Spiritual meditation, as it is commonly practiced around the world, is done for the purpose of achieving an experience of the presence of God. This “presence” feeling, often described as a sense of oneness with the Divine, can create a powerful psychological and physical sense of peace. This much-desired spiritual experience thus serves to validate one’s faith — if one “feels” God’s presence then that means one is on the right path to a higher form of spirituality. Thus meditation becomes a discipline, a device, even an art, whereby man believes he can do things to achieve inner peace and a unity with God. Here is an example:
Spiritual awakening comes when the mind rises…. At this stage men has a spiritual vision of the Divine light and is struck with wonder at its beauty and glory. His mind then no longer runs after worldly pleasures…. When the mind rises [higher]… man becomes free from nescience and ignorance. He then talks only on subjects relating to God and grows impatient if any worldly topic is discussed. He avoids hearing about worldly subjects… When the mind rises [higher]… man becomes merged in divine consciousness…. Seeing the beatific vision of God he becomes mad with joy and longs to come closer to him and be united with him…. One may compare God to the light in a lantern. You seem to feel its warmth, yet though you wish to do so, you cannot touch it, on account of the glass intervening…. When one rises [higher]… one realizes his oneness with God.
Here is an example of spiritual meditation from Sarah Young’s 2004 bestseller Jesus Calling. In these quotes below it is Sarah herself who is speaking about her experience with practicing meditation to invoke a feeling of “the Presence of God.”
“I first experienced the Presence of God in a setting of exquisite beauty.… I went into a deeply wooded area, feeling vulnerable and awed by cold, moonlit beauty. The air was crisp and dry, piercing to inhale. Suddenly I felt as if a warm mist enveloped me. I became aware of a lovely Presence, and my involuntary response was to whisper, ‘Sweet Jesus.’” – Jesus Calling introduction, pages VI & VII, 2004 unrevised edition.
“When I prayed for myself, I was suddenly enveloped in brilliant light and profound peace. I lost all sense of time as I experienced God’s presence in this powerful way.” –Jesus Calling introduction, pages X & XI, 2004 unrevised edition.
Compare the experience described by Sarah Young with the quotation above it. Can you see the similarities? The quotation above it came from page 75 of a book titled KUNDALINI: The Arousal of the Inner Energy by Ajit Mookerjee (Destiny Books, 1986), a horrific and seductive manual on how to achieve an experience of a presence, which turns out to be serpent power.
In these examples can be seen evidence of the emerging common denominator between evangelical mysticism and other world religions, which is meditation. There is very little difference between the meditation taught by eastern religions and the practices currentlyin vogue in evangelical circles. Both teach that by practicing meditation and doing things to increase the experience of “the presence” that one can attain higher levels of spirituality.
What is the difference? How can you tell? In his book RUN! It’s Jesus Calling! Why You Should Throw Away Your Copy of Jesus Calling author Steven Hudgik explains. He has given us permission to reproduce his chapter 13 in its entirety, titled “HOW CAN I EXPERIENCE THE PRESENCE OF JESUS?” Pastor Hudgik begins the chapter with the two quotations from Sarah Young, and then continues. . .
What is the overall theme of the Jesus Calling book? Its full title is, “Jesus Calling, Enjoying Peace In His Presence.” Based on the title I assume there is a focus on experiencing the presence of Jesus (God). And that is what we see when we read this book. Just in the introduction Jesus Calling speaks about the presence of God 19 times.
When we read the Jesus Calling devotions we find the same focus on being in the presence of Jesus. I randomly picked a date, which turned out to be October 13th, and I counted the number of times being in the presence of Jesus is mentioned in the next ten devotions. It was 18 times. In addition, phrases that imply the presence of Jesus, such as “aware of my companionship,” are commonly used.
Experiencing the presence of Jesus is a huge part of this book. So let’s find out what Jesus Calling means when it talks about being in the presence of Jesus. We’ll also look at the true Biblical meaning of being in the presence of Jesus.
According to Jesus Calling, what does it mean to be in the presence of Jesus?
In Jesus Calling the presence of Jesus seems to be a feeling you experience. In the 2004 introduction to Jesus Calling Sarah Young describes being in the presence of Jesus as feeling like there is a warm mist around her. In another part of the same introduction she says it is like having a bright light around her.
In addition, according to Jesus Calling there are numerous benefits that result from being in the presence of Jesus. For example, the presence of Jesus:
- helps you receive the peace of Jesus (October 13th)
- is a promise and a protection (October 15th)
- is a powerful protection and your best protection (October 15th)
- is the source of help (help flows from it) (October 16th)
- comforts you (October 16th)
- allows you to be a channel through whom others are comforted (October 16th)
- outshines any fantasy you can imagine (October 17th)
- enables you to face each day with confidence (October 18th)
My general impression is that, according to Jesus Calling, the presence of Jesus helps you relax, have peace, and to get through the day’s troubles.
What do we need to do to experience the presence of Jesus?
Jesus Calling says that we are constantly in the presence of Jesus (Jan 28), and it seems to indicate that we can experience awareness of the presence of Jesus to greater and lesser degrees. How do we do this? The following are some of the instructions I found that seem to be related to becoming more aware of the presence of Jesus. These are from the 10th Anniversary Edition:
- Your weakness is the door to Jesus’ presence (Jan 8)
- Ask Jesus to show you the path forward moment by moment (Jan 9)
- Make Jesus’ presence the focal point of your thoughts (Jan 28)
- Whisper the name of Jesus (April 8) • Thanksgiving and praise open the door to his presence (May 29)
- Attune yourself to Jesus’ voice (September 26)
Jesus Calling gives many other ways to experience the presence of Jesus, but none of them are in accordance with scripture. So once again we have a complete disconnect with scripture.
Let me see if I can summarize the impressions I’m getting as I try to understand how to experience the presence of Jesus and its benefits according to Jesus Calling:
Jesus is a soft, fluffy, comfortable Jesus who is your best friend. He is always there to share the burden of your troubles, wipe away your tears, give you peace, and keep you feeling warm and comfortable inside. To experience the presence of Jesus you need to do things such as remember him, whisper his name, trust him, and turn to him when you are in need.
BUT… the problem is that this is not scriptural concerning coming into and being in the presence of Jesus, and this is not the Jesus of the Bible. This Jesus is not the Jesus who loves you, who truly cares about you, and who died for you.
What does scripture teach?
The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God’s word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it. – J.I. Packer (http://tiny.cc/zqin5x)
What does it mean Biblically to be in the presence of God, and how do you Biblically come into the presence of God?
For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit” – Isaiah 57:15
Consider this: Jesus is God and God is omnipresent. This means God is present everywhere at all times. That means everyone is always in the presence of God. It is impossible for us to move out of the presence of God.
But, this is not the type of presence we are referring to when we talk about Biblically being in the presence of Jesus. What it means is to be saved and thus be in a relationship with God. It is not a feeling or experience, as described in Jesus Calling. It is the reality of being seated with Christ in heaven the moment you are saved (Ephesians 2:6) It is the reality of having Christ dwell within you the moment you are saved (John 14:23 and 15:4).
It is true that at times we will feel distant from God. All Christians have experienced this. For example, after losing his wife to cancer C.S. Lewis wrote:
Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, Chapter One, 1961
Peter explains what is happening:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV)
But, let’s start at the beginning. How do we come into the presence of Jesus in the first place? What keeps us from the presence of God?
Fact #1 – Sin separates us from God.
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. – Isaiah 59:2
Sin separates us from God. You are a sinner, and that means you are separated from God. His face is hidden from you. What can you do to change that? Nothing. Doing the things the Jesus in Jesus Calling commands you to do will not bring you any closer to Jesus. Sin is a barrier that cannot be breached by human effort.
We are born as sinners and that means we are natural enemies of God. But, the same verse that reveals we are enemies of God, also gives the solution:
For if, while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life. – Romans 5:10
Fact #2 – We WERE enemies of God. But, we have been reconciled to God through the death of Jesus.
To be reconciled to God means we are no longer God’s enemies, instead we are in a relationship with God. This happens through faith, which is a gift of God.
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.– Ephesians 2:8-9
Through the faith given to you by God, you trust in the work of Jesus on the cross—His paying the penalty for your breaking God’s laws—and you are saved from that penalty. Now, when God looks at you, instead of your sin He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And that is why you, as a believer in the cross of Jesus Christ, are in a relationship with God.
If you have repented and are trusting that Christ has paid your penalty for sin… trusting that He paid your penalty for breaking God’s laws… then you are free from the penalty for sin! Free from sin and united with Christ. AND Jesus is actually living in you now! Not only are you in the presence of Jesus, you have been united with Jesus Christ your Lord.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. – Galatians 2:20
Jesus Calling constantly talks about being in the presence of Jesus, but never mentions sin, nor the cross, nor the gospel. Jesus Calling even tries to turn you away from being concerned about sin (Sept 7). BUT… without the cross we all are eternally separated from God. It is only through the cross that we enter the presence of God. Okay… I’m hearing some of you saying something again: “Jesus Calling was written for Christians. Everyone who is reading it is already saved and is in a relationship with Jesus.”
Setting aside the question of whether or not everyone reading Jesus Calling is actually saved or not, this brings us to fact number three:
Fact #3 – All believers will experience the trial of feeling separated from God.
|1 Peter 1:3-7
You are a believer, but you don’t feel very close to God. What’s wrong? John MacArthur explains:
A key passage in 1 Peter (1 Peter 1:3-7) will help you appreciate that times of distress are common and are for the good of God’s children. Amid the rich details of God’s glorious grace, resides an affirmation that those who rejoice in their salvation will also experience distress due to various trials.
Take solace in knowing that sorrowful times–even periods of feeling God has withdrawn His presence–are an integral part of your spiritual experience. God hasn’t utterly abandoned you, though you feel He has. Other believers have successfully traveled the dark path you walk and completed their journey. – John McArthur, Why does God seem so distant when I need Him most? (http://tiny.cc/6lan5x)
When we are going through a time when we feel distant from God we can be encouraged that it is part of God’s working to build our faith and growing us to know Him better. An article in the C.S. Lewis Reflections noted that:
Because C.S. Lewis did not give up, in time he was able to say, “I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted.” He came to see that God’s silence during his grief was not a sign of indifference, cruelty, or abandonment. Rather, God had been at work for good in his life in ways he could not sense or imagine—bringing him into a deeper experience of the Lord than he had ever known before. – Reflections, C.S. Lewis Institute, July 2008
Based on 1 Peter 1:3-7 we can know that our time of darkness will be temporary, and that it has a purpose. It is a test of your faith that will strengthen your faith.
This sounds nothing at all like what Jesus Calling says. In Jesus Calling it is up to us to do something so we feel closer to Jesus. But, the reality is that God is in control. He does it all.
If I feel distant from Jesus, what should I do?
Be in prayer. Spend time talking with God. David’s prayer in Psalm 13 is a good example.
Be in God’s Word. Read your Bible every day and be in obedience to what you are reading. That is called seeking His righteousness. And remember, God is always present with you even when He feels far away (1 Peter 2:9). God is never far from a believer.
Examine yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5). Are you turning to sin for comfort instead of God? Or are you pure in heart (see Chapter 23)? The fact that sin separates you from God is foundational. You can’t talk about being close to God without talking about sin, repentance, and confessing your sin to God. But, Jesus Calling says nothing about sin, repentance, redemption, nor confession of sin. It seems that Jesus Calling is about making you feel good, instead of being about the truth and leading you to a right relationship with God… which is the only way to have a close relationship with God.
And finally remember God is in control. These four points are not magic, meaning that if you do them you’ll automatically feel closer to God. This is not the God of Jesus Calling. This is the true God, creator of you and the entire universe. God will draw nearer to you, when He determines the time is right.
Pastor Larry DeBruyn published an article on Herescope on December 31, 2013, titled The Present of “His Presence”. The article has now been posted as a downloadable PDF file at the Discernment Ministries website:
Warren Smith published his concerns about Sarah Young’s Jesus in his book Another Jesus Calling: How False Christs are Entering the Church Through Contemplative Prayer. See HEREand HERE.
1. KUNDALINI: The Arousal of the Inner Energy by Ajit Mookerjee (Destiny Books, 1986), p. 75. WARNING: This is a very horrible graphic and occult book that dispels any notions one might have about meditation being an innocent mental health exercise.