on July 27, 2009
A few months ago I joined the Thomas Nelson Publishers blog book review team. What a novel idea. I signed up, agreed to write a review and publish it on my blog as well as one other commercial site. In exchange, I received the book I chose to review in the mail.
I chose "Jesus Calling," a devotional by Sarah Young.
I was drawn to the content based on a few tweets from others reading the devotional. I grew up in my faith with the Oswald Chambers classic "My Utmost for His Highest." I love my online devotional time on the Jesuit site [..]--one of my favourite experiences on the web. I also love Henri Nouwen's "Bread for the Journey."
Now "Jesus Calling" is fast becoming another classic in my life. Sarah Young writes what she hears Jesus speaking to her in her spirit. She has honed her listening through years and years of writing in her journal and being attentive to what the Spirit wants to say to her.
As I have spent time in "Jesus Calling, "I have heard Jesus speaking to me many times in beautiful, fresh ways. Sometimes I hear Sarah's personal filter--she is the pen, the messenger, after all--but I also recognize this as the voice of my Shepherd.
Here are a few of my favourite calls:
* "Rest in My Presence, allowing Me to take charge of this day. Do not bolt into the day like a racehorse suddenly released. Instead, walk purposefully with Me, letting Me direct your course one step at a time."
* "You are on the right path. Listen more to Me, and less to your doubts. I am leading you along the way designed just for you."
* "You must discipline yourself to live within the boundaries of today. It is in the present moment that I walk close to you, helping you carry your burdens. Keep your focus on My Presence in the present."
I definitely recommend "Jesus Calling." My only caveat comes with the actual design. Here's what I suggest: Please don't judge this book by its cover. I was surprised when I opened the parcel I received in the mail. I was actually somewhat taken aback. My heart sank somewhat, because this book came dressed as a very dated, and forgive me for this, missionary. You get the picture. I had to force myself to pass through the visual barrier. The size and design also visually placed it in the gift book category, which surprised me. I am in my thirties and I have never bought a Christian gift book. That's just me.
As I dove into the content, however, wanting to keep up my end of the agreement, I was drawn in by the fresh writing. This book has taken me new places with Jesus. There's a lot of wisdom here, so much Beauty and great Depth.
"Jesus Calling" is worth laying down all your preconceived ideas about where you might receive and delving deeply into this revelation of Jesus.
So, while the design placed this book for me in a different audience; the content of this book crosses generations for those who want to experience Jesus in a fresh way.
If you can pierce through the visual barrier of the book jacket, the content will grab your heart, because it is Jesus speaking though one of his beloved daughters.
on March 28, 2014
I stopped by locally to buy a NIV Holy Bible by Zondervan . . . was only one left on the shelf so I grabbed it, but something pink the next rack over caught my eye. I moved closer to see and the intricate appearance of tooled leather looked so elegant. I moved closer to read the title . . . once I read it, I just had to open to a page and read.
I've been plagued with financial problems of trying to replace Mother's aged equipment and the odds seemed insurmountable and the page I had opened to read like it was a message just for me . . . I found myself saying 'OK, God, if this is a message, I hear you . . . if not, it can't do me any more damage that I've already got and I got the book. Only later did I notice that the page I randomly opened to was my Mother's birthday.
Each day I read and each day I feel a little more peaceful . . . I have always believed in God, but I don't remember ever being so positively moved and a couple wonderful things happened today, 5 days after I started reading.
Not poetic, just straight forward writings as if the words come from God and the Bible verses written at the bottom of each page to back up the message. I'm so glad I bought it and I've already told friends about it so they could get one too.
on August 8, 2010
"Jesus Calling" is a relatively unique devotional book in that Sarah Young has written her devotions from the point of view of Jesus Christ. Using this technique gives the book a sense of immediacy and intimacy with the Lord, and this is the great strength of the book.
Many of these short sayings that Young puts in the mouth of Jesus are things the Lord would say and has said to me during a life of listening to Him, reading the Scriptures, and keeping a journal. How often have I heard Him remind me to worship Him alone, to trust in Him at all times, and that He is always with me. To hear these words as if they are Jesus' own can be beneficial to the soul.
However, there are 4 reasons I can give "Jesus Calling" only 3 stars and not 4 or 5 stars, (even though I'm vastly outnumbered in the reviews on Amazon).
1. Young has Jesus say only a limited range of things compared to what God actually teaches in the entirety of the Bible. I love to hear Jesus say things like, "Relax; Trust Me; Listen to Me; I am with you; I am calling you; and Wait for Me." But this seems to be all that Young's Jesus ever says. Where are the specific commandments of Jesus, and not just "affirmations"? Where does this Jesus ever talk about the practical ways we should love our neighbor, and not just love God? And why is it always a solitary call to be alone with Him, when we're called to be the Church?
2. "Jesus Calling" shows Young's bias and doesn't have Jesus say the hard things He must often say. Where are His reminders and commandments to seek forgiveness and to forgive, to love regardless of the cost, etc? This Jesus doesn't seem ask us to do anything difficult or to sacrifice very much. It's all "You are on the right path." Where are the times when Jesus has to chastise, correct, and discipline us? Where are the times when He says things like, "Repent!" or "You're being too selfish and must take up your cross for Me today."?
3. "Jesus Calling" doesn't give any hint that sometimes God may withdraw His sweet fruit from our lives so we will depend only on Him, and not on His gifts. The saints have often experienced the "dark night of the soul" when we can't always feel God's blessed Presence? What then? Young's devotional doesn't account for this.
4. The devotionals are not directly scriptural. Thankfully, these devotionals aren't heretical or unsound: they're just incomplete. It's true that there are some Scripture references tacked on at the end of each devotional, but I don't sense that the whole counsel of God comes through in these devotionals. I like what God has told Young, but sometimes it's all too easy to interpret your own voice as being that of the Lord's. Occasionally, the words presented as Jesus' are jarring and don't sound like Jesus, such as: "This is a paradigm shift that will revolutionize your life" (devotional for March 22).
"Jesus Calling" has undoubtedly blessed many lives and will continue to do so. However, it gives a narrow view of the entirety of what Jesus Christ has to say to us.
on June 4, 2014
This is my FAVORITE devotional of ALL time !! BUT get one like this--the "large print" one with this scriptures already printed on each page-- SO much easier and nicer to have them right in front of you instead of having to look them up in the Bible. I have given at least 10-12 of these as gifts- to "church and non church people "-- the devotional bless EVERYONE and can be used as quite a "witness tool" of the Lord's love and provision for all of us. I always have 1 or 2 in my "gift box" ready to give away. This one is a beautiful shade of lavender - nice for girls/ladies-- but also comes in tan color for others.
on June 28, 2013
If Sarah Young, the author of the words attributed to Jesus, had only used "He" instead of "I" in her book, about half of my objection to it would be gone. However, in publishing these as messages she received from "listening to God," she has left us in a quandary.
Although in the Introduction she acknowledges that she "knew that these writings were not inspired as Scripture is" and a few pages later she says "The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant [without error] Word of God," then why are the messages she received from Jesus put in the first person? If it is not truly Jesus speaking, she could have said "Jesus wants you to come to him and have rest in him." But when she says "Keep your `antennae' out to pick up even the faintest glimmer of My Presence," and those words are attributed directly to Jesus (and they don't sound like anything else he has ever said), then they have to be received on the same level as Scripture, or she has put her own thoughts into the mouth Jesus.
Ms. Young says in the introduction "I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day." In the article by Alan Miller on CNN's Belief Blog entitled "I'm-Spiritual-Not-Religious" he says "[This] attitude fits with the message we are receiving more and more that "feeling" something somehow is more pure and perhaps, more `true' than having to fit in with the doctrine, practices, rules and observations of a formal institution that are handed down to us."
The great Bible teacher James Montgomery Boice, late pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church and author of many books about the Bible, wrote that the great issue of our day would not be the authority of the Bible, but its sufficiency. Would we trust it to be all that we need for life and godliness, or would Christians turn to other revelation and experiences? Jesus Calling represents just that trend. Young had the Bible, but found it insufficient.
I am guessing that many of the people who love Jesus Calling have found that just reading the Bible was insufficient for their spiritual needs. But if it takes hard work to get the sweetness out of the book God provided, then so be it. The only place you can be SURE you are hearing God's words is in God's Word, which is about the Word of God, Jesus. The illumination of the Holy Spirit will make verses shine, so that we are "taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness, so that we can find salvation in faith in Jesus Christ." (2 Timothy 3:15-17). What the Holy Spirit was never promised to do is to deliver new revelation to non-apostles, no matter how sincerely they wait and "listen."
Generations of Christians have found that the Holy Spirit has faithfully fed them and led them into deep communion with the mind of Christ through the Scriptures as they have learned the disciplines of reading, meditating on the Word, and acquired the tools to study it. Developing wisdom is hard, but it takes us from the "milk" that Paul describes as the diet of the Corinthians to the "meat" (1 Corinthians 3: 1-2).
This brings me to another of my issues with this book. Ms. Young says near the end of her introduction: "I have found themes of His Peace becoming more prominent in my writing. I'm sure this tendency reflects my personal need. However, when I get to know people, I find that most of them also desire the balm of Jesus' Peace." No doubt.
But is that all that God wants us to hear from him? Only messages of peace and comfort? Ms. Young thinks so (and says so, in the introduction), and her messages are consistently filled with that theme. Yet if you take even a very simple read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, like the one devised by Robert Murray M'Cheyne (available as a pamphlet at http://goo.gl/zQD9F or on Redeemer's booktable), you will find yourself encountering a complex, transcendent God, one who is holy, mysterious, righteous--not a tame God. He does promise his peace, deeply and profoundly, but there are many other things that God has said that we need to hear, or he wouldn't have given us the whole Bible.
In particular, as one former fan of Jesus Calling observed, there is "nothing outward facing, ministry-minded, or sacrificial" in the messages of Jesus Calling.
In the Bible, we have all we need. John 14:21 says: "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."
If you want to experience Jesus, learn how to find him in his Word. His real Word.
This review is from Kathy Keller.
on February 4, 2014
Sarah Young's Jesus Calling should be very troubling to biblical Christians.
1) It emulates God Calling: “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…this little paperback became a treasure to me.”
There are definitely denials of Christian theology in God Calling. Here are some examples:
“I, who could command a universe – I await the commands of My children.”
“I am actually at the center of every man’s being, but distracted with the things of the sense-life, he finds Me not.” (This is “Panentheism” – the belief that every part of the universe exists in God, rather than God being above and independent from His creation.)
“If you realize your high privilege, you have only to think and immediately the object of your thought is called into being.” (Similar to Word of Faith doctrine)
“You are very privileged, both of you. I share My plans and secrets with you and make known to you My Purposes, while so many have to grope on.” (Gnosticism)
“How often mortals rush to earthly friends who can serve them in so limited a way, when the friends who are freed from the limitations of humanity can serve them so much better, understand better, protect better, plan better, and even plead better their cause with Me.” (Spiritualism)
“I and my Father are one. One in desire to do good.” (Denial of the deity of Christ.)
Why does Sarah Young, who has evangelical, biblical credentials, tout God Calling as a “treasure”? And not only that, but she emulates the two listeners: “The following year I began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God…I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.”
Why did Sarah Young yearn for more? 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Word of God is sufficient. Everything He needs to say to us is included in the Bible!
2) Sarah Young herself promotes New Age/Eastern concepts. There’s no doubt she’s read the writings of New Age writers:
Visualization: Sarah also describes on page x of the introduction how she practiced visualization. She says, “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 golden light. When I prayed for myself, I was suddenly enveloped in brilliant light and profound peace.” Visualization is a practice of the occult and it is widely promoted in the contemplative/mystical movement. Nowhere does Scripture teach us to pray via visualization, which is really an attempt to change reality with the mind.
New Age terms/concepts spouted by “Jesus” in Jesus Calling: divine alchemy, co-creation with God, practicing the Presence, “be a channel”, “make your mind like a still pool of water, ready to receive whatever thoughts I drop into it”, quantum leap, paradigm shift, “I am above all, as well as in all”, consciousness, sacred space of communion, “breathe slowly and deeply”, still your mind.
I believe that Sarah Young has been especially influenced by Barbara Marx Hubbard, author of The Revelation, a New Age re-write of portions of the Bible. Hubbard writes that her Jesus says we should “create the cocoon of light”, and Sarah Young’s Jesus says: “I am all around you, like a cocoon of light.”
3) Sarah states that her writings must be subservient to the Bible, but she doesn’t tell us what they are or if we are to regard them as authoritative. Interestingly, she claims that the messages are “…whatever I believed He was saying”, but adds, “I have continued to receive personal messages from God…” So which is it? Actual messages from God or what she believes are messages from God?
We must ask ourselves three questions:
a) Do the messages just restate the Word of God? Then they are unnecessary.
b) Do they contradict the Word of God? Then they are heretical.
c) Do they add to the Scripture? Then she is implying that the Scripture is inadequate for our spiritual needs.
We must never sacrifice obedience to God's Word for emotional experiences. Be alert to deception, for we are all weak and vulnerable to Satan's wiles.
I had no knowledge of either the book or the author when I began reading Sarah Young's Jesus Calling (having been asked by some of the readers of this site to do so). I had seen the book as a fixture on the Christian bestselling lists, but had never taken a look at it. The first thing I learned is that it has over 450 reviews on Amazon where it is holding down a 5-star average, something that is no small accomplishment. I downloaded it to my Kindle and began to read.
Sarah Young is the wife of a third-generation missionary to Japan who has earned post-graduate degrees from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, a Presbyterian seminary. Her book is a devotional, a year's worth of short reflections on the Christian faith. But it has one major, all-important twist.
I will review the book under 2 headings: What She Says About What She Says and then What She Says. In other words, the first part will discuss the foundation of what she says and the second part will look at the actual content of the devotionals.
What She Says About What She Says
This is a book about experiencing the Presence of God (Presence is always capitalized in the book). It is about growing closer in relationship to the Lord, something every Christian craves. Young uses Presence to describe a very tangible feeling of God's presence. Here is some background, the first time she encountered this Presence:
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. This was far more than the intellectual answers for which I'd been searching. This was a relationship with the Creator of the universe.
Influenced by authors such as Catherine Marshall and Andrew Murray, Young continued to pursue this Presence of God, seeking to learn how to continually feel or sense God's presence. She grew in her love for God and grew in her desire to spend time with him, speaking to him in prayer and hearing from him through the Word. It was in 1992 that she received a copy of 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. The messages are written in the first person, with `I' designating God." This book became a treasure and a textbook.
The following year, I began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believe He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my prayer journal.
You will not be surprised to learn that the content of this book, each of the devotionals, is a message Young has received from the Lord--a message meant to provide a deeper experience of Jesus' Presence and Peace. "This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus' Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need."
We cannot miss this. As I have spoken to others about the book, I've heard some people say that this book is written as if Jesus is speaking to the reader. But it's important to know that Young makes a far more audacious claim--this is Jesus speaking, through her. The messages he has given her, she now passes on to us.
This is a very good time to pause and consider this claim. Sarah is claiming some kind of new revelation from God. She is saying that God speaks to her and that she then passes these messages to others. Immediately we need to ask what she believes about the Bible. Is she claiming that these messages are equal to Scripture? That they trump Scripture?
She makes no such claim; not directly, anyway. At one point she says, "I knew these writings were not inspired as Scripture is, but they were helping me grow closer to God." Later she says "The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant [without error] Word of God; my writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard." But this is all she says. While she clarifies that her writings must be subservient to the Bible, she does not actually tell us what they are or how we are to regard them. Are they authoritative? Are they in any way binding on her or on us? If they are not inspired and not inerrant, what exactly are they? There are no answers forthcoming because immediately Young begins to share those words of God as daily devotionals, saying "I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him. The more difficult my life circumstances, the more I need these encouraging directives from my Creator."
James Montgomery Boice once said that the real battle in our times would not be the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture, but its sufficiency--are we going to rely on the Bible or will we continually long for other revelation? In Jesus Calling we see this so clearly. Young teaches that though the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is insufficient. It was not enough for her and, implicitly, she teaches that it cannot be enough for us. After all, it was not reading Scripture that proved her most important spiritual discipline, but this listening, this receiving of messages from the Lord. It is not Scripture she brings to us, not primarily anyway, but these messages from Jesus.
On this basis alone this book is very suspect and needs to be treated with the utmost care. Young offers us words that she insists come straight from the Lord. But she gives no proof that we should expect the Lord to speak to us this way; all she offers is her own experience of it. At this point we are left with a few options. We can stop reading altogether, we can continue to read while rejecting her claims that these are words from the Lord, or we can read and take her at her word. Personally, unless reviewing the book, I would abandon it immediately. If she claims to be speaking Jesus' words, I am no longer interested. However, for the sake of reviewing it, I continued to read.
What She Says
Young offers a years' worth of devotionals, all of which are written in the first person, as messages from Jesus. Each of them is followed with a few Scripture passages. Here is the first half of the devotional for January 8:
Softly I announce my Presence. Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your consciousness, seeking entrance. Though I have all Power in heaven and on earth, I am infinitely tender with you. The weaker you are, the more gently I approach you. Let your weakness be a door to My Presence. Whenever you feel inadequate, remember that I am your ever-present Help.
It is interesting that the majority of the devotionals are affirmations rather than commandments which means that the book tends to be more descriptive than prescriptive. It is less about Jesus telling how we are to live, but more about who he is, who we are, and how to enjoy his Presence. It is notable that these affirmations span only a very narrow range of the Christian experience. It is equally notable that many of Jesus' words sound very little like what he says in the Bible. For example, "Let the Light of My Presence soak into you, as you focus your thoughts on Me." And shortly after, "Learn to hide in the secret of My Presence, even as you carry out your duties in the world." I do not even know what that means or how it might be applied. There is no clear command there for me to obey and no clear word about who Jesus is.
Jesus Calling is, in its own way, a very dangerous book. Though the theology is largely sound enough, my great concern is that it teaches that hearing words directly from Jesus and then sharing these words with others is the normal Christian experience. In fact, it elevates this experience over all others. And this is a dangerous precedent to set. I see no reason that I would ever recommend this book.
on February 14, 2013
The entries in this book are filled with vague lines that you can make fit to whatever your situation is. Reading it feels like reading the horoscope column. For example, April 17, which I just flipped open to reads, "Don't let unexpected events throw you off course. Rather, respond calmly and confidently, remembering that I am with you." Compare this to my horoscope for today: "An encounter could bring turmoil to a relationship; discuss it immediately to diffuse the tension." Insert "with me" after the word 'discuss' and it could be an entry in this book!
on April 28, 2011
I had been recommended this book by 2 highly regarded acquaintances who have had a long history of solid Biblical foundations. The book contains many Scripture references, but when I finally got around to reading the introduction I was struck by the New Age-type viewpoint expressed. Too much of a mystical sentiment is expressed.I would recommend extreme caution in reading this devotional.
on February 20, 2014
This book claims to be personal messages from Jesus to the author. God is portrayed as both a permissive grandfather and an ardent lover as He expresses His unending love and care for us...but without our confession, repentance or the gospel. The reader whether saved or not is promised God's full devotion and presence. It is man centered and appeals to our vanity- WE are the focal point, not God. It is experiencial, uses New Age language and was inspired by a New Age Book. Most importantly, it fails the test by contradicting Scripture (ex: Jesus: "Peace is your greatest need." Sorry, Forgiveness is. I fear this is a demonic channeling.