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Jesus Calling didn't seem destined to sell millions. And then, quite unexpectedly, it did.
During the first three years after its 2004 publication, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence sold a total of only 59,000 copies, a modest success for a daily devotional from a then-unknown author. But then book sales skyrocketed: 220,000 copies in 2008 alone.
Sales of the book have nearly doubled in each successive year, says Laura Minchew, senior vice president of specialty publishing at Thomas Nelson. As of this summer, Jesus Calling had sold 9 million copies in 26 languages, and Publishers Weekly reported that it remained the No. 5 bestseller of the first half of 2013—for all books, not just Christian ones: It outsold Fifty Shades of Grey.
But even as the book continues to top bestseller lists (and prompts spinoffs, including a devotional Bible, a storybook, and women's, teen's, and children's editions), its author, Sarah Young, remains virtually unknown. Most people seem unaware of who Young is, even if they have read Jesus Calling.
Yet not everyone is so enthusiastic that Jesus Calling is reinvigorating interest in the theology behind Young's writings—and, by extension, in Young herself. Young bases her works on listening prayer, a theological practice in which a person aims to hear messages directly from God. Critical readers want to know: Does Young really think Jesus is speaking directly to her? Is he?
In a time when the size of one's Christian book contract is directly proportional to one's "platform," Young is a marked counterexample. Unlike almost every well-known Christian author, Young refrains from promotional book tours, blogs, and speaking circuits.
But also unlike many of today's bestselling writers, Young suffers from debilitating health conditions. She says the ongoing issues, which never have been properly diagnosed, prevent her from spending time in the ...