Is Jesus Really Calling? The Danger in Relying on Devotional Guides, by someone who writes them
“And then what did He say?”
“How did he say it?”
“Who else was there?”
“Did they look surprised? Show me.”
These are the kinds of questions my friends and loved ones know to expect from me when relaying a story about something that happened when I wasn’t around. I guess I don’t trust them to remember everything without a little prompting, or at least I don’t trust them to remember everything that I think is important.
So much of what we experience is subjective, you see, and we tend to highlight in our minds only that which pertains to and affects us. The only way to be sure that I get the information that I need personally from a second-hand account is to interrogate the witness. Sometimes, that’s not enough.
Sometimes, you just have to be there.
I love reading Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest is one of my favorite devotional guides. As I write devotional guides myself and tend to get caught up in those projects, it’s nice to get a fresh perspective on God’s Word from someone else who dug, wrestled, and reported in his findings.
Oswald’s insight inspires me. He can be a bit extreme sometimes, and I heartily disagree with him every once in a while, but I appreciate his passion and boldness and transparency, as so much of what he shares about human frailty and failings could only come from personal experience and the Holy Spirit having shown him these things in himself. It’s this very transparency that I strive for when I write.
Still, I don’t trust Oswald Chambers to tell me everything I need to know about the Bible and what God would have me take away from its pages. Oswald’s message is filtered, after all, through his own experience. His takeaways are those things which pertain to and affect him.
Oswald gives me snippets of Scripture pulled out of context and asks me to rely on his interpretation of not only their meaning, but the larger context of the passage from which they were pulled. I have no doubt that what he says the passages mean is exactly what the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart in reference to a very specific situation in his life and within a very specific context.
I believe the basic Truth he relates because it resonates with the Holy Spirit in my own heart and can be verified in my own study of Scripture, but sometimes Oswald wanders a little far from the solid concrete of basic Biblical truth, inferring and assuming things I’m not so sure of, making statements and relaying what I assume are bits of conversation between the Holy Spirit and his own heart.
I read those passages with caution, allowing Oswald to wander down paths paved just for him and waiting for him to return to the concrete through line of absolute Truth in his message, still admiring him, still trusting him, but taking into consideration the fact that he is just a man, no matter how godly. While he excels at communicating God’s truth on a heart level, his words are no substitute for the Bible itself, and it’s my responsibility to study God’s Word on my own so that the Holy Spirit can lead me down paths paved just for me.
If I don’t fully trust people to tell me what happened and paraphrase accurately the words of others, I sure don’t trust them to quote me directly to other people!
Once, when Hunter was in elementary school, I was supposed to send a check with him to school for a field trip. I forgot and realized my mistake when it was too late to turn around.
“Hunter,” I instructed in my serious Mommy voice, “tell Mrs. Gestland that I forgot my checkbook, but I will bring the money after school, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, distracted by the long car line behind us. “I gotta get out.”
“Hunter,” I repeated, looking him in the eye. “Did you hear me? I forgot my checkbook, but will bring the money after school.”
“Yes.” With that, he slid out of the car, formed and “I love you” with one hand, and shut the car door with the other.
After school that day, Mrs. Gestland met me in the hall just after the last bell. In a low voice that couldn’t be overheard by other parents, she said, “Angela, Hunter told me you didn’t have the money for the field trip. Don’t worry about it. I can cover Hunter this time. Consider it a gift. You do so much.” My face hot, I handed Mrs. Gestland a check for ten dollars, thanked her for her sweet offer, and explained the miscommunication.
What Hunter had said was true, I guess. I hadn’t had the money that morning, but what he told his teacher was only half of what I actually said, only half of what she needed to hear to get the whole picture, to understand the truth of the situation. By running my specific words through the filter of his own limited personal experience and passing along only what he thought was important instead of quoting me directly and letting my words speak for themselves, he had unintentionally and unknowingly created a misunderstanding between his teacher and me. I was able to fix it, but when people serve as go-betweens, that’s often not the case.
I almost bought a copy of Jesus Calling. It’s a very popular book, I understand. Considering the way people were raving, I thought it might be the modern equivalent of My Utmost for His Highest. Not so. As I leafed through the book at Mardel, something in my spirit caught and burned. The more I read, the more unsettled I became. You see, there’s a basic difference between My Utmost and Jesus Calling. Whereas Oswald Chambers explains and applies Scripture in third person, what readers understand to be his voice and from his limited, but informed perspective, Sarah Young goes a step further, not only explaining and applying the concrete basic Truth of Scripture, but assigning motive, method, and emotion to God beyond that which is expressly given in the particular passages she is discussing, using the personal pronouns “I” and “me” and “you” as if quoting God directly. In essence, this young woman puts words in God’s mouth, assuming not only the role of human go-between, but speaking for the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to help us communicate directly with God. This is very dangerous, as we know from Scripture that no one knows the mind of God (Romans 11:33-34).
I understand that the words in Sarah’s book are the words that she heard the Holy Spirit speak to her, and I would not dare question their validity as they relate to her personal situation. That’s between her and God. However, Sarah’s use of those particular personal pronouns encourages seekers to read and receive messages God may have meant just for her as God’s words to them also, whether that is her intention or not, perhaps lessening in the minds of readers—particularly in the minds of spiritually young and/or immature readers—the perceived need for further personal Bible study, or even for earnest prayer.
I don’t question Sarah’s motives. It’s clear that she wants only for the hurting and helpless to connect with God, the only One capable of providing what they need. I simply question her methods and pray that the popularity of her book isn’t a sign that we have become so complacent and lazy spiritually that we would rather swallow that which is pre-chewed and filtered to our satisfaction than do the challenging and sometimes painful, but always rewarding work of studying God’s Word on our own.
Is Jesus Calling? Absolutely! However, if you want His Truth, His whole Truth, and nothing but His Truth, there is no substitute whatsoever for sitting at the feet of Jesus yourself. Trust me. You need to be there!