The following is a recap of the problems with the devotional, Jesus Calling, and some suggestions for an alternative. (Originally published on 9/24/2018)
Ah! The morning comes, the smell of coffee is in the air, and still in your pajamas you reach for your devotional to begin the day with some spiritual nourishment. Rather than reading the Bible, a friend turned you on to a popular devotional: Jesus Calling.
It's a popular book, no doubt. Published by Thomas Nelson originally in 2004, Jesus Calling has sold over 15 million copies. Written by Sarah Young, the devotional captures the words of Jesus Himself as Sarah Young heard them and wrote them down.
It's a monumental claim, and one that Sarah Young makes absolutely clear. Some years ago, at my home church, we discussed the problems with this book. True to form for most works that have deeply problematic theology, Jesus Calling has some admirable qualities to it, and it has no doubt inspired the walks of many well-meaning Christians who love Jesus and desire truth. The problem with this book is mostly found in the Introduction, a clever place to tuck away some unsettling details since very few people read the Introduction to most books, much less a daily devotional. Outlined below are the issues that were unpacked.
A Spokesperson for God
She writes in her introduction:
"My journaling had changed from monologue to dialogue. Soon, messages began to flow more freely, and I bought a special notebook to record these words. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day... 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" (xiii, emphasis add).
This is pretty problematic stuff. If these really are the very words of Jesus Himself, then we should be treating this work as actual Scripture. Of course, Young makes it clear, "The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant Word of God; my writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard" (xiv). However, her claim is that her writings are more than just consistent; they are the very words of the Savior. It's a fine disclaimer but it is never actually backed up. Every entry is written in the first person, as if Jesus Himself is the One speaking. For example, on January 28, she writes:
"'I am with you always.' These were my last words I spoke before ascending into heaven" (29).
This cannot be overemphasized how dangerous this is. It takes no more than a quick look at the comments on the amazon page to see that many people actually believe Jesus is speaking here.
Scripture Just Isn't Enough
She also downgrades the sufficiency of actual Scripture. She writes,
"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” (xiii).
This is not the testimony of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Scripture is able to equip every believer for every good work. Anytime we say, "I want more than just Scripture," we are setting ourselves up for eventual failure and opening ourselves up to potentially deep, dark, spiritual warfare. The enemy, after all, wants nothing more than to give you more than Scripture. We however must find contentment in what has been, "passed down, once and for all, to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
Some Questionable Influence
Young shares in her Introduction how she has been influenced by a previous work titled, God Calling. She describes the way in which she would receive these messages from God and how she first heard of this method through two people known as, "The Listeners" who penned God Calling (xiii). Tim Challies adds:
"This is not a far cry from a practice known as “automatic writing” which is "an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to produce written words without consciously writing. The words are claimed to arise from a subconscious, spiritual or supernatural source.” Her inspiration was God Calling where it is even clearer that the authors allowed their minds to go blank at which point they supposedly received messages from God. This practice is very different from the giving of biblical revelation where God worked through the thoughts, personalities, and even research of the authors" (from 10 Serious Problem with Jesus Calling, Tim Challies).
This practice should be outright rejected, and the danger beyond receiving these messages is that Christians would begin to think this practice is ok for their quiet time as well.
Let's Change It Up
After some years of being on the market, Young has since revised the original work and several changes have been made. The references to God Calling have been removed, which is, what's the word? Suspicious (Or sus, as the children say). Beyond that, several of the biblical stories that are interwoven into her daily devotions had biblical error in them, and have since been revised. This raises another question: If Young has recorded Jesus' actual words, why do they need to be corrected?
So What Do I Read Instead?
There are quite a few good devotionals out there, but there are three that I think stand out above the rest, personally.
1. Experiencing God Day By Day, Henry & Richard Blackaby
This is a great, simple and impactful devotional that I was given by Richard Blackaby. Several years ago I led worship at a summit in North Dakota, and the keynote speaker was Mr. Blackaby. I had the chance to sit and talk with him several times and he continuously surprised me with how much wisdom and insight he had into so many different aspects of ministry. He is a profoundly important voice for faith, and a genuinely Godly man, and this devotional is one that is both practical and biblical. Blackaby's concept of experiencing God centers itself on doing God's will by finding where He is working and joining Him there. It can be purchased here.
2. Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, John MacArthur
One of the most preeminent voices of sound, biblical doctrine for the last several decades has been John MacArthur. This series of devotionals is perhaps one of the best in terms of simple applications of the biblical text.
Each day the reader will read an excerpt of Jesus speaking from one of the Gospel's, a small explanation of the context in which He was speaking, and a few follow-up questions that will challenge the reader to apply the text to their lives. These devotionals do not need to be read in order, so start with whichever one you like. They can be purchased here.
3. My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers
A staple in the devotional world, Utmost is deep, profound, and weighty. Written in 1924 and translated into 39 languages, it is one of the most read devotionals of all time, and is still not out of print.
Chambers died having not published a single book. His wife undertook the task of putting all of his material into edited form and of the 33 books that have been published to his name, Utmost continues to enrich the lives of believers every day. This book can be purchased here.
This is not the best beginning devotional, however. The language is dated and the material is dense. This is a perfect goal to get to, but my recommendation is that if you have never read a daily devotional, you start with one of the first two listed.
As always, I encourage you to do your own work on this. Look up the references I have included, and decide for yourself. Devotional time is an important time, and a very beneficial time IF we are taking in the right stuff. When a devotional makes the claims Jesus Calling does and is produced out of the occultic practices that Jesus Calling promotes, it's not a question of whether or not someone (or thing) is calling. The question is, who is calling? It's certainly not Jesus.