I recently had a conversation with another Pastor. He was telling me a story about how he was encouraging someone to serve. Despite it being a great opportunity, the person declined because “the Lord was telling them not to do it.” While I cannot rule out the possibility of this being true, it seemed somewhat suspect due to both the fact that God clearly calls us to service in His Word, and this word from the Lord seemed to coincide quite nicely with how they already wanted to spend their weekend.
Part of the issue comes from our overuse and misunderstanding of the concept of “hearing from the Lord.” Many times the person we are actually hearing from is merely our own thoughts and desires. When this happens we are on dangerous ground. While I would never deny that the Holy Spirit can speak to us and help guide us, God has encouraged us to turn to the Holy Scriptures as our primary source of hearing from Him. This is the entire premise behind the Protestant ideology of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). By it we believe and confess that Scripture alone is the sole rule and norm by which we govern and understand our faith. This is one of the main reasons I have an issue with the popular series of devotionals by Sarah Young titled Jesus Calling.
When I first encountered Jesus Calling I thought it was a unique take on an otherwise bland devotional. Some of the devotions I found to be good, and a few others I had some disagreement with on theological grounds. The unique approach was coming from how each devotion was written in the first person, as if Jesus was actually speaking. While that didn’t thrill me, I figured it was just a gimmick. I assumed that Sarah was writing her devotional the way most do, by studying Scripture and then giving some thoughts on its application.
Well, turns out I was wrong. Very wrong.
Jesus Calling actually follows in the footsteps of an older work titled God Calling. God Calling was, allegedly, written by two anonymous women who referred to themselves as “The Two Listeners.” They wrote their devotional by sitting still and “listening” and then writing the first things that came into their head. They did not study Scripture to base their thoughts on. They claimed no other education, training or qualifications. They simply listened and wrote and claimed that what they wrote was a direct revelation from God. That process just so happens to be the exact same process that Sarah Young uses to write her Jesus Calling devotionals. She writes in the first person because she believes they are the actual words of Jesus!
Some of you may recognize this as a process called automatic writing. Automatic writing is used properly in psychology to help people uncover thoughts and feelings they may be having. It is also used by so-called psychics and spiritists to attempt to commune with various spirits and the dead. If this doesn’t give you a hinky feeling about the practice, it should. Consider that its two main uses are either to reveal our own thoughts and feelings, or as an occult tool. And now consider how popular a devotional is among Christians that uses the exact same concept.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
While the Bible does, at times, encourage us to be still and listen for the Lord, nowhere does it encourage us to use the process of automatic writing to hear from Him. Nor is that how the inspiration of Holy Scripture itself worked, where people like the Prophets and Apostles were well aware of what they were writing and why. It is a process that is more likely to reveal your own thoughts and feelings than God’s, and it is certainly not something we should put our trust in.
The Bible encourages us to be shrewd and discerning, and to test the spirits. Let’s make sure that we are placing our trust in the true Word of God as we find it in Scripture. In His Word is the one place we always know Jesus is calling.