Is Jesus Calling?

Sarah Young and Jesus Calling

Sarah Young practices ‘listening prayer’. It is a technique she describes in her bestselling book Jesus Calling, which has sold over 9 million copies in 26 languages. This book is the 5th bestseller for the first half of 2013 and for all books, not just Christian books. Through it all, the author maintains a low profile, partly due to physical disabilities, and thus is relatively unknown.

Listening prayer is where a person hopes to hear messages directly communicated from God. Sarah wondered if she could receive messages during times of prayer. She hoped God would talk to her personally. And it began to happen. And yes, she believes that Jesus is really and actually speaking with her. She prays and He answers. She prays then listens; and this for many years.

As she hears she journals what she hears and after a number of years she published some of what she heard, decades of messages. Many are encouraged and comforted by the messages and as sales of books demonstrate, she has a growing audience. Many now, thousands, are taking up the practice.

Not that Christians have not thought, and over the centuries, that God will and does speak to them. This I must say has happened to me on at least two occasions. I did not hear a voice as much as I had a clear sense that God told me something. And both times I responded, did what I thought I was told to do, and sure enough subsequent experience confirmed that God had spoken. Neither time however was I listening, rather it just happened in the course of events and had nothing to do with a time of prayer.

Richard Foster, who champions contemplative prayer or meditative prayer, defends Young’s practice. What Young does is the same as or quite similar to what so-called Christian mystics practice – deep meditation and contemplation Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, and many others practiced and experienced something close to what Young does.

Sarah Young describes what she does as meditating on Scripture and then waiting quietly to hear a reply and when she does hear she writes down what she heard or is placed on her heart. The words/messages are not revelatory in the sense of prophecy or fortune telling; the content of the messages are fairly ordinary and biblically based.

The Bible plays a major role in Sarah’s life and she firmly believes it is the inspired revelation of God, however, and it is a huge however, she wanted more. And she got more and has come to rely on these communications, the encouraging directives from the Creator, as she likes to say.

When Young journals the words spoken by Jesus they are written in the first person and Jesus is the person speaking. It is not, “Jesus said,” rather it is, “Focus on me.” Whatever Jesus says she writes down and the journal, the book, must then be as authoritative as the Bible, almost a fifth Gospel. If this is not so then Jesus Calling is a false writing, an imitation, albeit very clever, of the revelation of God. The error then is a large one and similar to the Course in Miracles supposedly communicated by Jesus to Helen Schucman in the 1970s. Schucman’s Jesus dictated profoundly spiritual concepts to her, which she wrote down, and one of the most successful new age cults was born. Schucman’s Jesus bears little resemblance to the biblical Jesus, unlike Young’s Jesus, but could this make the counterfeit even more difficult to detect?

The problem for many is that nowhere in Scripture does God promise to speak individually to believers nor answer prayer by speaking directly to the one praying. This is the critical point. What I discovered in my decades of ministry is that if you want to hear things from God you will, eventually. But the communication is not from God however real and spiritual that communication might be.

John 10:27 is quoted by proponents of Young’s book as proof that Jesus speaks directly to His ‘sheep.’ “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” To hear is to know Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The literal application of “hear” does not work here. It is the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer at conversion who “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). An instruction for believers to listen for the actual voice of Jesus is foreign to the New Testament writings.

Sarah Young has experienced much self-described difficulties in her life and writes wonderfully well of her loving connection with who or what she thinks is Jesus. Apparently she was been comforted and encouraged as a result. And the book sales are phenomenal, and again I cannot help but be reminded of Helen Schucman and the Course in Miracles.[1] As I study Jesus Calling I do see a difference in the two books. Young’s book is far more biblically Christian than Schucman’s, the difference if clear and there is in me a temptation to embrace Young’s claim to be hearing the voice of Jesus. But it will not work. There is neither biblical precedent nor warrant for quieting oneself, praying, and then listening to hear Jesus speak. This is perhaps the most serious and dangerous counterfeit to be found in the broad spectrum that is Charisma.

[1] Wikipedia’s article on the Course in Miracles will be quite enlightening.

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