(RNS) — Jesus called.
40 million people answered.
The popular “Jesus Calling” devotional has now sold more than 40 million copies, according to Publishers Weekly, an influential trade magazine.
First published in 2004, the book has become a publishing phenomenon, spawning a television series, a podcast and a magazine. In 2013, the book outsold pop-culture phenomenons “Lean In” and “50 Shades of Grey,” according to the Daily Beast.
The book’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, reported in 2019 that “Jesus Calling” had sold 30 million copies and has continued to sell since then.
A follow-up book, “Jesus Listens,” has sold half a million copies since its October 2021 release.
“I hear over and over again from regular people and celebrities alike who say, ‘It’s like it was written for me,’” Michael Aulisio, a Thomas Nelson vice president who oversees the “Jesus Calling” brand, told Publishers Weekly. “It speaks to various situations — the grief of losing a child, divorce, addiction or giving thanks to God for the good days. That really appeals.”
Author Sarah Young, who has largely remained out of the public eye due to health problems, began writing the books in the 1990s while a missionary and counselor in Australia. After a difficult case, where Young counseled a woman who claimed to be a victim of satanic child abuse — during the so-called Satanic Panic — she began “jotting down what came to mind” during her devotional times, when she focused on listening to God. Those journal entries were eventually compiled into “Jesus Calling.”
The book was rejected at first before finally being released in 2004. Sales started slowly — with just under 60,000 copies sold in the first three years, according to Christianity Today magazine, before taking off in 2008.
In 2015, Calvinist blogger Tim Challies labeled “Jesus Calling” a “deeply troubling book” in a blog post pointing out what he saw as serious problems with the book, including that “she mimics occult practices” and “speaks for God.” Early on there were other critics, but any controversy over the book has faded.
Young told Religion News Service in a 2021 email interview that she still sees herself as a missionary. She also said her health issues make her focus on God more.
“When I sit down to write, I always ask God to connect His infinite sufficiency with my utter insufficiency,” she said in an email. “So, my health struggles help me rely on Jesus and work collaboratively with Him.”