Thinking Out Loud

October 20, 2017

Jesus Wants to Talk to You, But He Realizes You’re Busy

Jesus Calling quote

With Halloween fast approaching, a look at the book with the bright orange cover…

I realized today that despite all that’s been written about the format and content* of the popular devotional book Jesus Calling, my chief complaint is that the writings are simply far too short. Heck, I’ve posted things on Twitter that are lengthier than what passes for a daily devotional. If this is devotion, if I were God, I’d be looking for a greater degree of loyalty.

It’s as if Jesus is calling, but he’s in Europe, and it’s a toll call, and he’s run out of Euro coins and can only speak for a minute. Or perhaps he knows that you have a full schedule and he doesn’t want to take too much of your time.

Full disclosure: Sometimes my devotional kick-start is equally short. If I’m running really late, I might just have time to read the key verse at DailyEncouragement.net and the one I get weekdays by email from GreatBigLife.co.uk. But on those very days, I’m heading into an environment that in many ways resembles an eight-hour-long small group meeting. I often wonder how many scripture verses are quoted or alluded to by me or the people I interact with. (I need an intern to follow me and count them, like the student who followed Kramer on that Seinfeld episode.)

But if Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling were my only source of spiritual feeding for an entire day, I think I would be shortchanged.

That’s the part the scares me. That people are buying and using and gifting this book and it becomes a surrogate for real quality time with God.

So again, this is aside from all other doctrinal considerations about this title that have been analyzed to death elsewhere; I just think the book is baby food. Perhaps as Hebrews 5:12 and I Cor 3:2 remind us, maybe much of the Church in North America, Australia and Western Europe just isn’t ready for solid food.

Jesus Calling Collection


*I realize some of you haven’t been in touch with where the doctrinal issues in this book arise. Much of the discussion online has to do with the fact that this book is part of a very small subset of devotional literature where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. In other words, the (human) author purports to be writing this as God, speaking in the first person; “I” instead of “He.” Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, Paul Pastor’s The Listening Day and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always as examples of this; you’ll also find this type of writing on some blogs.

May 29, 2017

An Interactive Devotional Experience

Imagine for a moment that I’ve had a particularly frustrating and upsetting week. A praying close friend, aware of all this takes a moment to send me an email with the curious subject line, “A message through me from God to you.” With a sigh, I click and read:

My child, I know the past few days have been trying. Please be assured of my continued you love for you and know that in these times I have been as close, if not closer, to you than ever.

Not at all thinking it through, I hit ‘reply’ and type:

Really, God? It would have been nice to have a sign of that love. A change in circumstances. A good night’s sleep, even.

I no sooner hit ‘send’ and then it hits me. What have I done? My friend will be upset. Will I damage our friendship by not appreciating their effort in reaching out? Has my response betrayed a total lack of faith? Am I just going to get God mad at me?

Not 60 seconds later a message comes back:

A sign? Okay. How about an encouragement note from a close friend?

I sigh, but this time it’s a different sigh, one of resignation.

Sorry, God.

Book Review • The Listening Day: Meditations on the Way – Volume 1  by Paul J. Pastor (Zeal Books, 2017)

Have you ever wanted to talk back to your devotional book? I imagine myself saying, ‘That’s easy for you to write; you don’t know my situation.’ Perhaps I’ve already done that a few times.

The Listening Day is a collection of 91 page-per-day readings by Oregon’s Paul J. Pastor (yes, real name) who is also the author of The Face of The Deep, which we reviewed here. At first look, the book appears to follow the format of several popular titles in the same genre, where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always.

I am often wary of this format. I would not presume to say, ‘Thus says the Lord’ unless I were certain that I had heard from God in the first place, and so I have what I consider a righteous skepticism toward books which run with this format. I’ve read the criticisms, most of which were directed at a highly successful title by an author who was and still is generally unknown. For many, the format is reminiscent of God Calling by A.J. Russell which is often used in conjunction with the AA program and has been criticized for the process by which it in particular was written, something called ‘automatic writing.’ 

Those situations don’t apply here. The author is well known to readers of Christianity Today, his first book was published by David C. Cook, and I’ve listened to him teach at his home church in Portland, where he is a deacon responsible for spiritual formation.

The book is different. For two reasons.

First, although each page begins with two well-paired key scripture verses for the day, there are many scripture passages alluded to and embedded in most of the daily writings. The book is thoroughly anchored in Biblical texts. I didn’t encounter anything where I thought, ‘God would not have said that.’ Rather, with my discernment radar set to its maximum setting, I felt the plausibility of God saying such things — especially to me personally — was quite high.

Second, there was the interactive factor. This was, in one sense, a dramatic encounter with God. The interjections on the part of the reader — typed out on behalf of you and me — were the things I would say. This book got very personal very quickly. With further honesty, sometimes the interruptions were followed by apparent silence on God’s part. Been there, too.

The introduction came with an admonishment not to try to binge-read the entire book, but rather to take one reading per day. Good advice, but impossible for a reviewer who has to read every word of every page before composing a review. Slowing down to 15 entries per day over 6 days, I asked myself, ‘What if this were the only thing I had time for in the morning as I started my day?’ I think it would be a most appropriate beginning because the dialogue format is a reminder of God’s presence from the moment I awake, and this is critical in a world where many Christians are spiritually defeated between the bed and the breakfast table. 

A note about the “Volume One” in the title: Without giving away too much at this point, I’m assured that there is more to come. Stay tuned.

Climb the tree of life–
the branches are wide and strong enough for all.
Reach from beauty,
stretching to understanding,
pulling up on wisdom
until you come into sight of the place where I hang,
beyond words, above the healing leaves, high above the kingdom.
There you will know me, just as you are known,
at the crown and light of the listening day.


We ran an excerpt of one of the readings a few days ago at Christianity 201.

Zeal Books is a new company from the former owner and President of Multnomah Publishing and includes among it current roster a book by Bruce Wilkinson.

February 27, 2016

The Chair Time Concept

Bill Hybels - Chair TimeSometimes when you visit another church — either in person or online — you become of aware of certain terms or phrases that are unique to their congregation. After a few years of being away, I’ve returned to making Willow Creek in Chicago part of my weekly online travels, and I’ve been introduced to “Chair time,” which is what other Evangelicals might call “devotions.”

I decided to go to Google to see what people are saying about it.

First, Bill Hybels himself, speaking at a 2014 Hillsong conference:

…No doubt you’ve seen a picture of Michelangelo’s most famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, “The Creation of Adam,” in which he portrays God and Adam with their hands outstretched toward one another. God is leaning and straining toward Adam, and his fingertip almost touches Adam’s hand, which is more relaxed, not nearly as intent on its mission.

The very hand of heaven reaching for the hand of man.

Now, imagine Adam’s hand reaching out another six inches, grabbing firmly ahold of God’s hand, and hanging on to it tightly. That image captures the single biggest bucket-filler in my life: being firmly hand-in-hand with God…

…If you’re not in the daily habit of reaching for God’s hand and listening for his agenda, let me offer you a challenge: Find a spot in your home—for me, it’s a wooden rocking chair by the fireplace—and sit there for fifteen minutes a day, connecting with God. Read his Word, open up your life to him, and listen for his whispers. When you’re in that chair and you’re in a right relationship with God, it secures your identity. It simplifies your agenda. You won’t be so tempted to run out and do all the other stuff that doesn’t matter a hill of beans to God.

So, chair time. Start there.

At the blog Crown of Compassion, Dave Henning summarizes Hybels’ definition in the book Simplify:

To feel closer to God or hear from Him through His Word, Pastor Hybels notes, we need to allocate purposeful time with God every day.  A chair is any place where we can sit uninterrupted and meet God.  Bill explains:

“Your chair time . . . should be purposeful and slow and protected from distraction, at a time of day that works best for you.”

From a busy mom who is a member of Willow Creek:

…The first thing I thought of was I need a vacation!!!! Why don’t stay-at-home moms have built in vacation days?!   We don’t and that’s okay, but I have a choice to make the most of the game of life and that may mean taking a timeout. It makes sense why our lead pastor at Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, often rehashes the importance of “chair time”, spending 15 minutes a day with your Bible. It’s like a timeout from this crazy life to be with God … just you and Him.  Or why in sports, timeouts are so important to teams.  It gives the team the ability to rest, readjust, and prepare for the remainder of the competition…

A book excerpt from Simplify reads:

..Because you are reading a book about simplifying your life, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are in a season of throwing away clutter. You are throwing away commitments on your calendar that don’t fit your values. You’re throwing away the financial habit of living beyond your means. You’re tossing some shallow or harmful relationships in favor of deeper, more life-giving relationships in Christian community. Through the hard work of self-evaluation, you are in a season of clearing out and clarifying.

Or perhaps you’re in a season of keeping — keeping new commitments to make time for your family; keeping your daily chair time and prayer time with God holy and set apart; keeping your alignments at work — passion, culture, challenge and compensation. There’s a time for one and a time for the other…  (p. 19)

…Your chair time doesn’t have to be an in-depth Bible study or an hour-long meditation exercise. But it should be purposeful and slow, and protected from distraction, at a time of day that works best for you. More important, it should be daily… (p. 44)

Phil Owen on the difference between devotions and chair time:

…As someone who faith has been a part of my story in one form another for a long time, I’ve known the value of what we call ‘devotions’ or ‘quiet time’ or any other verbiage we’ve given to it over the years.  It’s huge.  It’s great.  But the truth is, I’ve struggled with consistency time and time again.  I have gone through seasons where I’m strong, and seasons where I’m spotty. At best.

Since looking at it SLIGHTLY differently through the lens of ‘chair time’- that’s seemed to be helpful for me.  For whatever reason.

I think that reason has more to do with location than anything else.  ‘I have to’s’ are never any good for any of us.  I fail at ‘I have to’s’.  That’s not entirely true- but an ‘I have to’ in my time of solitude seems obligatory, and is not driven by desire.  This should be a time driven by desire.  And usually it is (though I wouldn’t be truthful if I said there’s never a time where I do it simply because I know I need to…and that’s not all bad either…though that’s another blog for another day).  So for some reason- focusing on location seems like more pressure and seems more familial…

Finally, at the blog, Church of the Servant:

Maybe your chair time is at a coffee shop, your breakfast table, living room coach, your office, or during your commute. It could be morning, afternoon or evening. Your chair time will change your life and help you gain perspective. What do you say…will you find a chair?

October 31, 2015

Jesus is Calling, But He’s Only Got a Minute

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:47 am

Jesus Calling quote

For Halloween, a look at the book with the bright orange cover…

I realized today that despite all that’s been written about the format and content of the popular devotional book Jesus Calling, my chief complaint is that the writings are simply far too short. Heck, I’ve posted things on Twitter that are lengthier than what passes for a daily devotional. If this is devotion, if I were God, I’d be looking for a greater degree of loyalty.

It’s as if Jesus is calling, but he’s in Europe, and it’s a toll call, and he’s run out of Euro coins and can only speak for a minute.

Full disclosure: Sometimes my devotional kickstart is equally short. If I’m running really late, I might just have time to read the key verse at DailyEncouragement.net and the one I get weekdays by email from GreatBigLife.co.uk. But on those very days, I’m heading into an environment that in many ways resembles an eight-hour-long small group meeting. I often wonder how many scripture verses are quoted or alluded to by me or the people I interact with. (I need an intern to follow me and count them, like the student who followed Kramer on that Seinfeld episode.)

But if Jesus Calling were my only source of spiritual feeding for an entire day, I think I would be shortchanged.

That’s the part the scares me. That people are buying and using and gifting this book and it becomes a surrogate for real quality time with God.

So again, this is aside from all other doctrinal considerations about this title that have been analyzed to death elsewhere; I just think the book is baby food. Perhaps as Hebrews 5:12 and I Cor 3:2 remind us, maybe much of the Church in North America, Australia and Western Europe just isn’t ready for solid food.

Jesus Calling Collection


If you were looking for our more traditional Halloween post, two of my favorites are

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.