Jesus Always is almost indistinguishable from Jesus Calling in its tone, its theme, and voice. The only difference is that Young did not include her claim that these messages originated with Jesus. Yet there is no reason to think that she has stopped her “listening.”
This book is going to be big. Huge, even. Its predecessor has sold well over 10 million copies and more than a decade after publication has no less than 6 editions on the list of Christian bestsellers. Today, at last, comes the long-awaited sequel, releasing to great fanfare—a million-copy first printing backed by a huge $300,000 marketing spend. One way or another you will come across this book and so will most of your friends and neighbors. You will see it on Amazon, in Costco, in airport bookshops, and perhaps even at your church’s book table. It’s Jesus Always, Sarah Young’s sequel to Jesus Calling.
Like Jesus Calling, Jesus Always is a little book—just 4.4 by 6.3 inches—and like Jesus Calling contains 365 short daily devotions. What makes Young’s little books distinct is her big claim: Her name is on the cover, but the words come from Jesus.
I would like to offer a review under just two headings. First I will introduce her little book, then I will discuss her big claim.
The Little Book
Young introduces Jesus Always by telling about some of the difficult circumstances she has endured in recent years, most notably a disruptive long-distance move and a medical condition that has flummoxed doctors and kept her housebound. Yet through these trials she has found joy in God and his Word. “Dear reader, as you make your way through the pages of this book, I long for you to embrace the Joy of a close relationship with Jesus. He is with you at all times, and in His Presence there is fullness of joy.”
Here is the complete text of one day’s devotion (January 2):
I am your Joy! These four words can light up your life. Since I am always with you, the Joy of My Presence is continually accessible to you. You can open up to My Presence through your trust in Me, your love for Me. Try saying, “Jesus, You are my Joy.” My Light will shine upon you and within you as you rejoice in Me, your Savior. Ponder all I have done for you and all that I am to you. This will lift you up above your circumstances.
When you became My follower, I empowered you to rise above the conditions in your life. I filled you with My Spirit, and this Holy Helper has limitless Power. I promised that I will come back and take you to be with Me in heaven—that you may be where I am forever. Whenever your world is looking dark, brighten your perspective by focusing on Me. Relax in My Presence, and hear Me saying, “Beloved, I am your Joy!” (Psalm 21:6, Philippians 4:4 in the NKJV, John 14:3)
This devotion, a fair representative of the other 364, displays a few characteristic traits:
- The capitalized words (Joy, Presence, Power) represent experiences she wishes for the reader to have in and through Jesus.
- The italicized passages are drawn directly from Scripture.
- The first-person pronouns indicate the voice of Jesus.
- She often includes a few words to breathe or whisper as a form of prayer: “Take a few deep breaths and whisper My Name,” or simply, “Jesus,” or, “I trust You, Jesus,” or, as in this devotion, “Jesus, You are my Joy.”
- She often includes commands or suggestions for the reader followed by associated promises: “Ponder all I have done for you and all that I am to you” for “This will lift you up above your circumstances”. Or, “Relax in my presence” and you will “hear Me saying, ‘Beloved, I am your Joy!’”
The back cover copy explains the book’s major theme, “Jesus Always invites you into a new way of living—embracing a life of joy.” It “explores the promises of joy in scripture—promises of life abundant, life to the fullest, life brimming with joy.” So, through 365 2- or 3-paragraph devotions, Young speaks in the voice of Jesus to call on her readers to trust God and to find joy in his presence.
The Big Claim
The big claim in her little books is that the words come to the reader from Jesus through her. At least, that was the claim of Jesus Calling and, as far as I know, it has not been retracted. Instead, it has been removed. If you are enthusiastic about Jesus Calling or wondering about Jesus Always, this is the one claim you must face head-on. You cannot treat Jesus Always as just another Christian book when Young herself claims it is so much more.
Let’s back up. In early editions of Jesus Calling, Young was forthcoming about the origin and nature of her book. She described being inspired A.J. Russell’s old work God Calling to become a “Listener” who hears and records messages communicated by Jesus. What Jesus spoke she wrote down and published as Jesus Calling. She was clear: She wrote in the voice of Jesus not as a literary decision but because she truly believed that she was serving as a kind of conduit for revelation from God. This was an audacious claim that set apart Jesus Calling from almost every other Christian book before or since. But this bold claim was quietly removed from later editions of Jesus Calling and is altogether missing from Jesus Always.
Not surprisingly, Young’s claim caused a great deal of concern among Christians with a high view of Scripture. Kathy Keller’s critique was representative when she pointed out that if Young “had only used ‘He’ instead of ‘I’ in her book, about half of my objection to it would be gone. However, in publishing these as messages she received from ‘listening to God,’ she has left us in a quandary.” Why? Because when “words are attributed directly to Jesus … then they have to be received on the same level as Scripture, or she has put her own thoughts into the mouth of Jesus.” Exactly so. If Jesus Calling was actually spoken by Jesus, it carries much greater authority than if it was not. Even if this does not equate it with the Bible (a claim Young disavows) surely it at least elevates it above other Christian books.