Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to Read "Jesus Calling"

Jesus calls us.  And He calls us gently.  Jesus Calling, is a gentle book.  It reflects Jesus' tender heart, especially to broken people, and it ministers in a particularly effective way to people who are hurting and need strong reassurance of God's love.

However, as I use this book in my personal time with the Lord, I feel called to read with caution. 

Sarah's journey toward a deeper intimacy with God, as described in her testimony at the beginning of the book, has obviously prepared her for a special ministry to hurting people.  The lessons she has learned in her faith walk are ones that we, in the North American church, could learn much from.  Our tendency to distrust the more charismatic elements of the faith has hindered our ability to minister effectively to the people around us.  We have too long been in denial about how broken our own society is, and a broken society needs the tender touch of Jesus for healing.

In fact, we are all broken people, and we can all benefit from the tender words of Jesus.  I don't want in any way to detract from the blessings readers will get from this book.  But I do want to suggest that, as with all devotional aids, we need to read the daily entries thoughtfully and prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit for spiritual discernment as we do.

Thoughtful, prayerful discernment is especially important when reading this particular devotional book because Sarah writes her thoughts as if Jesus is speaking them.  This literary technique is a powerful one.  Sarah acknowledges that her words don't carry the same weight as Scripture, but writing in the voice of Jesus creates an aura of authority that writing in her own voice would not convey, and the way she writes creates, subliminally, the sense that God's authority is behind what she says.

I agree with Sarah that Jesus does speak directly to us today.  He speaks to us through Scripture, for sure, but His Holy Spirit also speaks more specific truths to our inner spirits as we walk with Jesus from day to day.  But whenever we think we're hearing His voice, we need to be especially careful.  Thoughts that come into our minds are not always from Him, and things we believe we hear from him are not always true.  There are other voices that are able to speak into our spirits and we need to be very careful to discern who is speaking and whether or not what we hear is the truth.

If you're a committed Jesus Calling reader, I don't want to discourage you.  I believe the Holy Spirit uses many kinds of books to speak to people, and I know he uses this book.  I believe it contains truths that are helpful to us in our daily Christian walk. But I'd like to suggest four ways we should read the book in order to properly receive the blessings the Lord might have for us in it.

How to Read Jesus Calling:

1.  We need to remember, as we read, that Jesus Calling is not the authoritative Word of God.  We must constantly remind ourselves of this truth, because hearing the words spoken as if from the mouth of Jesus will affect us subconsciously.  We need to consistently separate out the method of writing from the message.  

2.  We need to consciously compare every statement in the book to Scripture. We should look up the Scriptures given at the end of each entry and study them in context, and we must carefully weigh every statement Sarah makes against the uniquely reliable authority of God's revelation of Himself in the Bible.  We should pay special attention to words like "most," "much," "all" or "always.  God makes these kinds of "all-ness" statements in His Word, but He's the only one who is wise enough to use them accurately every time.  Human writers need to use them cautiously, even when they feel inspired by God.

3.  We must remember that, while the words of this book may be true, they are only part of the truth.  Sarah's words are comforting, and we need God's comfort, for sure. But we need to be able and willing to hear everything God says to us, not just the comfortable truths. All truth that is necessary for us to know is revealed in the Bible. We should not allow any other book, no matter how comforting, to take the place of the Bible in our personal quiet times with Jesus. The Bible is harder to read.  It takes focus and thoughtful analysis.  But this kind of difficulty is necessary if we are to grow in our Christian life.  God does not necessarily make it easy to find Him.  We cannot be lazy in our pursuit of God. 

Which leads to my last point. . .

4.  Sarah's experience of hearing from God is not unique.  God wants to speak intimately and specifically to each one of us.  We can benefit best from Sarah's words if they inspire us to seek God's voice for ourselves. Yes, what He has said to Sarah is helpful for all of us. But we need no intermediary when approaching God, and Sarah's sharing of her experience of intimacy with God should make us hungry to hear what he wants to say to us directly, rather than through the words of others.

I thank God for giving His Body gifted and inspired writers.  Like Sarah's, my faith has grown greatly over the years through the ministry of good Christian books.  I know God uses inspired writers today.  But we need to practice the discipline of reading all books prayerfully and carefully, allowing God to speak directly, by His Holy Spirit, and trusting Him to guide us into all truth.


Janet Sketchley said...

Well said, Ginny, and very wise. Jesus Calling is still on my wish-list, but I've been blessed and encouraged by a similar book, God Calling, which I assume influenced Sarah's choice of title.

Ginny Jaques said...

I need to look at God Calling more closely. I have some real concerns about that book, from what I've seen in smaller quotes from it, but I need to see them in context. We need God's discernment about everything we read, especially in these days when we have access to so many writings. We need a Holy Spirit filter in our minds constantly.