In my Christian experience, I started listening and hearing from God on a regular basis. Then some Christians told me it was somehow wrong so I stopped. At that point, my life took a downward spiral that sent me into complete dysfunction. Eventually, someone helped me by getting me into a class called Hearing God’s Voice. This course reassured me that it is normal and healthy to hear God’s voice. As I returned to a daily practice of two-way journaling with God, I received God’s healing and help.
Don’t let anyone convince you it is wrong to hear from God. If left-brained rational Christians don’t want to hear from God, they can study the Bible with their minds. For the rest of us, we can engage God with our hearts and let the rhema of God, the spoken word of God, direct our lives so we become conformed to the image of Christ. The rhema of God doesn’t make us neglect the logos of God, the written Word of God. Rather, it causes us to go deeper and makes the written Word more meaningful by allowing us to apply it to our lives in practical ways.
Because of my experience with Christians criticizing an intimate relationship with God, I get really riled up when I hear Christians trying to put a guilt-trip on others for hearing from God. Jesus said, “Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! . . . Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God” (John 8:43, 47). This is a rather lengthy post for me (2400 words), so if you don’t want to read it all you can stop here with this summation: if you don’t listen to God, you don’t belong to God. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
10 Serious Problems with Tim Challies’ Article, “10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling”
I’d like to respond to Tim Challies’ disturbing post, “10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling.” The book in question, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, has been around for many years and has increased in popularity. I have not read it, but author Sarah Young writes devotionals from God’s perspective to the reader, like a daily note from God. This is the same format I used in Barefoot Devotions, which is why I am so concerned about the distorted information Challies is offering as irrefutable truth.
In his post, Challies labels Jesus Calling as “a deeply troubling book” and “dangerous.” How absurd! Let me take each of his ten points and discuss them in a sensible way. He’s trying to scare you and I want to reassure you about the nature of your relationship with God.
1. She speaks for God
Challies says, “Far and away the most troubling aspect of the book is its very premise—that Sarah Young hears from Jesus.” Really? That’s not troubling; that’s natural. The Bible says God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11). Anyone in a relationship with God should be hearing from God on a daily basis. How else will God guide you and direct you? How else will you enjoy a relationship with Him? A relationship involves communication. As I wrote in my book, Devotion Explosion, prayer isn’t a monologue; it’s a dialogue involving two-way communication. If you’re not having a dialogue with God, I wonder if you have a relationship with Him.
As for Challies’ concern that “she is communicating divine revelation” I have to wonder what he’s afraid of. The doctrine of Scripture is not threatened by conversing with God. In fact, conversing with God opens our hearts to the Living Word (Jesus) in an intimate way. And any divine revelation she (or anyone) receives is still held accountable to the standard of Scripture. There’s nothing for him to be so alarmed about here.
2. She proclaims the insufficiency of the Bible.
To further demonstrate his absurd reaction, he said, “Jesus Calling only exists because Sarah Young had a deep desire to hear from God outside of the Bible.” He argues that Scripture is sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and this is true. But he does not understand the difference between logos and rhema. Perhaps he needs to take Greek. Logos is Greek for the written word and rhema is Greek for the spoken word. Yes, the written Word of God is complete and sufficient, but we continue to engage in God’s rhema or spoken word as we dialogue in relationship with Him each day. The rhema of God does not threaten the logos of God. Of course, as the Apostle Paul pointed out, we must listen and verify to ensure the message is, indeed, from God.
3. Her deepest experience of God comes through a practice God does not endorse.
How can Challies say God does not endorse listening to Him? That’s absurd. Jesus himself listened to the Father and repeatedly said things like: “I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me” (John 8:28). Jesus also said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). If Jesus said I should be able to hear His voice, then that’s the final authority for me. I’m not going to let anyone else tell me otherwise.
Challies voices his concern that “her solution to addressing the desire for Jesus’ Presence and Peace is not Scripture.” Well, does he think prayer is not important because it is not Scripture? I find that jaw-droppingly unfathomable. Has “Scripture Alone” become a cult that forbids prayer? How can one pray without loving dialogue from the presence of God? Prayer without the presence of God is merely a ritual.
4. She is inspired by untrustworthy models.
Apparently, Sarah Young cited a 1930s book, God Calling, as a source of inspiration for her own spiritual walk. The book inspired her to believe God could talk to her the same way. But if Challies doesn’t like Sarah Young’s book, he’s naturally going to call a similar book “equally troubling.” And very much like the Catholic church of the Reformation era, Challies doesn’t think people should hear from God on their own.
5. She provides lesser revelation.
For Challies, the bottom line here is: “If her words are actually from Jesus, how can they be any less authoritative or less binding than any word of Scripture?” Let me respond with a quote from the introduction of my book, Barefoot Devotions:
Let me be clear: I do not pretend to speak for God, but I do hope to let God speak to me and through me. Nor do I consider the human perception of God’s voice to be infallible or incorruptible. Although I attempted to let God speak through me to you in each devotional message, I do not consider words rendered from God as equal to Scripture, which is infallible and incorruptible.
Mature Christians can discern the difference between Scripture and dialogue with God.
6. She mimics occult practices.
The idea of listening to God and writing down what He says to us in prayer is so foreign to Challies that he claims it is nearly occult. “This is not a far cry from a practice known as ‘automatic writing,” says Challies. “This practice [of automatic writing] is very different from the giving of biblical revelation where God worked through the thoughts, personalities, and even research of the authors.” Focusing on Jesus to have a dialogue with Him is nothing near the New Age practice of emptying your mind to let other spirits write through your hand. In fact, focusing on Jesus fills your spirit with His in such a way that it pushes out all other influences. It’s when someone is NOT focused on Jesus, but on self-interest or another agenda, that the purity of the content comes into question. There is nothing to fear about focusing our hearts on God and letting Him speak to us.
7. Her emphasis does not match the Bible’s.
“For example, she speaks seldom of sin and repentance and even less of Christ’s work on the cross. . . . While this is not necessarily an unbiblical or inappropriate message, it hardly matches the thrust of the Bible which always pushes toward or flows from the gospel of Jesus Christ.” How can he think that hearing the loving words of our Savior is out of line with the Gospel? The Gospel is the Good News about the love of Christ. Hearing God speak loving words to you is at its core, the gospel message.
There are countless topics in the Bible other than sin and repentance. Does Challies really think every book written must be on the topic of sin and repentance when even the Bible covers many more topics? Yet somehow he justifies discounting Sarah Young’s book because it does not focus on sin and repentance. That seems like an absurd standard.
8. Her tone does not match the Bible’s.
Challies writes: “The Jesus of Sarah Young sounds suspiciously like a twenty-first century, Western, middle-aged woman. If this is, indeed, Jesus speaking, we need to explain why he sounds so markedly different from the Jesus of the gospels or the Jesus of the book of Revelation.” Look at different books of the Bible. Can you tell that Mark was written by a different author than John? Yes, of course you can. That’s because although the authors were God-inspired and the word was God-breathed, God still worked through the hearts, minds, and personalities of the writers. An individual writer’s personality and communication style is going to be reflected in how they perceive God’s words to them. This does not negate the message received. In fact, it glorifies the Creator who responds and interacts with each of His created ones as unique individuals.
May I also point out that in critique 6, Challies criticized Sarah Young because “This practice is very different from the giving of biblical revelation where God worked through the thoughts, personalities, and even research of the authors.” So on one hand he wants evidence that God worked through the thoughts and personalities of the person hearing from God and on the other hand he criticizes the fact that the resulting words reflect her personality. You can’t have it both ways, dude. When God communicates His rhema to our spirit, it will naturally reflect our language and personality.
9. She generates confusion.
“By fabricating the spiritual discipline of listening and elevating it to the first place, she generates confusion about the disciplines that God does prescribe for Christians,” says Challies. Fabricating a discipline of listening? The church fathers would beg to differ. They went on long pilgrimages into the desert to remove all distractions so they could listen to God. Listening to God is by no means new, as he tries to paint it.
Challies quotes another author to make his point, but generally says God communicates to us through His Word and we communicate to God through prayer. But as I said before, prayer is intended to be a two-way dialogue, not a monologue with God. And when we pray, we do well to listen more than we speak. What can we really tell God that He doesn’t already know? Use a few words to ask for His input and then listen up!
King Solomon understood the importance of listening to God and offered this advice: “As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. . . . After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).
10. Her book has been corrected.
Really? He thinks a book that has been reprinted multiple times over the years should not be edited and revised? According to Challies, “Most people don’t know that Jesus Calling has undergone revisions, not only in the introduction where she removed references to God Calling, but also in the words she claims to have received from Jesus.”
A publisher frequently asks the author to write a new introduction for subsequent editions. There’s nothing suspicious about writing or revising an introduction. As for the claim that she edited the rhema of God, I think God is big enough to survive the editor’s pen. Every book gets edited. Changing grammar, punctuation, and clarifying thoughts are vital to making the message clear.
In the one example he cites, called “Entrust Your Loved Ones to Me,” her original version had God saying, “Remember the extreme measures I used with Abraham and Isaac.” Well, that’s fine in her dialogue with God because she undoubtedly knew the story of Abraham and Isaac. An editor’s job is to say, “Hey, not all readers may know that story so offer some clarification on that point. What extreme measures did God use?” Again, it is really stretching the limits of credulity to think editing a text invalidates the author’s intent.
A Good Kind of Trouble
To sum it all up, if hearing from God is dangerous and troubling, then let me be dangerous and cause trouble. I’ve been bullied by Christians who convinced me to stop listening to God and it sent me on a downward spiral of dysfunction, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Only when I began listening to God again did He restore my spirit. I want to prevent you from having the same (unnecessary) experience I had when Christians tried to make me feel guilty for hearing from God.
God can talk to you. You can hear from Him daily. If you need help hearing God, check out the resources listed below.
Jesus said, “Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! . . . Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God” (John 8:43, 47).
Best Friends with God: Falling in Love with the God Who Loves You