Who is calling?

It was nearly Christmas and a friend of mine handed me a beautiful little book she had just been given for her personal worship during the coming year. Its softly padded cover was a palette of autumn hues, blending deep earthen browns and bright tangerine. At the center was an oval, framing an out-stretched hand.

The book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, had a comforting subtitle, Enjoying Peace in His Presence.  Only four by six inches, the attractive little book, perfectly sized for bedside-table use, was laid out in an easy read page-a-day format. A lovely gift!

Yet, my friend was concerned. “Something just isn’t right about it,” she said, and asked me to take a look. I read the first paragraph on the back cover.

Young [the author] decided to be more attentive to the Savior’s voice and began “listening” to what He was saying. So with pen in hand, she embarked on a journey that forever changed her---and many others around the world.

Now my friend’s concern quickly became mine.

Next I turned to the introduction to learn about the author. Her first sentence spoke of experiencing the presence of God in a setting of exquisite beauty in a fairyland-like environment, during a study retreat in a French alpine village.  Alone during a moonlit walk through the snow, Young continued, "Suddenly I felt as if a warm mist enveloped me.  I became aware of a lovely Presence, and my involuntary response was, ‘Sweet Jesus.’"

Pondering this mystical experience and several similar ones, the author stated that these experiences were far more than the intellectual answers for which I had been searching.  This was a relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Young then began what she described as a new spiritual quest, which included intensive study of the book, God Calling, a New Age devotional book (over ten million sold), compiled by A. J. Russell and written in the early 1930’s.

In it, two anonymous British women, identifying themselves only as “two listeners,” claimed to have received messages given to them by “the living Christ Himself.”  The ritual the “two listeners” practiced was sitting quietly, pencil and paper in hand, waiting for “messages,” and then carefully recording them.   

Having diligently studied their book and practices, Young became intrigued by the “messages” from God Calling, proclaiming the book as “a treasure.”  Continuing her quest, she wondered if she, like the “two listeners,” could also receive messages from God.  She revealed in the introduction of her book, Jesus Calling:

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 believed God was saying.  I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. . . . My journaling had changed from monologue to dialogue.  Soon messages began to flow more freely. . . . This new way of communicating with God became the highpoint of my day.

The key Bible text claimed by Young through her “spiritual quest” was Psalm 46:10, Be still, and know that I am God.”  However, she carefully selected her own alternative words for the text.  God’s instruction, Be still,” was changed to, “Relax,” “Let go,” and “Cease striving” (NASB). She described the experience as:

an enticing invitation from God to lay down our cares and seek His Presence. . . This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline.

The author’s monologues, which evolved into dialogues with “God,” were then transcribed into the first person singular (I, Me, Mine) from “Jesus” point of view.  This format causes her readers to perceive each word as being spoken directly by “Jesus” to each reader.  Although she liberally includes Scriptural quotations, Young admits to personally “paraphrasing” many texts.

Her readers are further instructed to:

  • sit with pen and paper in hand,
  • read the messages “slowly and in a quiet place,”
  • wait for the literal “presence of Jesus,
  • wait to receive personal messages from “Him.”

Even though Young claims a total acceptance of the Bible, she readily admits she was still not satisfied with just the Scriptures.  Her self-described “yearning for more” and her insistence upon daily personal messages from “God,” opened her to the same channeled source as the “two (still anonymous) visitors,” who authored, God Calling.   

Is this the way Jesus communicates with His people today?  Let’s be honest and call it what it is.  It's New Age theology--a form of channeling, dressed in acceptable 21st century garb.

Warren B. Smith, a former New Ager and author of five books on spiritual deception, recently published his sixth book, “Another ‘Jesus’ Calling.”  In it, Smith powerfully documents significant concerns about Sarah Young’s book: 

  • Jesus Calling,” seemed to be an obvious attempt by our spiritual Adversary to get an even further foothold inside the Christian church… Is the "Jesus" of Jesus Calling, the biblical Jesus Christ, or is it a false christ deceiving many?
  • The unusual use of language by the "Jesus" … seemed to run the gamut from "everyday Joe" language to strange word choices, unwarranted flattery, worldly cliches, repetitive phrases, disparaging comments, and not so subtle mockery.
  • By the end of the book…its "Jesus" had subtly, and not so subtly, introduced occult/New Age channeling, spiritual dictation, creative visualization, meditation, divine alchemy, co-creation with God, and practicing the presence like it was everyday Christian fare.

Historically we, as Seventh-day Adventists, know that in 1844, Jesus Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary to complete the work of our salvation.  His work there is all-consuming. Christ’s work today does not include suddenly exiting the Most Holy Place when someone says “I yearn for more,” descending in a “warm mist” or penning personal messages upon demand.

Such “messages” are not from Jesus Christ.  Though this statement may offend long-time devotees of Sarah Young, others share my concerns.  Three article/book sources listed here, Warren B. Smith, Ruth Graham and Lighthouse Trails, all non-SDA’s, have been speaking and writing of their concerns for years.    

Yet in the ten years since “Jesus Calling was written, it has quickly climbed to #1 among all the top-selling Christian books and reached #3 on Wall Street Journal’s “Best Seller List” for ALL non-fiction books, religious and secular.  It is sold in nearly all Christian bookstores.

Despite their long-term financial success, Young and her publisher unexpectedly decided to make significant omissions and changes to her book.   New editions now omit the history of how she received her mystical “messages” and of her intimate study of the book, God Calling, once cited “a treasure.”   Although the content of her messages has not changed, the word “messages” is now revised to read as, “writings” or “devotions,” to depict less mystically-inflected words.

Their actions deceptively reflect efforts to move an increasingly controversial best-seller away from its initial new-age origin into line with mainstream evangelical orthodoxy.

Seventh-day Adventists need to be aware that despite the author’s admitted new-age history, Young’s books are being prominently displayed and sold at most Adventist Book Centers across the country.  In my local ABC, I counted thirteen different cover designs from which to choose--hard cover, cushioned cover, soft leather, spiral bound, a rainbow of colors, and numerous sizes–-more than all the other yearly devotional books in the entire store, SDA and non-SDA combined.

Pastors buy multiple copies of Jesus Calling for church employees for Christmas.Families are buying--in bulk--for all the relatives, giving what appears to be the perfect gift for daily devotion.  But who is sending the “message?”  Who is calling?

How does one select a daily worship book for the New Year?  By its attractive design?  Its #1 top-selling sales status?  A friend’s recommendation?

If you are searching for truth, verify all you read with the Scriptures.  Be certain that the words you take into your heart each day and teach to your children are of God.  The Bible gives us a simple, accurate measure to guide this search-–a text we all know.

To the law and the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8:20. KJV).

Now go and give God’s truth to your friends and families.  Celebrate a Christ-centered Christmas and choose to study His Word every day of the coming New Year.

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