Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: The Story Behind the Devotions (2024)

Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: The Story Behind the Devotions (1)

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Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: The story behind the devotions

Introduction

Hello Ladies and welcome back to Thoroughly Equipped!I am your host MelbaToast. If you are new, welcome! I pray this episode blesses you and glorifies God.

In the last couple of episodes we went through basically 70% of Sarah Young’s Jesus calling for Teens: 50 Devotions to Grow in Your Faith critiquing certain specific devotions and comparing them to Scripture. In those episodes my main goal was to make the claim that 1) Scripture is so much better to teach, encourage and guide our teens. Why go to a third party to find out what Jesus wants to say to us? Why not go directly to His words found in Scripture. 2) That Sarah Young’s use of 1st person devotions, as if it was Jesus Himself speaking to our teens, in several respects has Sarah Young’s Jesus contradicting or misrepresenting Himself when we compare what He said in Scripture to what He says in Sarah Young’s devotions. And this is a problem. Jesus, being God in flesh, cannot and will not contradict Himself nor does He change what He says over time as Jesus never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb.13:8)

This is why I wanted to pay careful attention to Sarah Young’s Jesus and what she claims He says.

For this episode I want to look at the history behind the Jesus Calling franchise as it has become so popular in American Evangelicalism today. I want to look at the first edition of Jesus Calling itself, looking especially at Sarah Young’s purpose for producing these devotions, how they came about, and look at what she describes as her converted heart experience.

So let’s dive in shall we?

The history of Jesus Calling

Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence was first published in 2004 by Integrity Publishers, bought by Thomas Nelson, is a 365 day devotion written by Sarah Young, who in the first edition, claims that she “…decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever [she] believed He was saying.” (Introduction, pg 12)

This book’s influence is world wide.

Sarah’s writings also include Jesus Listens , Jesus Always, Jesus Today, Jesus Lives, Dear Jesus, Jesus Calling for Little Ones, Jesus Calling Bible Storybook, Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions for Kids, Peace in His Presence, and more, each encouraging readers in their journeys toward intimacy with Christ.

Jesus Calling is more than a devotional book. It is also a Christian brand whose offerings include a quarterly magazine, TV Show, Podcast with over 7 million downloads, and daily inspiration over email and social media. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Calling)

As of June of 2021, Thomas Nelson celebrated that their Jesus Calling brand surpassed 35 million units sold.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in 2015, read from Jesus Calling to more than 1,000 people at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards, in 2017, delivered copies of Jesus Calling to women prisoners of the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. The books were donated by The Next Door, a non-profit organization that serves women in crisis and provides Jesus Calling devotionals free of charge to jails and prisons.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been known to read her leather-bound Jesus Calling daily devotional before press conferences. You can find this information on wikipedia.

This has practically replaced Scripture to some, as they receive encouragement from and are drawn closer to Sarah Young’s Jesus.

Other works such as Jesus Today and Jesus Always have won ECPA’s Christian book of the year.

The brand and it’s popularity continue to grow.

So how did Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence come about? What motivated Sarah Young to write this devotional?

When Jesus Calling came out with it’s first edition, it immediately received objections within the Christian community. Rightfully so, a devotion written in first person as if Jesus was speaking would never have been thought of as it would have legitimately been called blasphemous and would not have become popular among Christians. Because of the criticism, future editions would remove very important information given in the original edition to make it more palatable, specifically the information within the introduction to Jesus Calling that reveals HOW Sarah Young produced the devotions would be edited/removed.

It is this specific information from the 2004 introduction that we will look at in this episode.

Jesus Calling Introduction

In the introduction to Jesus Calling Sarah Young describes several experiences with what she identifies as the presence of God. Her first experience takes place in a setting of exquisite beauty. Studying and living in a Christian community in a tiny Alpine village in France known as L’Abri, Sarah Young states, “Though the quest that had taken me there was a search for truth, it was God’s glorious creation that helped me open my heart to him.” (Introduction, pg 7)

—Creation truly is a wonderful thing but we must make clear that creation itself cannot and does not reveal certain attributes of God, His plan of salvation, or His Son. Nor does it open our hearts to Him. It is His Word that does that and more as it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb.4:12). We, apart from regeneration, a work of God, His giving of a new heart to seek and serve Him, do not have hearts that open up to Him. Creation does bring one to worship and acknowledge that there is a Creator but apart from God’s work, creation will bring us to worship other gods because of our unregenerate hearts. We see throughout time how man is awed by creation so much so they will worship that which is created instead of the Creator (Rom.1:25).

It is in nature that Sarah Young finds herself one night walking alone in the snowy mountains. She describes the air as being “crisp and dry, piercing to inhale”. What happens next is very important to understanding Her conversion so I will let her speak.

“Suddenly I felt as if a warm mist enveloped me. I became aware of a lovely presence, and my involuntary response was to whisper, “sweet Jesus”. This utterance was totally uncharacteristic of me, and I was shocked to hear myself speaking so tenderly to Jesus. As I pondered this brief communication, I realized it was the response of a converted heart; at that moment I knew I belonged to him. This was far more than the intellectual answers for which I’d been searching. This was a relationship with the creator of the universe.” (Jesus Calling, Introduction pg 7-8)

— So we see her express the experience of a feeling of warmth from some “presence” as being her conversion experience. The moment she knew she belonged to Him. So we should ask ourselves, is this a true conversion? First we should think about what it means to be converted?

In religious terms to convert means to change one’s religious faith or belief. So, in Sarah Young’s case, because of a feeling of warmth, which she attributes to a lovely presence, her heart was transformed from disbelief to belief? OK – belief in what? Well, that she belonged to Jesus. So her conversion was going from not believing she belonged to Him to believing she belonged to Him. All which came from an experience of warmth on a cold night.

Do the Scriptures relay that certain experiences can cause us to know we belong to Christ? And do the Scriptures tell us what it means to be converted?

Scripture says alot about conversion. 1 – Though the word “conversion” only occurs once in Scripture (Acts 15:3), and the word “convert(s)” is used 4 times in Scripture (Acts 13:43; Rom.16:5, 1Corin.16:5; 1Tim.3:6), the concept is seen over and over again in Scripture. The word “convert” is used as an alternative word for “believer”, while the word “conversion” literally means “a turning”. A related word we often see is the word “repentance” that means a “change of mind”. Biblically, for one to undergo a conversion means for one to turn from darkness to light. From unregenerate to regenerate. From believing lies to truth, and worshiping the little god of this world to worshipping the one, true God.

And let me say this to clarify even more… that conversion is not merely a turning from not knowing that one belongs to God to knowing one belongs to God as Sarah Young describes here. Why do I say this? Because all belong to God and those who are predestined, will undergo conversion as all the Father gives the son will come to Christ ( John 17:6; John 6:37). Biblical conversion, is a turning from what one once believed to believing and trusting in the Words of God, and specifically The Word, Jesus Christ, as our Lord and Savior.

So knowing that converting is to turn away from one set of beliefs to coming to a different set of beliefs, to turn away from slavery to Satan to being set free to slavery to Christ. All of this being rooted in a specific set of teachings about Christ – The Gospel. The teachings that we are sinners who deserve wrath and punishment yet God, in His grace and mercy, sent His Son to live perfectly and die on the cross for our sins. And by believing and trusting in this work of His Son, we receive Christ’s righteousness and are forgiven our sins and counted righteous in this belief. Biblical conversion is the spiritual reaction to the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t even hinted at in what she calls her conversion experience.

Now what about this experience as leading her to trust that she belonged to God? Well, what if the next day she has an experience that may make her feel the opposite? Why rely on feelings that come about from an experience? Judas has many, many experiences as he walked with the Son of God yet he did not convert and trust in Christ (John 17:12).

For christians, we should not be guided by what we feel, our experiences or our situations but by Scripture. God’s Word, and especially The Word made flesh is what we are guided by, what we put our trust in. And so, why did she not know and trust the many teachings/promises from Scripture that God is with us, that we are His children, and that those who trust in the work of Christ, the Gospel, belong to him?

Scripture differentiates between those who belong to Satan and those who belong to God. (1 John 3:10). If we want to be assured that we are His we go to Scripture, not an experience because it is more sure than even the greatest of experiences (2 Peter 1:19).

True conversion comes about from trusting in a historical person who performed an actual historical event. An event that is objective outside of ourselves. Conversion itself is an event that happens within us but it is based on an objective event. Personal experiences, on the other hand, are subjective

So we can look at it this way – what causes a change of mind from unbelief to belief is universal for all. The historical event of the Gospel can be given and applied to all in which they believe or turn away from it. Sarah’s conversion experience with the warm feeling of a presence only applies to her. Not to me. Her experience with this presence that caused her to know she belongs to God, cannot be something I can trust in unless the same experience is given to me. But instead it does the opposite. Those of us who have never had her experience, therefore, are drawn either to search out the experience hoping to receive that same assurance (that we belong to God) or to go into despair because we have never received that experience and therefore conclude that we do not belong to him.

Again I want to make it very clear that all people who are converted are going from one set of beliefs to another – beliefs based off the Gospel – an actual objective historical event that happened in the past that we either trust in for our salvation or reject. Sarah young’s conversion/her heart converts because of a feeling of warmth which she identifies as a presence.

Sarah Young continues in her introduction describing another encounter with this presence.“The following year, back in the United States, I had another encounter with the presence of Jesus … at that time I was working as a technical writer in Virginia. My boss sent me to Atlanta to attend a conference. I accepted this assignment dutifully and checked into a hotel without enthusiasm. Alone in my room, I felt waves of desolation wash over me. So I began to walk the streets of Atlanta aimlessly, trying to escape my solitude. I glanced at some books and an outdoor stall and was drawn to “Beyond Ourselves” by Catherine Marshall. That night as I read the book I no longer felt alone. I knelt beside the bed in that sterile room and felt an overwhelming presence of Peace & Love come over me. I knew Jesus was with me and that he sympathized with my heartache. This was unquestionably the same “sweet Jesus” I had met in the Alps.”( Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, Introduction page 8).

She then describes the following 16 years as what others might call living the “exemplary Christian life”. She goes to seminary, gets married, spends two 4 year terms in Japan doing missionary work, has 2 children, returns to the US, and continues to further her degree at a University. She says “However, not once during those 16 years did I vividly experience the presence of Jesus.

So I was ready to begin a new spiritual quest. It started with diving into a devotional book, The Secret of the Abiding Presence by Andrew Murray. The theme of this book is that God’s presence is meant to be Christian’s continual experience. Murray emphasizes the importance of spending time with God in quiet and interrupted communion”. Going on she then states “… I began seeking God’s presence in earnest. My day started alone with God, equipped with Bible, devotional book, prayer Journal, pen and coffee. As I waited for His presence, God began to reveal Himself to me. An hour or two alone with Him seemed too brief” (Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, Introduction pg. 9-10)

— Did you notice her desire to begin a “new spiritual quest” ? Does she then reach for her Bible to grow? No, instead she searches out another book. And did you notice that each time she says she experiences this presence it is after reading these books and devotionals? In the 16 years, did she ever trust that Scripture is God’s very breath, revealing Jesus to her and is the way by which we come to know and experience Christ? Why does she describe God revealing himself in her waiting? Not in her study of Scripture?

She goes on to describe more experiences. “Our combined ministries subjected our family to intense spiritual warfare, and I prayed for protection every morning. One morning as I prayed, I visualized God protecting each of us. I pictured first our daughter, then our son, and then Steve encircled by God’s protective presence, which looked like Golden Light. When I prayed for myself, I was suddenly enveloped in brilliant light and profound peace. I lost all sense of time as I experienced God’s presence in this powerful way. I had not sought the experience, but I received it gratefully and was strengthened by it… God had prepared me for stepping into deep darkness by first bathing me in his glorious light. I realized that experiences of God’s presence we’re not only for my benefit but were also preparation for helping others” (Sarah Young Jesus Calling, Introduction pg. 10-11)

—This light experience is how she says she is equipped for stepping into darkness, fighting it, and doing the good work of helping others? Yet Scripture contradicts this experience when it says that IT is what equips us for serving and helping others (2Tim. 3:16-17), that Christ is the light (John 8:12) – the actual living person who we draw people to – not a mere presence.

These experiences with this presence is obviously a big influence on her life. I cannot say whether these occurrences actually took place but I can judge WHY they are included in the introduction of these devotions. Usually, we relay or describe experiences to convince others of something. So in this case Sarah Young is including these experiences to convince you, herself, and I that she does belong to God, that He comforts her, and speaks to her. This is to convince you of what she is going to tell us next…

Sarah continues…

“During that same year I began reading God Calling, a devotional book written by two anonymous listeners. These women practice waiting quietly in God’s Presence, pencils and paper in hand, recording the messages they received from Him. The messages are written in first-person, with “I” designating God….

The following year, I began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God. 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 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.

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 knew these writings were not inspired as Scripture is, but they were helping me grow closer to God.

I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him. The more difficult my life circ*mstances, the more I need these encouraging directives from my creator.” (Sarah Young Jesus Calling, Introduction pg.11-12)

— Ok, there are a couple of things to address here. First, the book she desires to imitate: God Calling is a book written in 1935, by two anonymous women given the title “the Listeners”. A. J. Russell, the editor of the book, states that “…the claim that they make is an astonishing one, that their message has been given to them,…by the living Christ Himself” (Ibid., “The Story of the Book” by AJ Russell).

One of the two anonymous women, in their own short telling of the receiving of these messages recalls how she could not receive messages on her own…

“But with my friend a very wonderful thing happened. From the first, beautiful messages were given to her by our Lord Himself, and every day from then these messages have never failed us.

We felt all unworthy and overwhelmed by the wonder of it, and could hardly realize that we were being taught, trained and encouraged day by day by HIM personally, when millions of souls, far worthier, had to be content with guidance from the Bible, sermons, their Churches, books and other sources.”- Wow what a statement of pietistic arrogance! How sad they must be for us who merely look to His actual word and feel it is sufficient enough to equip us unto ALL life, godliness, and good works (2 Pet.1:3; 2Tim. 3:16-17; Psalm 19; Psalm 119). How special they are.

But I must move on…

This book God Calling has no qualms about claiming that it is extra biblical revelation, given by God Himself. As if He was saying to these women: “My Word, written in the Scriptures, is not enough to guide you, encourage you, and equip you. You need these additional messages…oh, and you should share them so that others may become equipped as you are. But even these words I give you won’t be enough. In the future, I will direct Sarah Young to write down my words as well and share them.” Yeah, I don’t think so. What a rabbit hole that will lead to, as every one can write what they believe God is telling them. A very Postmodern/subjective way of receiving God’s word.

The second thing I want to address is her “yearning for more”. This is a very common statement to hear among Christian women. It’s very pious, revealing what an undiscerning ear would take as a deep love for God, a deep desire to truly be with Him. These are good desires, where it goes wrong is where we choose to go to fulfill that desire or when the desire is self centered. I believe these two are closely related. Let me explain- In our fleshly nature we women (and men too, just in a different way) desire to be loved and especially, we desire to be loved our way. We gather for ourselves people that satisfy that love. They uplift us, they encourage us, they “love” us. In truth, though, we don’t love them but love how they make us feel. We do this with God too. We come to Him to make ourselves feel better, to hear words of affirmation, encouragement, adoration, security, acceptance, and love. And this is where the “yearning for more” needs to be discerned in our own spirit. WHAT or WHO is our “yearning” for? Are we trying to satisfy our own flesh or are we really “yearning” to know God, despite what He has to say about me? If God were to personally tell us (which He does) that we are wretched sinful human beings, would we still “yearn” for Him?

See this “yearning for more”, when self centered, directs us outside of Scripture to do exactly what Sarah Young did. Look for personal revelation. If, instead we desire to know God, we go to what He has revealed about Himself, NOT what He personally wants to reveal about one’s life or one’s person. Now, these are good to know, especially when we gather that information from Scripture, but the object of our love is revealed by what we “yearn” for. So either we are “yearning” to love God, thereby pursuing information about and centered on Him, or “yearning” to love ourselves by what God has to say about ourselves. And this is why this book is so popular. It has a Jesus who is encouraging, affirming, and always desiring to point you to yourself and just how much He “loves” you.

Besides that, Sarah Young’s “yearning” reveals how Scripture just wasn’t enough for her. We, who love Christ, do have a yearning to know and be in His presence. And one day, that desire will be satisfied when we will see Him face to face. On this side of eternity, we have God’s revelation, in Christ, the Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit that is sufficient. It is so deep and wide, so full of truths that would take so much more than a lifetime to delve in. And yet Mrs. Young needs/desires more.

And third, her claim that these messages from God are not as inspired as Scripture. This begs the question: if it is from God how can it not be inspired? Personally or corporately, a word from God is always inspired, and always true as God cannot lie nor will He contradict Scripture. There is never a time of God speaking (even personally) that it will not fully line up with Scripture nor not be absolute truth.

Sarah Young continues…

“I also believe that he still speaks to those who listen to him (John 10:27)“(pg. 13). Sarah Young, Like MANY other women who believe that God speaks personally and apart from Scripture use this passage to support this belief yet this is a twisting of John chapter 10 verse 27.

In John chapter 10, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Shepherd, the Shepherd that will “lay down His life for the sheep” (vs 11,15, 17). This is a parable describing the calling of Christ’s people who come when He calls and walk through Him the door (verse 7-9), those who He will die for, not a parable about continual personal revelation of God speaking to the sheep day by day.

Sarah Young then goes into why she decides to share these personal revelations/messages from God with others:

“This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’s presence and peace. The messages that follow address that felt need. The Bible is, of course, the only anointed word of God; my writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard. I have written them from Jesus’ point of view i.e., the first person singular I, Me, Mine always refers to Christ. You refers to you, the reader, so the perspective is that of Jesus speaking to you.

I have included Scripture references after each daily reading. As I listened to God, Bible verses or fragments of versus often came to mind…. these messages are meant to be read slowly, preferably in a quiet place. I invite you to keep a journal to record any thoughts or impressions you receive as you wait in his presence.”(Pg.13-14)

So, her goal in presenting these messages to the public was to address the felt need of those who desire more than Scripture, those who are just like her. I believe it does exactly that. This may not bother her but it bothers me. It’s troubling because of the subtle undermining of Scripture as the wonderful words from God revealing Christ our Savior and it satisfies the fleshly need we have to love ourselves through God. Instead of drawing our minds to love God, learn His ways, learn His character and attributes, and learn of all that He has done, we are drawn to what Jesus has to say about ourselves, only causing us to focus on ourselves more, not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Not only that she ends with encouraging us to pursue the same form of communication with God at the end of her introduction, thereby solidifying her belief and training others that Scripture is insufficient to know God.

Conclusion

Ladies, while what God has to say about us, to encourage, love and support those who belong to Him can comfort us, these things do not bring us to love Him. It’s knowing and learning about Jesus, faith in Him and His work that bring us to love God more, know God more, and, by the Holy Spirit, walk like Him, becoming holy as He is holy. This knowledge of Christ, causes us to love Him more, trust Him more, live without fear, grow in knowledge and discernment, obey Him, and love others, even our enemies. He is good. He is truth. He is love.

And this is why it is so important that we know Jesus. The Jesus we believe in matters as a false Jesus cannot save. And that’s next week’s topic: Why what we are taught about Jesus matters. I, god willing, will discuss some of the early church’s battles with Christological heresies, why they are important to be able to identify, how who Jesus is effects the Gospel, and how the implications of a false Jesus can effect our lives as women, wives, mothers, and friends.

Let us pursue more and more to know Him. He is found in Scripture, they are His very words. Let us be actively denying ourselves, rejecting what we believe commends us to God, counting everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord , pursuing the prize of Christ, counting all things as rubbish, in order that [we] may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that [we] may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible [we] may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:8-11).

I pray that we grasp what we can, diving continually into the depths of His word, receiving by it, His works, His teachings, His character, His righteousness given to us by faith. I pray that we are in His word.

MelbaToast

Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: The Story Behind the Devotions (2024)

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