All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own...
The idea for this post came from a couple of conversations I had with friends, and it made me aware that this topic is something we should all examine for ourselves. The first conversation, with Friend A, centered around a beautiful little devotional book called Jesus Calling, a runaway hit on the Christian best-seller lists. Both of us had been gifted this book, along with a wider circle of our friends, and for the most part, everyone seemed to think that this little book brought them peace, and made them feel uplifted and good about themselves. The book touted itself as providing "devotionals for every day of the year", and promised that readers would "enjoy peace in His presence."
I have to admit that I tried reading the book a few days, but was often confused as to how the author's inspirational prose connected with the suggested Scripture of the day. While I could see how some might be affected by the "personal invitation" to enter "My Presence", it always made me a little uncomfortable that no devotional used the name of Jehovah or Jesus; just continuous expressions such as "Let Me fill you...", or "I am calling you...", or even "Draw near to Me."
So, it was with some sense of unease that I decided to revisit Jesus Calling, after my friend said she had heard it was full of deception. If I had bothered to read the Introduction of the book, I probably would never have read even the occasional devotion. In the Introduction, the author, Sarah Young, urges her readers to partake in a variety of ways to get closer to God ... Visualization and Contemplative Prayer (Meditation) are subtly suggested, but the primary method is communing with Him through journaling (receiving messages from God and writing them down). In fact, she actually says "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."
Then she goes on to say that now, for years, she has been listening to God with pen in hand, and that this practice of listening to God has increased her intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline. Finally, she invites her readers to keep a journal to record any thoughts or impressions they receive (think "messages") as they wait in His Presence.
Has anyone noticed that nowhere does she encourage her readers to get to know God better through His Word? That the Bible is sufficient for knowing our Lord? Sarah Young has obviously replaced the spiritual discipline of reading the Bible with journaling, visualization and meditation. All these practices are extra-Biblical! If you think you need to "hear" from God outside of Scripture, then you are telling God that His Word is not enough for you. In addition, you should be aware that you are opening yourself up to "hear" from deceptive and lying spirits. Here is a very wise quote from an unknown source: "If you want to hear from God, read your Bible. If you want to hear audibly from God, read your Bible out loud."
What Sarah Young is espousing comes dangerously close to "channeling", a New Age concept. Which brings me to a second conversation with Friend B. She has been reading books like Jesus Calling and now proclaims that she receives messages from Spirits that tell her they are bringing her divine revelations from God. What's more, they have mingled just enough Scriptural references in their "messages" to her, that she no longer needs to consult her Bible, which the Spirit-messengers have told her is filled with the false influence of men through the centuries. She swears that these messages and Spirits are from God and they guide her "toward the light". When I pointed out that she better be careful; that 2 Corinthians 11:14 says that "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light", she says these Spirits are giving her the powers of healing and peace to offer to others, and her messages are directly from Jesus.
Funny, that's exactly what Sarah Young claims to do in Jesus Calling: "I have written [my writings] from Jesus and His point of view; I use first person singular (I, Me, Mine), so the perspective is that of Jesus speaking to you." Do you see how subtle ... and dangerous ... this kind of deception is? She dares to claim that Jesus revealed His truths to her so that she could publish her own book about Him? The Bible is the inerrant Word of God about Jesus!
And, I'm going to be bold and probably offend a lot of Christians, but not before admitting that I have been guilty of what I'm about to say. I think that we must be very careful about modern Christian devotional books. I'm not saying that they are all bad, but when they become a "quick spiritual fix" and a substitute for real time spent in the Bible, then we are not using the one true source that God has told us reflects who He is. When we read devotionals like Jesus Calling that mix Biblical terms (like My glorious riches, Living by faith and not by sight, and Nothing can separate you from My loving Presence) with someone's "message from God", we must be discerning and realize that quoting a Biblical phrase within a day's reading does not make what is written holy. That is a term reserved only for the Bible. These devotionals do not replace Scripture as a "lamp for my feet, and a light on my path." We must be vigilant, as today's passage from Isaiah says, and not stray from God's Word to follow our own paths, or those paths suggested by invited "Spirits". There are wolves, masquerading as sheep, just waiting to lure one of us off the narrow and righteous path. Guard your faith!