Just the other day I posted that Christians should be wary of God “experiences.” Although there are many prominent promoters of practices that claim to be ways to hear directly from God (other than by reading the Bible), it is my fear that these are really paths toward self-deception or worse.
As a follow up I’d like to share my thoughts about a book whose author purports to have received messages from God (which she turned into a bestselling book).
A couple months ago I was given a devotional book called Jesus Calling, and although I never read devotionals I began to examine the book. What I found shocked me. The author, Sarah Young, claims to have received revelations from Jesus through dialogue journaling (something she learned from two “listeners” who wrote another book called God Calling. I’ll get to that in a minute). Her book is even written as if Jesus is speaking those messages directly to the reader, which I personally think borders (or crosses into) blasphemy.
Alarm bells began to clang in my head.
Young writes that a year after reading that book, God Calling, “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…”
The first question that I think needs to be asked. Is it Biblically appropriate to desire more revelation from God?
2 Timothy 3: 13-17 gives a warning about false teaching as well as an admonition to hold to the scriptures which were given to us by God: “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”
If we can be “thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” then the scriptures are sufficient for our relationship with Christ. We should study them diligently and be transformed by “the renewing of our minds.” We should certainly yearn for more understanding of the scriptures, and more transformation of our hearts and lives, but I see no biblical admonitions to yearn for more than the Bible.
Additionally, Acts 20:20 states: “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”
The reformers called relying on scriptures solely as the authority for the Christian faith (and sufficient for the faith) the principle of Sola Scriptura. Equip.org offers a very full and rich explanation of Sola Scriptura (I recommend you read it!), but for the sake of brevity they define sufficiency of scripture as “all that is necessary for faith and practice.” It was one of the key principles of protestantism.
It is obvious Young does not hold to that doctrine. Rather she seeks and accepts experiential, subjective and by the sound of it, mystical, personal revelation.
It is my view that abandonment of the sufficiency of the Bible opens us up to all kinds of deception (self-deception as well as demonic deception). The Bible even warns us that our hearts are “deceitful” in the book of Jeremiah. The Bible proclaims itself to be authoritative, whereas experiences are entirely subjective. If extra-biblical revelation is acceptable then how can it be verified?
Young claims in her book that her one-way journaling became “dialogue” (two-way conversation) with Jesus. Yet, she admits that her journaling was “not inspired as Scripture is,” but still she writes each daily devotional as if Jesus was speaking those words Young heard. This is completely illogical. If Jesus was in fact speaking to Young, then his words would have to be authoritative because Jesus is God. There is no way for him not to be authoritative.
In another of her books she writes, “My first devotional book, Jesus Calling grew out of writings gleaned from my times of focused concentration of Jesus: waiting in His Presence, listening in my mind for His communications. As I listened and wrote, I continually asked for the Holy Spirit’s help … I wrote Dear Jesus in the same listening-to-God mode that I used with Jesus Calling. I’ve continued to write with the help of Christs’s Spirit, who guides my thinking while I listen in His Presence. I believe the Bible is the only infallible Word of God. My writings are based on that absolute standard, and I try to ensure they are consistent with Scripture.”
This is a root problem of personal revelation — you cannot know for certain that the internal voice you are hearing is God, yourself or from the devil. So she purports to write what Jesus told her, but she had to vet those words to “ensure they are consistent with Scripture.” I have a better idea. Study the actual words of God that have already been given to us. I’m sure there is plenty more in the Bible to challenge, convict, teach and change each and every believer for the rest of their life on earth even without whispers in your mind.
In my view, waiting and listening for the voice of God is a recipe for deception.
Dr. Gary Gilley, pastor of Southern View Chapel, has written a very compelling case for the Sola Scriptura position in his book “Is that You Lord? Hearing the voice of the Lord: A Biblical Perspective.” (One of the best books I’ve read) In it he wrote that, “I believe with the closure of Scripture, direct, infallible, authoritative revelation from God has ceased for this age.” I would have to agree.
Gilley’s book makes a much more thorough case than I can here for the “full Sola Scriptura” view that “God speaks today exclusively through the authoritative, inspired Word which needs no supplementation from any other source. This is not to deny ‘general revelation’ from God’s creation which tells us something of the power and glory of the Creator … but when it comes to ‘specific revelation’ we do not expect our Lord to speak to us apart from the Scriptures.”
Perhaps you are a believer who disagrees and does believe God still speaks apart from the Bible today. If so, we are still commanded to test the spirits, so Jesus Calling and the book that influenced Sarah Young still need to be tested against God’s Word.
The Serious Errors of God Calling
Young writes that “One morning as I prayed, I visualized God protecting each of us. I pictured first our daughter, then our son, and then Steve encircles 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…”
This sounds very similar to New Age and Occult accounts. Visualization is a popular occult practice because practitioners believe that they can create reality by imagining it into existence. Let Us Reason Ministries and others have warned about the “Christianization” of such practices. Slapping a “Christian” label on a pagan practice does not make it acceptable to God. The Bible actually warns against divination, witchcraft (Deut. 18:10-12) and adopting pagan religious practices (Matt. 6:7 “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”)
Young’s two-way journaling (her method of receiving messages from “Jesus”) also sounds very similar to automatic writingand use of spirit guides prevalent in the occult. On this point I consulted Marcia Montenegro of Christian Answers for the New Age who told me, “I see no scriptural basis for this technique, which is akin to automatic writing. I do believe the Lord leads Christians through His word and convicts through the Holy Spirit (and His word), but that is entirely different from sitting down, being ‘still’ (and misusing a scripture for this technique), and ‘listening’ for Jesus to speak to you.”
As is often the case with such experiences, humans begin to value them over the authoritative truth of scripture. That obviously happened to Young since she says the experience of hearing from God “became the high point” of her days. If that was the high point, studying the Bible had become less important. Another cautionary sign.
The Bible does not command us to sit and listen for God to speak to us, so it is important to determine where Young came by this practice. As I mentioned earlier, she credits a book called, God Calling, for introducing her to the concept. I managed to track down a review of that book from Lighting the Way International and reprinted by Lighthouse Trails Research.
The two anonymous “listeners” who used automatic handwriting (or something very similar) to write that book claimed the messages were from Jesus, but were they? Testing the “revelations” of God Calling solely against Scripture should also cause us to reject it and be very concerned about its influence over Young.
They claim that Jesus told them multiple times to “Be channels…” Channeling is a New Age/occult practice of communicating with spirit guides. Such divination is forbidden in Scripture.
Dwayna Litz and Charisse Graves, the reviewers of God Calling, also found this passage in the book: “Discipline and perfect yourselves at all costs. Do this for soon every fleeting thought will be answered, every wish gratified, every deed used. It is a fearful Power, almighty [sic] Power. Oh! Be careful that you ask nothing amiss-nothing that is not according to My Spirit. All thoughts harmful must be turned out. Miracle-working power can become witchery in wrong hands. See how necessary I have made the purity and goodness of your own lives to you. That is why. Soon, very soon, you shall ask and at once it will come. Welcome the training. Without it I dare not give you this Power. [sic] It would do harm.” [Jan. 6]
The true God cannot give us power that would do harm and he would never advocate “witchery.”
The book also promotes thinking of God as a “Mother” rather than a Father. But as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he specifically instructed them to “Pray then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven …” In just these few excerpts it is clear that the book runs contrary to Scripture, yet it is the book that had such a profound influence on Sarah Young that she claims to have also become a conduit for Jesus’ words!
Another criticism listed by the reviewers of God Calling was that, “Just like Satan in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:5), the whispered message of God Calling is “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” To support that claim, they cited this passage: “To dwell in thought on the material, when once you live in Me, – is to call it into being. So you must be careful only to think of and desire that which will help, not hinder, your spiritual growth. The same law operates too on the spiritual plane. Think Love and Love surrounds you and all about whom you think, Think thoughts of ill-will and ill surrounds you, and those about whom you think. Think health – health comes. The physical reflects the mental and spiritual.”
God Calling contradicts the written Word of God over and over, and yet this is the book that convinced Young she might also be able to hear such messages from Jesus.
What’s this about the Presence?
Another reason to be cautious about Young’s so-called words from Jesus has to do with the way she is always talking about the Presence of God with a capital “P.” It calls to mind, “Practicing the Presence” of God, which is also the name of a book by mystic monk Brother Lawrence. Lawrence, as a Carmelite monk, would have been influenced by Teresa of Avila who had been “affected by Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism, elements of which can be detected in her writings,” according to Ursula King (H/T LHT).
I found Brother Lawrence view connected with Zen and Karma yoga on one “christian mystics” website.
Although many claim such mysticism is Christian and is actually something desirable, it can actually be traced back to eastern religion and is not supported by Scripture.
To quote Gregory Koukl of Stand to Reason about hearing from God: “Does the Bible teach that we are to seek this kind of guidance? The answer is no. It does not teach that we are seek this kind of guidance. Does the Bible teach that we are to expect this kind of guidance? Again the answer is no. And since the Bible doesn’t teach that we have to learn this skill, since it doesn’t teach that we are to seek this kind of guidance, since it doesn’t teach that we are to expect this kind of guidance, then I don’t know what all the folderol is about…”
He notes that “This teaching that God will whisper in your ear all kind of particulars that pertain to you and His will for your life is very appealing to Christians. Even though when you look at the Scriptures, the specialized directions are rare. They are unusual. They are usually unsought. And they are always crystal clear. None of this ‘I think the Lord is telling me’ business.”
I agree with him. I believe God can speak to us directly, but I don’t believe he generally does outside of his word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. So perhaps there are rare instances where God chooses to give direct instruction, but it will never in any way contradict his written word. However, there is no biblical direction to sit and listen for such messages from him and we especially should not be shutting off our minds through a mantric method in order to get insight.
Christians have run wild seeking experiences from God that the holy scriptures do not direct them to. Young’s popular book is just one of many in this vein: from Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” to Bill Hybel’s “The Power of a Whisper” to many, many others.
It is my fear that this is shipwrecking Christians by leading them into deception. Already pastors have visions or give false prophecies, yet their congregants don’t abandon them. Worse, many of their congregants may not even recognize the error.
Meanwhile biblical illiteracy is rampant.
This is a truly dangerous mixture. Proper understanding of the Bible is necessary to test everything we see and hear from others and in our own minds.
If we reject the “full Sola Scriptura” position and accept that such personal revelation from God is possible (or worse – commonplace), how can we know that what we (or others) are hearing is from God? After all, Satan masquerades as an angel of light.
It becomes much more difficult (although not impossible) to combat false revelations that others claim to have had if we accept extrabiblical revelation. For example, the Mormons say that Joseph Smith had a vision from the Lord and Neil Donald Walsh claims he had multiple “Conversations with God.”
- Be Wary of Needing an Experience (steakandabible.com)
- Hearing God’s Voice (Stand to Reason)
- Book Review of Jesus Calling (Challies.com)
- An Open Letter to Jesus Calling Readers Part 1 (YeHaveHeard.com)
- An Open Letter to Jesus Calling Readers Part 2 (YeHaveHeard.com)
- Is That You Lord? by Gary Gilley (link to amazon.com)