(RNS) – When Jesus calls, bestselling author Sarah Young is always ready to listen.
Journalists, however, can’t even leave a message for him.
Young, whose emphasis on privacy is legendary, avoids public appearances, does not speak to reporters on the phone, and is rarely seen. Journalists seeking to interview the elusive Young, whose “Jesus Calling” book brand has sold 35 million copies worldwide, according to his publisher, send an email and await a response.
Unlike many successful Christian authors, who promote their work through social media, videos and speaking engagements, Young, who suffers from a chronic illness, stays out of the spotlight, just writing. from her home in Tennessee and talking to strangers on her own terms.
Its lack of a public platform has not hampered the career of Young, one of the most unlikely publishing successes in recent memory. She has become a New York Times bestselling author and her latest book, “Jesus Listens”, was released this week by Thomas Nelson. The first print run is 1 million copies.
As part of the promotion of the book, Young wrote a series of biographical essays, one of which chronicles the birth of “Jesus Calling.” In the 1990s, Young, a graduate of Wellesley College, began writing a series of devotions while working as a counselor and missionary in Australia.
During a particularly difficult time, she counseled a woman who claimed to be a victim of satanic child abuse – by the 1990s the so-called satanic panic had caught on – and she began to write about in a new way, by listening to God and âjotting down what came to mindâ in his journals. She eventually turned those diary entries into a collection of devotions called “Jesus Calling.”
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After a series of refusals, his book was published in 2004 and became a success, spawning a series of giveaway editions for all ages, a podcast, magazine and videos all inspired by Young’s words, all available on the author’s website.
Young spoke to Religion News Service in an email interview this fall.
Why the title âJesus listensâ? What did you want to communicate? Was there any difficulty writing in the first person?
My new devotion is called âJesus Listensâ because it is a blessing to know that Jesus listens to each of our prayers. He loves us perfectly and constantly takes care of us. I wrote âJesus listensâ because prayer is such an important part of my daily life. Prayer connects us to God. The daily âJesus Listensâ prayers are meant to be a starting point for other prayers – to help readers enjoy their time with Jesus and feel comfortable sharing all their concerns with Him. âJesus listensâ is written from the perspective of readers praying to Jesus. These are devotional prayers: designed to bring readers into deeper, richer, and more continuous communication with God.
How does it feel to be a missionary who is also chronically ill? Has it helped you understand God differently? Has it opened doors for you to minister?
I consider being a missionary, a writer, and someone with chronic illness a forfeit. As much as I would like to be in good health, I received this âdealâ with joy. All of my devotional books have emerged from my weaknesses and struggles. I am perfectly aware of my insufficiency, and this prompts me to look to the Lord and his strength, to seek his face. I look not only to Him, but also to His Word for strength, help and encouragement. When I sit down to write, I always ask God to relate his infinite sufficiency to my total inadequacy. Thus, my health problems help me to rely on Jesus and to work in collaboration with him. When we lived in Australia as missionaries, I did a lot of counseling work. My awareness of my weakness helped me depend on God in this ministry and get along better with the women I counseled.
How has the success of âJesus Callingâ affected your missionary work? What has this allowed you to do?
When I decided to write for the publication, it never occurred to me that the book would have this kind of success. I made a concerted effort not to let the success of âJesus Callingâ change me. When the book came out, I was living in Perth, Western Australia, the most isolated large city in the world. In addition, Perth is the opposite of the planet compared to my publisher. Due to my isolation and chronic health issues, I have never been on a book tour. Although my name is well known, my face is not. And Sarah Young is actually a very common name! As soon as âJesus Callingâ was published, I began to pray for the readers. Becoming a bestselling author means I have a lot more people to pray for than when I started! And it motivated me to pray long and hard every day for the readers of all my books. I consider this a sacred responsibility and a delicious privilege. My husband and I enjoy contributing to a wide variety of nonprofit organizations. We especially like to support missionary work in other countries and church planting efforts in the United States. Book royalties have also helped our children and their spouses repay their graduate loans. Currently, we are contributing to the college funds of our six grandchildren. Being able to give is a blessing and a source of great joy!
I suspect there are few Wellesley graduates who are devotional writers or missionaries. How have your experiences there shaped your life? Do you still have contact with your comrades from Wellesley?
I majored in philosophy at Wellesley. I was a non-Christian seeking the truth. Every time I started to study a new philosophy, I was excited, thinking that it might end my quest. However, a closer study of each philosophy has always revealed flaws. Eventually I became disillusioned and concluded that there was no absolute truth. A few years later, my brother gave me Francis Schaeffer’s book, âEscape from Reasonâ. To my surprise, I found in this little book answers to very big questions that I had considered unanswered. So I decided to become a student at L’Abri, a Christian community in Switzerland founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer. There I found a wonderful combination of intellectual integrity and a caring Christian community. It was exactly what I needed and I became a Christian while living at L’Abri. Finally, I had a solid foundation on which to build my life! I don’t have much contact with my classmates in Wellesley now.
How has writing from Jesus’ perspective shaped your understanding of Christ?
When I first started writing from Jesus’ point of view, it was only for my personal benefit – to help bring me closer to him. Later, I realized that these writings could also be a blessing for other people. In the introductions to my books, I stress that the Bible is the only inspired Word of God; it is the unchanging standard by which I judge everything I write. I want the writings in all of my books to orient readers to the Bible. Biblical references provided with daily readings are an integral part of the devotions. Writing these books deepened my relationship with Jesus and greatly increased my love for him.
Why do your books speak to people?
My books tend to address different people in different ways, meeting them where they are. I think it’s because the books help people connect with Jesus, and He meets us where we are. The books are designed to help people connect not only with Jesus, the living Word, but also with the Bible, the written Word.
The past few years have been difficult for evangelical Christians, many of whom have read your book. What do you think Jesus means to the church right now?
I cling to the words of Jesus in John 16:33: âI have said these things to you, that you may have peace in me. In this world you will have problems. But don’t worry! I have conquered the world. So I find comfort in God’s words to Isaiah in verse 41:13 – âFor I am the Lord your God, who takes your right hand and says to you: Fear not; I will help you. âJesus conquered the world, and he is always available to help us!
Someone recently asked me if I have any prophetic words to speak in these difficult times. I have no prophetic words, but the following verse tells me a lot: âTrust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understandingâ (Proverbs 3: 5). The ways of the Lord are often mysterious, and there are many, many things that I do not understand. So I put my energy into trusting him. I find it useful to pray several times a day: âI trust you, Jesus. This short prayer reminds me that Jesus is always with me and that he is totally trustworthy.
It has been almost two decades since âJesus Callingâ was published. What has surprised you the most over the past 20 years – and what do you hope the future holds?
I was amazed at the worldwide sales of the âJesus Callingâ brand books – over 35 million! When âJesus Callingâ first came out, I told my husband that I hoped my publishers wouldn’t waste any money on the book. I never imagined that so many copies would be sold! The most satisfying part of the success of âJesus Callingâ is hearing readers share their remarkable stories! It is both exciting and humbling to see some of the many ways God has used my books to help people.
Readers recounted how âJesus Callingâ gave them hope when they didn’t think they could continue. Those struggling with disease, death, and grief said the book brought comfort to them in their darkest hours. People struggling with addictions have found courage in their struggle to break free. Others have become Christians reading the devotions. Many readers have said that âthe call of Jesusâ has helped them develop a love for the Bible.
I give glory for all these things to our great God! I will continue to pray for my readers daily, and I hope God will continue to bless and help them through these books.
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