Before pastoring Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen had a lifelong interest in television production. So, for seventeen years, whilst his father was in the pulpit, Joel was responsible for producing the Church’s television programme. Joel did not have a desire to preach, though his father encouraged him to do so, on numerous occasions. Despite the fact that he had neither preached nor attended Bible College, almost immediately prior to his father’s death in 1999, Joel preached his first sermon and became Pastor of Lakewood Church shortly thereafter.
‘On July 16, 2005 after completing $95 million dollars in renovations, Joel moved Lakewood Church into its new 16,000-seat home – the former Compaq Center. It is the largest regularly-used worship center in the United States. Each week Joel delivers God’s message of hope and encouragement to more than 38,000 attendees. According to Nielsen Media Research, Joel is the most watched inspirational figure in America. His weekly sermon is broadcast into every U.S. television market, where it is viewed by seven million Americans each week and more than 20 million each month. His weekly broadcast is also seen in almost 100 nations around the world.’ (www.joelosteen.com)
Joel Osteen’s ministry style is typically upbeat, practical and positive. Interestingly, he perceives himself as performing the role of a life coach. The content of his books ‘Your Best Life Now’ and ‘Become a Better You’ reflect that and are similar in format to self help books. There is a greater focus on the reader improving their own life through the application of the steps provided to fulfil personal potential, rather than living a sanctified life of obedience that would both please and glorify God.
Joel Osteen has been interviewed by Larry King and appeared surprisingly unclear when questioned concerning the gospel and the salvation of those who refused to believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father. Needless to say, he has received considerable criticism from conservative Evangelical leaders as he is reluctant to mention sin, which is virtually ignored, almost as an afterthought.
In addition he proclaims the prosperity gospel, greatly endorses positive confession and visualisation techniques to manipulate the creative power of words and the imagination and offers advice on how to be healthy, wealthy and materially successful, as well as how to tap into God’s power and live the victorious life of a champion.
2. Your Best Life Now
Joel Osteen provides instruction on how to be happy and fulfilled in his book ‘Your Best Life Now’ by implementing these seven steps.
‘Enlarge your vision;
Develop a healthy self-image;
Discover the power of your thoughts and words;
Let go of the past;
Find strength through adversity;
Live to give; and
Choose to be happy.’ (px YBLN)
If the above was recommended in a secular book in a secular bookstore, no doubt those principles could be expounded on successfully to nurture and develop an individuals human potential. Surely, for the believer in Christ, there must of necessity be an entirely different set of priorities. A healthy view of the holiness of God is of far greater value than a healthy self-image. Finding strength in God by trusting Him and living a life of faith through obedience to God is more important than finding strength through adversity. What about praying earnestly, reading the Scriptures, fellowshipping with the saints and preaching the gospel? Does the Bible encourage us to choose to be happy or choose this day who we will serve, irrespective of the cost involved in this life?
Enlarging Your Vision
Joel Osteen then explains how to enlarge your vision.
‘To live your best life now, you must start looking at your life, through eyes of faith, seeing yourself rising to new levels. See your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams coming to pass. You must conceive it and believe it and believe it is possible, if you ever hope to experience it.
To conceive it, you must have an image on the inside of the life you want to live on the outside. This image has to become part of you, in your thoughts, your conversation, deep down in your subconscious mind, in your actions, in every part of your thinking.’ (p4 YBLN)
What is being presented here is mind over matter, instead of praying to God in all circumstances. For someone to obtain what they desire, the creative power of an individual’s imagination to visualise an outcome replaces faith that is reliant on God’s power to intervene. Joel Osteen seems to suggest that if you think the right thoughts you can get what you want.
‘What you keep before your eyes will affect you. You will produce what you’re continually seeing in your mind. If you foster an image of defeat and failure, then you’re going to live that kind of life. But if you develop an image of victory, success, health and abundance, joy, peace and happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you…We don’t really stretch our faith; we don’t believe for anything bigger. But God wants us to be constantly increasing, to be rising to new heights. He wants to increase you in His wisdom and help you to make better decisions. God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas and creativity.’ (p5 YBLN)
Whilst pessimists or fatalists may well hinder their own success or happiness, it is a stretch of the imagination, not faith, to be certain that God wants to increase you financially. Agur desired neither riches nor poverty lest he be tempted to consider himself full and deny God or be poor and steal and profane His name. (Prov 30:7-9)
Some Biblical characters that were faithful to God were wealthy, others were poor. The same is true today. Affluence is not indicative of an individual’s faith. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus commanded not to lay up treasures on earth but in heaven. (Matt 6:19-20) Thus the reader is offered the vain hope that if they stretch their faith by continually visualising a financial blessing then they will have what they hope for.
Living Favour Minded
Osteen is adamant that God wants to bless people in all areas of life, so that they will experience preferential treatment when they have learnt to live what he refers to as ‘favour-minded’.
‘If you work in sales, you ought to declare that you have favour with your clients. Every day you should say, “Father I thank You that my clients are loyal to me and want to do business with me.” If you work in real estate, you ought to speak God’s favour over your property…Learn to speak God’s favour over every area of your life. If you are not experiencing God’s favour in your life, start declaring it more often…Remember the more favour minded you are, the more of God’s favour you’re going to experience.’ (p46 YBLN)
In essence Osteen is teaching that God’s favour in basically any life situation can be activated by speaking a positive formula to achieve a desired outcome. If it is not successful initially then keep repeating the formula on a more frequent basis until you get what you want. According to Osteen living favour-minded results in preferential treatment from others also.
‘But when you are living favour-minded, the Bible says, “God’s blessings are going to chase you down and overtake you.” In other words, you won’t be able to outrun the good things of God. Everywhere you go, things are going to change in your favour. Every time your turn around, somebody’s going to want to do something good for you, to assist you in some manner. They may not even know why. But it’s the favour of God that causes you to stand out in the crowd.’ (p45 YBLN)
When the Lord spoke to Ananias about the ministry He wished for Saul to accomplish, He explained, “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.’ (Acts 9:16) Paul did not testify of preferential treatment by living favour minded but testified, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.’ (2 Cor 4:8-10)
Become What You Believe
Osteen explains how he thinks the above principle arises.
‘Our thoughts and expectations wield tremendous power and influence in our lives. We don’t always get what we deserve in life, but we usually get no more than we expect; we receive what we believe. Unfortunately this principle works as strongly in the negative as it does in the positive.’ (p72 YBLN)
Undoubtedly our thoughts and expectations to a certain degree have an influence on the outcomes of events in our lives. However, the next statement is represented in a way that is contrary to Biblical teaching. Although it is presented as a Biblical concept, it is extracted from a poor and inaccurate dynamic equivalent paraphrase.
‘The modern-day Biblical paraphrase The Message relates the story about the blind men with an interesting twist: “Jesus touched their eyes and said, ‘Become what you believe.’ ”
What a powerful statement! Become what you believe! What are you believing? Are you going to go higher in life, to rise above obstacles, to live in health, abundance, healing and victory? You will become what you believe. The truth is, I am what I am today because of what I believed about myself yesterday. And I will be tomorrow what I believe about myself right now.’ (p76 YBLN)
In James 4:13-15, in direct contrast to the idea of becoming what you believe, he wrote, ‘Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
The Power In Your Words
There is a difference between thinking optimistically and positive confession. In the former
an individual chooses to reflect on the positive side of a given situation. Concerning the latter a person declares what they hope to be or have, irrespective of whether what they are saying is accurate in their present circumstances. That is neither truthful nor realistic, let alone Biblical. Nonetheless, Osteen recommends the following.
‘Start calling yourself healed, happy, whole, blessed, and prosperous. Stop talking to God about how big your mountains are, and start talking to your mountains about how big God is!’ (p124 YBLN)
‘Quit complaining that nothing good ever happens to you and start declaring, “Everything I touch prospers and succeeds.” We must stop cursing the darkness. Let’s start commanding the light to come.’ (p125 YBLN)
That is the prosperity gospel. The philosophy is that the atonement of Christ guarantees the believer health and wealth. Nevertheless Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus and Trophimus all suffered from ill health on occasions. (Gal 4:13, 1 Tim 5:23, Phil 2:25-26, 2 Tim 4:20) Wealth and financial success should not be perceived as a spiritual barometer indicating an individual’s level of faith! Osteen is certain though, that the creative power of words need to be combined with seeing an outcome by faith to create your own reality.
‘It’s not enough to simply see it by faith or in your imagination. You have to begin by speaking words of faith over your life. Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it. This is a spiritual principle, and it works whether what you are saying is good or bad, positive or negative.’ (p129 YBLN)
The Seed Must Lead
‘The Scripture says, “Whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap.” All through the Bible, we find the principle of sowing and reaping. Just as a farmer must plant some seed if he hopes to reap the harvest, we, too, must plant some good seed in the fields of our families, careers, businesses, and personal relationships.’ (p250 YBLN)
Osteen takes the principle to the extreme of sowing and reaping to the extent that God is almost obligated to bring prosperity in response to one’s giving. Giving financially is motivated by the hope that God will bring someone greater riches. In other words sowing seed is carried out with the selfish motive of expecting a higher return. If this principle was actually foolproof then those who gave away all of their possessions and had mastered the ability to see what they desired to obtain by faith and speak those things into existence would amass and enjoy exponential rates of return, riches and prosperity!
‘Scripture says that there are two things we must do in times of trouble. First, we must trust in the Lord; and second, we must go out and do something good, Go out and sow some seeds. If you need a financial miracle, go buy somebody a cup of coffee tomorrow morning, or give a little extra in the offering at church. If you don’t have money, do some physical work for somebody; mow somebody’s lawn, pull some weeds, wash their windows. Make someone a pie. Do something to get some seed in the ground.’ (p252 YBLN)
Become A Better You
‘Become a Better You’ is the sequel to Osteen’s other book, ‘Your Best Life Now’. Again the subject matter starts where the other finished and the pattern is similar in that Osteen presents seven imperatives to become a better you.
1. Keep pressing forward.
2. Be positive toward yourself.
3. Develop better relationships.
4. Form better habits.
5. Embrace the place where you are.
6. Develop your inner life.
7. Stay passionate about life.’ (pxiv BABY)
Generally speaking the above makes sense in endeavouring to live a successful life, especially in a non-religious context. If those principles were implemented then the reader may well become more prosperous, but the lack of Biblical foundational instruction for living is staggering! The issue is not so much what is included rather than what is omitted! It is apparent that whilst the principles are sensible and to some degree wise, the above is self focussed and lack’s spiritual depth.
Every day with Joel Osteen
Joel Osteen advocates self-proclaiming words of affirmation for his readers which can be carried out on a daily basis.
‘At the start of each new day, remind yourself: “I am talented. I am creative. I am greatly favoured by God. I am equipped. I am well able. I will see my dreams come to pass.” Declare those statements by faith and before long, you will begin to see them in reality.’ (p21-22 BABY)
The Bible doesn’t advocate a personal pep talk to remind ourselves how great we think we might be! Our focus should be on God and we should pray for His will to be done in our lives (Matt 6:10). Osteen thinks this mental programming is necessary to enable us to see ourselves in a more positive light.
‘Every day, we should make positive declarations over our lives. We should say things such as, “I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am healthy. I am talented. I am creative. I am wise.” When we do that, we are building up our self- image. As those words permeate your heart and mind, especially your subconscious mind, eventually they will begin to change the way you see yourself.’ (p109-110 BABY)
He then explains how he is disciplined in carrying out those procedures in his own life.
‘Every day, whether I feel like it or not, I declare, “I am anointed. My gifts and talents are coming to the full. Every message gets better and better. People are drawn to me. People want to listen to me.’ (p117 BABY)
It is interesting that prayer increases our reliance upon God so that our desires become more in line with what He desires. Our confidence should be in Him rather than tapping into God’s power to continually reaffirm our sense of worth valued in our own estimations.
Tapping into God’s Power
Joel Osteen explains how to really enjoy this life.
‘You can be happy and free in this life, not simply in heaven one of these days; you can accomplish your dreams before you go to heaven!
How can you do that? By tapping into God’s power inside of you.’ (p41 BABY)
‘Tap into God’s power within you and stop saying, “I can’t break that habit.” Instead, start declaring every day: “I am free. I can do all things through Christ. No weapon formed against me is ever going to prosper.” Remember what Jesus said: “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” Start declaring that over your own life.’ (p210 BABY)
God knows what is best for his children. The emphasis presented here, is focussed more on the gift rather than the giver. Whilst God is all powerful, and infinitely wise, He doesn’t dispense his power arbitrarily at the beck and call of those who attempt to channel His power for their own endeavours. Sadly, this is again taken to the extreme, since the idea of prophesying over yourself is encouraged.
‘With our words, we can prophesy our own future. Unfortunately, many people predict defeat, failure, lack and mediocrity. Avoid those kinds of comments and use your words to declare good things. Declare health, joy, financial blessing, happy and whole relationships. All through the day, you can declare, “I have the favour of God. I can do what I need to do.” As you do so, you will be blessing your own life and strengthening your self-image.’ (p115 BABY)
Please understand that those who fear the worst all the time are not lending themselves any favours and a positive outlook on life is healthy. But the idea that you can prophesy your own future contradicts what the word of God says. Prophesy is for the edification of the church (1 Cor 14:4). In Isaiah 44:6b-7 God proclaims, ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come,’ and in Isaiah 46:9b-10 ‘I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.’
Learning to love yourself
The concept of learning to love yourself and in particular, learning to love yourself before you can love others, has been a popular concept in psychology which has crept into the church on an unprecedented scale in recent years. Often, and as in this case, the second greatest commandment is taken out of context to give support to the notion that generous self love is a must for the Christian.
‘Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Notice, the prerequisite to loving others is to love yourself. If you don’t have a healthy respect for who you are, and if you don’t learn to accept yourself, faults and all, you will never be able to properly love other people. Unfortunately, self loathing destroys many relationships nowadays.’ (p100 BABY)
In contrast though, Scripture reminds us that if anyone desires to follow Jesus they must deny themselves. (Matt 16:24) Paul commended the church in Philippi to esteem others more highly than themselves. (Phil 2:3) Incidentally, selfishness destroys more relationships than self loathing. After all, Paul wrote to the Ephesians stating, ‘For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.’ (Eph 5:29) Also John wrote, ‘We love Him because he first loved us.’ (1 John 4:19) When we truly understand and have the assurance of our how God loves us, our view of ourselves will not be dependent purely on our subjective assessment of our self worth, since there is no greater love than God’s love, whose Son loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal 2:20).
Have Confidence in Yourself
‘The Scripture says, “Our faith is made effectual when we acknowledge everything good in us.” Think about this: Our faith is not effective when we acknowledge all our hurts and pains. It’s not effective when we stay focussed on our shortcomings or our weaknesses. Our faith is most effective when we acknowledge the good things that are in us. Declare affirmations such as “I have a bright future. I am gifted. I am talented. People like me. I have the favour of God.’ (p129 BABY)
This quote unfortunately omits the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him there would be no good in us. Our faith is made effectual ‘by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. (See Philemon 1:6)
‘When we believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and believe in ourselves, that’s when our faith comes alive. When we believe we have what it takes, we focus on our possibilities.’ (p129-130 BABY)
Our confidence should be entirely founded in God. The concept that is affirmed here is that God has deposited power into believers to enable them to believe in themselves. Proverbs 3:5-6 states ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.’
And Finally – Every Day in Every Way I am Getting Better and Better…
Osteen advises taking certain actions to accompany faith, including faith declarations, and recommends the following when you face sickness.
‘No, that’s not your high blood pressure; that’s not your sickness. Quit taking ownership of it and start making plans to get well. Our attitude should be, this sickness didn’t come to stay, it came to pass. Say things such as, “I know with long life, God is going to satisfy me. So I declare it by faith, I’m getting better and better every day in every way.’ (p330 BABY)
Is longevity guaranteed for all believers if they pray the right prayer formulae and declare their state of wellness through faith? Is it realistic to declare by faith that every day in every way you are getting better and better? Again did Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus and Trophimus forget to make those bold declarations when they were not well and missed out on God’s favour?
To his credit, Joel Osteen attempts to bring messages of encouragement that provide hope. Undoubtedly he is sincere. He is quick to challenge negative thought patterns of behaviour that are not helpful and counterproductive to having joy in the Lord.
In all fairness, though, his messages are typically self-focussed and draw the emphasis away from denying oneself and taking up the cross to being happy, successful, achieving your own ambitions and dreams and having everything that you want now. As heaven is the final destination for believers, surely the best is yet to come! There is also a lack of Scriptural content and where the Bible is referred to, it is frequently used in support of the prosperity gospel and at times taken out of context.
A great deal of attention is given to making declarations of faith, positive confession and conceiving an event or outcome in the imagination before it can become a reality, and that simply isn’t Biblical. Faith and confidence in God is largely substituted with asserting individual expectations and aspirations on the basis of the power of God invested inside a person to achieve their own ends. Similarly, it is assumed that the believer should expect to live constantly in good health, abundance, success, happiness and victory, which ignores other Biblical themes, such as endurance, perseverance and the Lord’s chastening that will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness in the life of the believer.
Joel Osteen Your Best Life Now 7 Steps to Living At Your Full Potential (Warner Faith, New York: 2004)
Joel Osteen Become a Better You 7 Keys to Improving Your life Every Day (Free Press, New York: 2007)