I recently learned that the popularity of Jesus Calling, the devotional by Sarah Young, is bigger than I thought. Not only has the book sold over 9 million copies but there is a plethora of companion pieces, including a devotional Bible and phone app. Clearly, it has followed the path of the Purpose Driven Life and Prayer of Jabez that makes me wonder if Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world, therefore, and make merchandise. And let’s not be too quick to throw the authors and publishers under the bus because they wouldn’t be mass marketing Jesus products unless there was a demand based on sales.
So this post is not about Jesus Calling so much as it is about “us”. And by “us” I mean Christians who have soaked up this book and embraced it as if hugging Jesus himself. Because after all, the book is written in the first person as if Jesus himself is speaking. It occurs to me that there is something about this book that is appealing to people, especially women, and they have found comfort in it.
This book obviously resonates with people. To be sure, the popularity and evolution of companion products suggest that these devotionals feed something we need, or think we need and seek after. The demand suggests that we need to have some kind of experience of Jesus in order to be satisfied with our Christian walk. And this leads me to ask why what God has already given us is not enough?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against experience. I think it is a necessary component of our humanity and especially more so in serving and worshiping an invisible God. The problem comes when we put experience in the driver’s seat for the sake of obtaining emotional comfort based on subjective means. Life is hard and pain is real for sure. We want assurance and relief during troubling times. We generally hate uncertainty. But that should drive us to rely on what God has sufficiently spoken instead of subjective words that come from others who claim to speak from God. Then you have to go through the gymnastics of figuring out if it is from God. As I wrote about in A Sure Word, why not just rely on what has already been written?
One thing that Young has said that I think strikes at the heart of the issue. In her introduction, she recalls her time as a counselor in Atlanta, “However, not once during those sixteen years did I vividly experience the presence of Jesus.”
Aside from wondering why Scripture is not enough for us, the bigger issue that I suspect resonates with those who have embraced these devotionals, is why aren’t we experiencing the presence of Christ reading the Bible? That’s a problem. All Scripture is about him and points to him. The Holy Spirit brings these words to life for those who truly believe.
Of course, that doesn’t mean read only the Bible. It’s good to immerse ourselves in study that expound on how God has revealed himself through works that others have used to expound on Scripture and how the church has regarding this revelation. Yes, read commentaries, biographies, church history, insights from others and even practical application books (sparingly). I also think it behooves us to study other disciplines since there is common grace in God’s movement through history. And most definitely we must be in communion with the body, under the preaching of the Word. But that is different than treating God’s very word with dissatisfaction.
In a way, I kind of think this is insulting to God to shrug at his word but gravitate towards more so-called words as if to be bored by what he has already given us. Consider Hebrews 1:1-2
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Since the beginning, God spoke. He has condescended to us, to reach us so we would know and understand him to the extent of his revelation. And by revelation, I mean his self-disclosure, which he intricately accomplished through various means prior to Christ and then shows us how it all finds its consummation in Christ and the hope of his return, when God will make all things new. He has utilized the pens of men throughout the span of 1,500 years that, without fully realizing it, have penned a cohesive message of covenant promises in his redemptive history. He has foreshadowed the advent of his Son, who would come down to let us know what God is really like and affirm everything he said in the Old Testament.
It’s such a marvelous thing to read the Old Testament and see what that means for the New Testament. Reading the New Testament most assuredly draws our attention back to the Old Testament and should raise questions about what God was doing. You can spend a lifetime of study of just the Bible and never exhaust learning, gleaning more insights into God’s marvelous truths, which provide us with insight into his will and character. While all may not be applicable to us, it is all relevant for faith and practice. And sufficient.
And yet, so many have said “Meh, we like the subjective could-be God but it sure does make us feel good” stuff. I don’t know, that’s kind of a slap in God’s face. Here he has gone through all this trouble to provide for us a a record of his word, but even more than a record – his very word in which he spoke both through word but through actions. And we shrug and look for something more exciting. A loose analogy would be planning an elaborate party, have your guests show up and look around and wonder if there’s something more because the party is just not doing it for them. Seriously, as a host, wouldn’t you find that a bit rude?
On the contrary, the truly regenerate person should be enthralled to know more about God on his terms through reliable means. He or she should wonder what God is like and has said. We know that by reading Scripture. We’ll never understand all of who God is because he does keep secrets from us. But what he has revealed is for us so we can know him (Deut. 29:29)
I suppose there could be much to blame on why we look at our Bibles with disinterest to chase after new words. People should have some kind of basic instruction in the framework of Scripture, but also its nature. It helps to provide of sketch of how the 66 books fit together and affirm Scripture as the final authority of matters of faith and practice. We have an embarrassment of riches to be without excuse. But contemporary evangelicalism, in general, has bowed to the idol of pragmatism and de-throned robust study for fear of boring people, driving them to listen for new words from God for greater experiences. And the cash registers ring.