the worst offenders I know in this area. Unfortunately bordering on… well, let’s just say my passion for God mixed with this horrible “signs” mentality led me to have a huge list of things I regret doing and are difficult to admit to even those that know and love me. Much less, publicly. I have dug myself into so many holes and have the battle scars to prove it. But I can assure you the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

This is why it is so important to guard our minds. This is why I think since I heard this “already included” message that I believe God has allowed me to be somewhat socially isolated not as punishment but rather for protection. Spiritually I have been reborn in my mind and just like you protect human infants, my newfound freedom is being protected until it has a chance to grow and get rooted in deep enough. I didn’t realize or appreciate this until recently.

This is what I think is also meant when Jesus talks about putting new wine into old wineskins. I am not able to take this “already included” message back into my old ways of being. I absolutely cannot. The box I used to live in has been blown to smithereens. I can only move forward. Sheltered by our actual God versus trying to setup a religious house of cards.

And as much as I am not used to actually totally trusting the God I always talked about, I am so thankful He is allowing the fig leaves I’ve been hiding behind to wither away. In the dying of all I thought I knew, I am finding real life. I am coming alive.

And so it goes for signs. The genius of God is that I see Him working in my logic. Blowing it up from the inside. Letting me hold onto it as long as I insist. Until I let go of my understanding and lean on His heart, His matchless unending love. Until I stop trusting in my knowing, believing, doing, etc and instead trust solely in the Father I’ve always wanted. That we’ve all always wanted. Even in the best of circumstances.

When I think back, I see there has always been an easy way and a hard way. The easy way was to take love at face value. The hard way was to do it all on my own.

The easy way was to trust God’s heart and let go of “signs”. The hard way was to not know God’s heart, to drown myself in Bible knowledge and miss the big picture. The hard way was to depend on myself and always need to know because I needed to control.

This is primarily what “signs” are about: a lack of trust and a need to know in order to control. Maybe for those who have been in a better place of knowing God versus just knowing a lot of facts about Him – maybe they have never fallen in or as far into this “signs” mentality as some of us.

And on the flip side, maybe a blessing of leaning more towards the agnostic or the atheist side is having a more grounded common-sense approach towards decision-making versus the magical thinking train of thought that I fell into as I pursued “signs”. Maybe it is easier to have that foundation and then at some point be able to see the true God and filter out all the circus of witchcraft that many Christian churches tolerate – knowingly or otherwise.

I am taking a hard line. I can because I know from first-hand experience how absolutely evil and destructive these things can be. And this is not ok. Not in any way. To turn any away from the unconditional everlasting depths or God’s very personal love for each one is the epitome of heresy and blasphemy. Is wickedness. Is the Pharisees all over again. In different clothes and different houses of worship. Jesus died for that!!! Anything else is more the work of the “anti-Christ” than what I’ve been accused of.

And that is the real interesting kicker to all of this. Never, in my entire life, have I taken more responsibility for my decisions and actions than after this “already included” message seeped into my heart, mind, and spirit. And yet the first objection I usually hear from those that oppose that everyone is eternally safe in Christ is that they think people will run totally wild if they feel like they are eternally safe with God.

I agree that there might be some testing of the waters so to speak. Some pushing of limits. Looking into the sky, waiting for lighting to strike. Waiting to fall out dead on the ground. Things you thought were off-limits before. Maybe you’ll take a taste. We see this with kids in real life quite frequently when they get their first freedom from their parents.

But from personal experience, I’d wager you might not encounter the same “grace” and “protection” you experienced in the times of your delusion. You are a big kid now. You are growing up. God prunes us. His passionate wrath FOR us knows when we are strong enough for the next step. He doesn’t quench the smoking flax or break the wounded reed. But when we are strong enough, He takes off the training wheels.

Quite a shock to me! Kinda like I was a little girl taken in by a great King and at first He provided lavishly. I didn’t to do anything. He knew I needed healing and recovering. Anything I needed, He provided. But a long time went by and He prepared me to be a full person. To be able to go our and do whatever I wanted. I was excited at first. But then the responsibilities of this freedom hit me and I was used to not having to think for myself. I was used to always having Dad bail me out. He still loved and loves me as much as ever, but he knows it’s sometimes good to tell me ‘no’ now. To help me understand the power I have by letting me experience the natural results of my choices. Never to harm me. I see this now, but not at first. Always a beloved child, but not a baby, not an infant anymore. I am designed for so much more. I need to learn and develop in order to continue to explore and enjoy the full richness of this human experience.

And here we return to the talk of “signs” and my major victory.

In 2014 I told “signs” ‘no’ for the first time in a long time. Out of desperation. Not trust. GOD showed off for me in a huge powerful way. I’ve written about it before in a piece I entitled “Iniquity“.

A short time after that, God helped me when again I said ‘no’ to “signs” out of desperation and chose a career in real estate versus teaching. That struggle had me feeling suicidal. When I say this is serious business, I know what I’ talking about.

But I still didn’t get it. Hindsight is 20/20. I look back now and see over and over and over the past five years how God has always been telling me, “I love you completely and you are totally free, but if you don’t see it then we will spend as much time as you need to in order to get through this.” My forty years, literally, wandering in the desert I insisted on. “No, I’m not ready for the Promise Land.” That was never the point. God is always big enough for us. Not that we always get what we want, but that our strength isn’t what we lean on.

I learned to trust these past two years. I felt like I failed and fell on my face more than any time in my life. And no condemnation. None. Only my choice for how long I wanted to keep banging my head against the same walls.

This is where a book would do better. I could give you chapters of examples. But let’s fast forward to two from the past month.

When I say God works within our logic, this is what I mean. I think He frustrates my thinking on purpose sometimes. So I’ll let go of bad thinking, specifically this “signs” mess. About a month ago I was wondering if I should move to Corpus Christi. As I had this thought, I crossed a street named “Corpus Christi”. Why, God?! That is way too random to be a coincidence. BUT that does NOT mean it is a “sign”. And this is where I failed before. The old Sarah would have said, “Ok, God is saying I should move to Corpus.” NO! The new Sarah sees the literal street SIGN as a challenge from God: “You get to decide, Sarah. What do YOU WANT? Would a move to Corpus get you where you are trying to go in life? Is it even feasible realistically?” Etc etc etc. I didn’t have enough “faith” to believe the literal sign was a “sign”. I actually had enough TRUST in God to turn down the “sign” and decide that a move to Corpus is not what I WANTED right now for many reasons. And it was like almost immediately after that a great job opportunity in my current city came up and I ended up being offered the position.

And yet again, that decision in regards to Corpus was more desperation even with more assurance and calm than ever before. But today!

I bought my current vehicle based on “signs” even though God allowed me to hear the salesman tell me to my face, “Sometimes I feel like the devil when I am selling cars.” I kid you not. How more obvious can you get?! Yeah there were signs all right, but my brain only saw what it was looking to see. Even as probably Holy Spirit was bringing to attention how badly my gut was feeling about the deal. But this was before I knew I was “already included”. And that vehicle ended up being a pile of junk! A continuous blaring reminder to not make decisions based on “signs”. But it takes longer for some of us.

And even though I’ve been on my Dave Ramsey hustle after finally starting to dig myself out of the giant holes my “signs” dug for me (with my help and participation), I was considering buying a new car just so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about my car’s problems.

So I went to a mechanic. He tells me he doesn’t think fixing my car is worth it. He recommends buying a Hyundai instead. Is that a “sign”?

The very next day or so I get a letter in the mail saying I am approved to buy a Hyundai at a local dealership. Is that a “sign”?!

Then a man from a Hyundai dealership calls me this morning. AND I notice this morning that a guy who spent the night at the same place I am staying is driving the same Hyundai model that I was thinking of buying. This must be a “sign”, right?!

Well, the old Sarah certainly would have thought so. The new Sarah was certainly tempted to think so. But, with the sting of following so many failed “signs” still fresh in memory, coupled with God’s unrelenting pursuit of my total freedom in His unending love for me, my mind finally had space and room to slow down this morning.

I did not ignore the signs out of desperation. This might sound like ABC 123 common sense, but for me and those who have been where I have been, this is revolutionary! Courageous, audacious, and full of bravery. To be fully present and think, “Yeah, it would be nice on many levels to have a new car. But do I really need one? No, this car I have will last a little longer and it is not my identity. I have as much value driving a beat up car as I do driving a new car. This car is a tool and it does the main job I need it to do. My priority of paying off my debts is more important to ME than buying a new car and more than doubling the debt I am trying to get out of. This isn’t about what God wants or what is “bad”. Either choice is ok to make, but I will most likely incur the natural results of whatever choice I choose. I know better now. Buying a new car does not meet my financial goals right now. So I will wait. And I have enough trust in God that if He wants me to have a new car then He will make it clear to me by providing the money. I know He can. I know it doesn’t depend on me proving anything through taking ‘crazy’ leaps of ‘faith'”.

And all of heaven rejoiced! Finally, Sarah is starting to get it. Actually They saw progress in this area in me YEARS before I ever had a clue. Many of my most “rebellious” acts have been gut responses to lies about God that I was being pressured by others to accept.

Love give you wings. Love gives you some fight in your heart. Love LIFTS YOU UP!! Real love doesn’t kick you down or when you are down. Real love isn’t scary.

First we see people teach us this. Then we experience God for ourselves. Don’t let them talk you out of what Holy Spirit has done and is doing. Tricky to balance this without falling back into the other extreme. Just trust God’s heart for you; Jesus is Their real SIGN that this is absolutely true! With an exclamation point! You can truly embrace the process. This is not a test. This is learning who and Whose you ALREADY are. More like learning to hear see what already is versus jumping back on the performance hamster/torture wheel. Relax.

This is my new manifesto: I am ready for easy love! I have done enough time. I have tried to restring myself up on the tree; I sang “Hard Love” loud and proud with the rest of them. “You can depend on me, Lord. All the others might turn away, but I’ll never give up.” No more. I am done. And it is finished. I am ready for easy love.

Lord, I believe. Thank you for continuing to help my unbelief. You are not satisfied for even one wounded lamb to think they are lost and outside of your safe embrace. I love You and You love me. You love every one of us. You love us like we never knew love before. Thank You for continuing to show us; to help us see and hear and enjoy! You do not give us the spirit of fear; but rather of power and love and a SOUND MIND!

March 2nd: John MacMurray

Join us Saturday March 2 from 10am to 4pm at Dead Fish Grill (2207 Lake Road, Belton, TX 76513) in welcoming John MacMurray to discuss his new book “A Spiritual Evolution”. He will discuss his journey in search of God – who loves us relentlessly.

John MacMurray has taught Bible and theology for more than 45 years. He is also an award-winning nature photographer with images appearing in Sierra Club, National Geographic, and Audubon.

“A Spiritual Evolution tells of his journey of transformation – from fear and dogmatism to love and freedom. I have been waiting for this book. If your heart longs to be alive and free, this book is a personal map. Beautiful.” — C. Baxter Kruger, Ph. D.

“A Spiritual Evolution is compelling, kind, humble and generous, as well as brilliant.” — Wm. Paul Young

Workshop Schedule:
10:00 – 10:30 am: Registration
10:30 – 12:30 pm: Session 1
12:30 – 1:30 pm: Lunch break (lunches available at Dead Fish Grill for $11 plus tax)
1:30 – 3:30 pm: Session 2
3:30 – 4:00 pm: Book sales ($15 for softcover) and book signings

WORKSHOP COST: $20 payable at registration in cash or check made to John MacMurray. (Students FREE)

RSVP to Maryann Schaffer: drmaryann1@gmail.com

For more information: Carole McCall (254) 624-6165

To learn more about John and his work, visit his website and blogs at: http://www.johnmacmurray.com