This book apparently became an overnight sensation in the Christian community, although I admit it was unbeknownst to me until a reader emailed asking for my thoughts (thank you for alerting me, by the way). Pastor Ken Silva commented on this book a year ago, so I was really "out of the loop" on this one! I likely was sheltered from this book for so long due to my aversion for "Christian" book stores that tend to have more mysticism on their shelves than solid theology. Nevertheless, I am now the disturbed owner of a copy of this devotional book and, upon the completion of this review, I am debating whether or not to burn it. One way or another, I cannot wait to get it out of my house.
The description of this book on Amazon reads as follows:
Jesus Calling is a devotional filled with uniquely inspired treasures from heaven for every day of the year. After many years of writing in her prayer journal, missionary Sarah Young decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever she believed He was saying to her. It was awkward at first, but gradually her journaling changed from monologue to dialogue. She knew her writings were not inspired as Scripture is, but journaling helped her grow closer to God. Others were blessed as she shared her writings, until people all over the world were using her messages. They are written from Jesus' point of view, thus the title Jesus Calling. It is Sarah's fervent prayer that our Savior may bless readers with His presence and His peace in ever deeper measure. (Online Source, emphasis mine)Right away we know that the author of the book believes that these devotions are personalized messages that Jesus and/or God spoke directly to her. Sounds a little like the New Age practices of channeling or automatic writing, doesn't it? This short description alone should be enough to turn away a discerning Christian, but let's dive into the book anyway.
Admittedly, I have not read all 365 devotions in this book. As I said, reading this book makes me feel creepy, and I think you'll see why in a few moments. I did read through the introduction and through multiple entries, though...more than enough to confidently advise against anyone wasting their money on this book. First, I want to draw your attention to the author's emphasis on feeling and experience. That's the entire premise of the book, really, beginning with the opening sentence of the introduction on page vi of the hardcover edition (emphasis mine):
"I first experienced the Presence of God..."I want you to note the capitalization and the proper noun above. Throughout the book, Young capitalizes some bizarre nouns to be representative of God, and her choices in this only add to the feeling of New Age-ism throughout the work. Page vii describes her supposed conversion story. From this point on in my post, all emphases will be mine unless otherwise noted:
"One night I found myself leaving the warmth of our cozy chalet to walk alone in the snowy mountains. I went into a deeply wooded area, feeling vulnerable and awed by cold, moonlit beauty. The air was crisp and dry, piercing to inhale. Suddenly I felt as if a warm mist enveloped me. I became aware of a lovely Presence, and my involuntary response was to whisper, "Sweet Jesus." This utterance was totally uncharacteristic of me, and I was shocked to hear myself speaking so tenderly to Jesus. As I pondered this brief communication, I realized it was the response of a converted heart; at that moment I knew I belonged to Him."Several things jump out at me here. First of all, I did not know that Jesus was a warm mist. Interesting. Notice that she felt it. Then, after muttering a blasphemous phrase that is common among unregenerates, she decided that she was converted. There is no talk of an acknowledgment of sin, nothing of repentance, nothing of a crucified and risen Savior...nothing indicative of a biblical conversion.
She continues to talk about her subsequent experiences with the "Presence of Jesus," but then admits that, in time, she failed to continue to "vividly experience the Presence of Jesus." It was this lack of warm mists, I suppose, that led her to begin "seeking God's Presence in earnest." Why Sarah Young didn't just open the Bible and read the Holy Word of God, I do not know, but if she had, I can guarantee that she would have had a true encounter with the Living God!
On page x of the introduction, Young describes how she practiced visualization when her family began to encounter spiritual warfare:
"One morning as I prayed, I visualized God protecting each of us. I pictured first our daughter, then our son, and then Steve encircled by God's protective Presence, which looked like a golden light. When I prayed for myself, I was suddenly enveloped in brilliant light and profound peace. I lost all sense of time as I experienced God's Presence in this powerful way."Visualization is not a Christian practice. On the contrary, it is a practice of the occult. Nowhere does Scripture teach the Christian to pray through visualization, especially of "God's presence." But Young's story gets more disturbing:
"During that same year I began reading 'God Calling,' a devotional book written by two anonymous 'listeners.' These women practiced waiting quietly in God's Presence, pencils and paper in hand, recording the messages they received from Him (page xi)."The unbiblical practice of meditation and contemplative prayer has been discussed at length on this blog, so I won't digress into that discussion here. It is imperative to note, however, that Sarah Young admits to being influenced by women who entered altered states of consciousness in order to "hear" from God. This is dangerous and deceptive; I can say with the highest confidence that the messages these women received was not from God.
Inspired by this book, Young admits that, "I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more (page xii)." God's Word wasn't enough for her. Perhaps it didn't generate a warm enough mist or a welcoming enough feeling, especially as it tends to convict the reader of sin. So Young began to journal. And as she journaled, she developed from writing "monologue to dialogue." God, she claims, was communicating with her directly and personally. She claims that she continues to "receive personal messages from God (xii)" as she sits quietly in God's Presence. These conversations with the Almighty have "increased [Young's] intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline (xiii)," which is why she has graciously chosen to publish these conversations for all the world to read. Yes, the book Jesus Calling is allegedly one woman's messages received directly from Jesus Christ.
Because these short devotions come from Jesus Himself, they are written in the first person. Young includes scripture references at the end of each entry, but many are yanked out of context in order to address the felt need of the day. Nearly every entry I looked at spoke of the "Presence" or the "Light." A Christian well-versed in doctrine and the Bible may casually read some of these devotions and unknowingly pick out a biblical concept about God's love or promises, and walk away with that, thinking that the book is harmless and as Christian as it claims to be. This is why it is so important to examine things closely and in light of God's Word. Let me just touch on a couple of entries from this past week, which are quite representative of what I found throughout the book. Remember, this is written in the first person directly from Jesus:
June 7: "I am all around you, like a cocoon of Light. My Presence with you is a promise, independent of your awareness of Me. Many things can block this awareness, but the major culprit is worry. My chlidren tend to accept worry as an inescapable fact of life. However, worry is a form of unbelief; it is anathema to me.
Who is in charge of your life? If it is you, then you have good reason to worry. But if it is I, then worry is both unnecessary and counterproductive. When you start to feel anxious about something, relinquish the situation to Me. Back off a bit, redirecting your focus to Me. I will either take care of the problem Myself or show you how to handle it. In this world you will have problems, but you need not lose sight of Me." Luke 12:22-31; John 16:33Okay, worry is a sin, that's true (of course, Young does not use that dreaded "s" word). But, Jesus is "like a cocoon of Light?" No thanks.
June 9: "Seek to live in My love, which covers a multitude of sins: both yours and others. Wear My Love like a cloak of Light, covering you from head to toe. Have no fear, for perfect Love decimates fear. Look at other people through lenses of Love; see them from My perspective. This is how you walk in the Light, and it pleases me.
I want My Body of believers to be radiant with the Light of My Presence. How I grieve when pockets of darkness increasingly dim the Love-Light. Return to Me, your First Love! Gaze at Me in the splendor of holiness, and My Love will once again envelop you in Light." 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 4:18; Revelation 2:4Do you see a pattern developing? Love...Light....Love...Light...and so on. Not only has Young ripped all three of those verses out of context (especially Revelation 2:4, which was written to a church!), but what is this "cloak of Light" and what Bible verse talks about dimming the "Love-Light?" She claims that we "walk in the Light" by looking at other people "through lenses of Love." Really? I thought walking in the light referred to living a holy life, repenting of sin, you know, all that stuff that's in the Bible.
One final entry that I just turned to at random:But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 1:7-2:6)
March 27: "Be still in My Presence, even though countless tasks clamor for your attention. Nothing is as important as spending time with Me. While you wait in My Presence, I do My best work within you: transforming you by the renewing of your mind. If you skimp on this time with Me, you may plunge headlong into the wrong activities, missing the richness of what I have planned for you.
Do not seek Me primarily for what I can give you. Remember that I, the Giver, am infinitely greater than any gift I might impart to you. Though I delight in blessing My children, I am deeply grieved when My blessings become idols in their hearts. Anything can be an idol if it distracts you from Me as your First Love. When I am the ultimate Desire of your heart, you are safe from the danger of idolatry. As you wait in My Presence, enjoy the greatest gift of all: Christ in you, the hope of Glory!" Romans 12:2; Revelation 2:4; Colossians 1:27Okay, again we can find a true principle: be careful of creating an idol for yourself over and above Jesus Christ. However, let's look at the Scripture that Young has mangled here (with the exception of Revelation 2:4 since that's already been addressed).
In her March 27 entry, Young claims that Christians are changed while waiting in the "Presence" of God. But what does Paul say in Romans? What is the true context of this verse?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)About this verse and the "renewal of the mind" of the Christian, John MacArthur notes, "That kind of transformation can occur only as the Holy Spirit changes our thinking through consistent study and meditation of Scripture. The renewed mind is one saturated and controlled by the word of God (ESV MacArthur Study Bible, page 1672)." So, a believer is transformed through the inward work of the Holy Spirit and through active study of God's Word...not sitting quietly in "His Presence."
Also of concern is Young's use of Colossians 1:27 as dangerously reminiscent of panentheism--God in everything. True, the Holy Spirit abides in believers as a guarantee of our future glory, but why doesn't she just say that?
Young's preference to refer to God and Jesus as the "Presence" and the "Light" cannot be supported by Scripture, but can be likened to New Age vocabulary. Her admission that these devotional messages are a result of practicing "listening" (i.e., channeling) should bring great concern to any Christian. Jesus is not delivering personalized messages to people today as they sit in silence until reaching an altered state of consciousness. Does God speak today? Oh yes, He speaks. Open your Bible and His Truth will spring forth from the pages! His Word is still as living and active today as the day (or days) it was written. It will comfort, convict, and bless you. In your sorrow, God's Word brings promise and hope and blessed reminders of His everlasting sovereignty. In your rebellion, it brings conviction, producing faith that leads to repentance. In your joy, it will lead you to offer all praise, glory, and honor to Him, the only One who is worthy! Why would you ever desire more than what His Word already has to offer?
Sarah Young did not hear from Jesus. Her book is one of occultic origins, with a bit of truth interwoven for good measure...and good deception. Jesus is indeed calling, but not from the silent meditations of Sarah Young, and definitely not from the pages of this devotional book.