From time to time, a book comes along that captures the heart (and pocketbook) of Christian book readers. A few years ago it was The Shack, today it is a new devotional, Jesus Calling.
Until now, I have put off reading and reviewing the book, which offers daily devotionals to the reader. The book’s appeal is readily apparent. Attractively bound and laid out, any believer could quickly import the book into his or her daily life. It has bite-sized readings for each day and Scripture references at the bottom, perfect for someone’s daily “quiet time.”
What’s more, the author, Sarah Young has hit upon a novel concept. She has written each entry as if Jesus Himself is talking directly to you. “Enjoying Peace in His Presence,” is the book’s promise. Indeed, many of the writings speak exactly to the perceived everyday struggles for the Christian walk.
I have personally spoken to many Christians who testify to the book’s powerful impact on their lives and spirit. However, I have some significant problems with the book that I must air, in descending order.
Problem #3: Becomes a substitute
Time is limited. In today’s fast paced society, with all the distractions of media, believers are bombarded with messages that distract from our time with the Lord. By the grace of God, having time with the Lord has become a standard for being a disciple of Christ.
Every day, millions throughout the world start and end their day with Scripture and prayer. To augment those times, many believes will invite in a devotional or study aide. In doing so, we must carefully choose what we invite in.
This extended review from noted Christian blogger Tim Challies underscores why, for theological reasons, “Jesus Calling” is not a good pick for devotional times. Furthermore, while many devotionals quote directly from the Scripture, this work only lists cites that you have to go look up, and when it does, only singular verses. The average reader will not take time to do this and therefore the book becomes an inadequate substitute for time that could have been spent in the Word.
Problem #2: Not His teachings
In the book of Acts, about the Berean Jews “were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11). In other words, the Bereans were good at comparing teachings they heard to the Bible. Anyone familiar with the words of Christ to those in this book will leave the reader scratching his head.
Here is a sample from the August 12 entry (pg. 235):
“Do not compare yourself with others, who seem to skip along their life-paths with ease. Their journeys have been different from yours, and I have gifted them with abundant energy. I have gifted you with fragility, providing opportunities for your spirit to blossom in My Presence.”
Even if this line of thinking were consistent with Scripture, it is a far cry from Christ saying He has come to “seek and save the lost.” It is far from the real blood He shed. In fact, it sounds more like afternoon talk show advice than the living Son of God. Unfortunately, examples like this are not uncommon in the book.
Problem #1: Not His voice
It would be problematic enough if Young were claiming to have captured the voice of Christ. From interviews, however, it appears that she claims to have captured the very words of Christ.
Sarah Young has said, “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.”
When considering a book, consider the author as well. We have here, from her own lips, her stated purpose for the book. The Bible, meanwhile, forbids adding to the Word of God (Rev. 22:19, Deut. 4:2, Prov. 30:6). In penning this work, Young walks onto dangerously thin ice.
While I am sure the book is of course not all bad, its problems are significant enough that readers should set it aside. In the end, what promises to be a live call on the phone line from Christ ends up being more like a prank call.