I don’t always like to engage with social media. If I feel particularly sad or unsure of myself or just mentally spent, I can find things that take me further in that direction if I get on Facebook or Instagram. I must be aware of my mental state before exposing myself to something disturbing I might find on social media venues. This particular day, I found an article that I engaged with that angered me. I decided to sit with the emotions I felt for a couple weeks before I responded. Much of what I see that disrupts my sensibilities are not worth any more energy spent, but this particular article continued its disturbance, enough so that I feel the need to respond.
The original article is here
Much of what I do in my studio for those that come to me wanting more of Jesus is to help them trust themselves again. What we hear from our church leaders is that we are not trustworthy. We cannot trust our own experience of God. We are told to look to our leaders to tell us what is right and wrong, true and untrue. While there is a place for that, leaders have done a terrible disservice to our own inner experience of God. II Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” EVERYTHING WE NEED – The resurrection power of Christ, who has made our fleshly bodies His dwelling place. The Holy Spirit is active and powerful within our physical bodies. I can trust what my experience of Christ is. He is my teacher. The Spirit of God is my teacher. God the Father is my teacher, in accordance with His holy scripture. Thanks be to God!
If I truly believe this for myself, then I must trust that deep inner work is happening in others that I encounter. I must not judge Sarah’s experience of God or tell her that her experience is wrong or not valid because I haven’t experienced Christ in the same way; rather, I must trust deeply that God is doing a deep and profound work in places that are unknown to me and be encouraged and celebrate all the different and beautiful ways God is at work in His world.
The first point the author of this article makes that he finds “deeply troubling” is that Sarah Young speaks for God. You should know that I haven’t read but excerpts from Sarah’s beautiful book and I don’t own any of them, but I understand what’s at the heart of them. She actually doesn’t speak “for God”; she speaks her experience “of God.” Everything that I’ve read from these books affirm the voice that I have heard when I have enough courage to be receptive to listening to God. It’s the same kind, loving, non-tyrannical voice of fierce desire for His beloved.
I find her words and experience of God to be quite prophetic. They are subversive, perhaps stirring up unpleasant responses from hearers. Is that not what prophetic words do? They evoke change and discomfort. Walter Brueggeman says of prophets, “They understood the possibility of change as linked to emotional extremities of life. They understood the strange incongruence between public conviction and personal yearning. Most of all, they understood the distinctive power of language, the capacity to speak in ways that evoke newness ‘fresh from the word.’ It is argued here that a prophetic understanding of reality is based in the notion that all social reality does spring fresh from the word. It is the aim of every totalitarian effort to stop the language of newness, and we are now learning that where such language stops we find our humanness diminished.” For those who have a level of comfort for what has always been, prophetic voices will be disruptive and disconcerting. That’s always been the case. The author says, “that the Bible and the Bible alone is sufficient to guide us in all matters of faith and practice.” Is he saying here that the gift of prophecy is no longer relevant in our experience of God? Is he saying that I cannot have a beautiful exchange between myself, the creature, and my Creator in the woods or the mountains or the shoreline or in a piece of music or poetry or the tasting of exotic food, or gazing out into a vast distant galaxy? Must it be branded “Christian” to effect and haunt me and lead me into a worship experience? The incarnate Christ would tell me that this is my Father’s world and I can commune with Jesus in this physical world. The incarnate Christ changed everything. I can experience God through any means He chooses. When the word became flesh, He, in effect, closed the divide between the physical and spiritual realms. These are not now to be looked at dually. There is no dichotomy between flesh and intuition.
Thanks be to God for such an indescribable gift! The requirements of things that bring me near to God do not have to be tattooed with a scripture verse for me to feel God’s pleasure in it. That’s a human requirement, a way to add burden to the law.
His second protest is that in his estimation, Sarah “has proclaimed insufficiency of the Bible.” I did not hear this in her longing at all. I heard a desire to be close to God. So much of the time, our religious leaders like to reduce the Word of God to rules and regulations and ways to live that we can “keep”. The Word is so much more than that. It is alive, active and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing, and rightly dividing truth. How beautiful! If it is alive, it stands to reason that the Word shows up in our physical world, The Incarnate truth. What beautiful implications this has. It’s more than rule keeping. Sarah, I believe, was looking for relationship; Divine encounters that go beyond how well she could follow the law. She wanted to HEAR God. What a beautiful desire. And she was courageous enough to share her experience of God with her readers.
Another argument of the author is that God doesn’t endorse listening. Obey, in its Latin origin, comes from the word audire, which means “to listen.” God speaks. We arrogantly think that the duty of prayer is “to speak.” Actually, if we look at scripture, we find how much God’s desire is for us to listen, not speak. The labor of prayer is really curiosity expressed through listening. The Greek word for “absurd” means to “not listen.”
Sarah wisely gives caution that her words are not to be proxy for the Word of God. As with any human connection with the Divine, we must allow Him to edit anything that may not be of His Spirit. We are human, thus limited in the way that we receive God. We have other tapes that play in our head: messages we received from our family of origin, unkind messages from others that stuck in our heads and tell us untruths. Part of the work of listening is to sort out these voices. In John 10, Jesus tells us that “my sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” As we practice the spiritual discipline of obeying (listening), we become more familiar with the voice of the Shepherd and it begins to rise above other, more loud and harmful voices.
The author claims she “mimics occult practices.” He mentions a stream of conscious way of writing as being occultist. This is simply the creative process. I always edit my work. I always go back and look for things I may have received the wrong way or heard errantly. I am human, have human limitations and must operate out of “true confidence, which is courage that has been humbled… I don’t know if I am right, nor am I sure the path chosen is the best, but after reflection, feedback, debate, and prayer, I am choosing this path. In the process, I will seek life like water and drink death like wine.” (From Dan Allender, Leading With A Limp). The beautiful thing about the way God extends Himself to me is that He will do it in ways that I can resonate with and respond to. He utilizes the whole of my humanity. While I’ve been taught that my imagination is dangerous and will lead me astray, He shows me that He created me with an imagination that allows me to experience Him within that expression of my humanness. He will use all of my faculties that He has uniquely placed within me as touch points for my experience with Him. These are all in existence so that I can connect with God on the most intimate level possible. How beautiful. He will use everything that makes me human, even my own inner darkness, as a means of knowing Him and Him knowing me. My ultimate purpose in death and in life is to love God and enjoy Him forever. Everything that makes me human allows me to carry out this purpose. What mercy! What a discipline of grace.
He also has a problem with her lack of mentioning Jesus in her writings. The title of the book is “Jesus Calling” and, as my eyes see it, is a love letter from Jesus straight to Sarah. What could be more suggestive of Jesus? It’s His voice that she’s hearing. One can make assumptions, based on where this book is sold and its title that there is a strong component of her propensity toward Jesus. I don’t know what else can be said about that.
He also claims that her tone doesn’t match the Jesus of the gospels. I don’t find that to be true at all. Yes, she hears Him speak with sensual language. If one reads all of scripture, that language is VERY familiar. Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Revelation, and every single book in between has the language of that of a Lover. In the gospels, Jesus often refers to His people as the Bride. Carry that out to its implications. There is a fierce romanticism at the heart of everything that Jesus does. Song of Solomon 2:13-14 says:
13 The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.
14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the crannies of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
This sketch is what came out of my listening practices around this scripture verse. I experienced the beautiful gaze of God upon my face and drew it as best I could. This experience was very real and deeply profound for me. It has implications that have sprinkled across the valleys and plains of my life. However you assess it, my experience was real and Jesus has touched me in ways I can’t explain.
Is this passage not an expression of a Lover to His beloved? What beautiful language and poetry. Her expression of what she hears is consistent with the voice of Jesus and His relentless love for His people. Again, He will come and speak in ways that we can absorb to be close to His beloved. If one is uncomfortable with this language, He will not speak in that way. Julian of Norwich likes to remind us that Jesus is a gentleman. He will not barge in and be forceful. He will wait for as long as He needs to for us to have a porous posture to receive the gifts He is eager to give. He will always be true to Himself (for He cannot disown Himself, as Hebrews says) and is always true to His word. If you hear things that are not consistent with Him, or His Word, it is NOT His voice you are hearing.
Perhaps we need another Reformation if we are so rigid in our prayer stance that God, through His Holy Spirit, can’t speak to us. The author speaks of arrows and confusion around communication with God. An intimate relationship, in its nature, is an open exchange. As I understand the author, he is stating that God can no longer speak to us, that He is silent and that it is our duty to do the speaking. That would presuppose that we no longer have anything to hear or learn from God. That, quoting the author about Sarah, “makes the boldest, gutsiest, and, to my mind, most arrogant claim of any [article] ever to be considered Christian.”