How Joel Osteen Misses the Purpose of Pain

Joel Osteen Misses Purpose in  PainI’d never heard of the Prosperity Gospel until I started college. My family had attended a conservative Presbyterian church since I was six, and I was rather sheltered. In college, however, when my tics began to worsen and my anxiety attacks began to occur on a regular basis. I was confronted (on more than one occasion) by well-meaning Christians who tried to share the Prosperity Gospel with me. According to them, if I’d only believe and declare it, I could have God’s blessing on my life, and all my tics and anxiety would disappear; God didn’t want me to be sad or to suffer, they said, but according to God, I was supposed to happy and prosperous all my days.

As someone who had grown up in a Christian home, I wasn’t convinced. I was, however, curious, amazed I hadn’t heard this kind of theology before. So over the last few years, I’ve been conducting research on this Prosperity Gospel. What surprised me upon investigating is just how popular this other gospel is. Some of the most famous preachers for this gospel are really big names, such as Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and Mike Murdock.

Today, however, we’re going to focus on a particular message by perhaps the most influential of them all. The pastor of America’s largest church, Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen’s face adorns many popular books like Become a Better You, You Can, You Will, I Declare, and Your Best Life Now. He and his wife, Gloria, speak all around the country, where people are told they can hear a message from God for just $24.30 a ticket.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Mr. Osteen is a gifted speaker. In fact, if he were simply a motivational speaker, I would leave it at that. But the problem is that Joel Osteen purports a Gospel that is received by thousands, and yet it’s not from the Bible. One message in particular caught my eye this week while I was on the treadmill. It was near closing time, so the staff began to shut off all the wall TVs. Curious, I looked over at the treadmill next to mine, the kind with its own TV. Someone had left it on, and there was Mr. Osteen’s face. For lack of anything better to do, I began to read the subtitles (And no, it wasn’t a great workout.) as I walked. And this is an overview of the message I read.

“#624, I’m Still Standing”

Osteen starts the message off by paraphrasing Matthew 5:45, reminding the audience that God makes it rain on the just and the unjust alike. You may be be honoring God with your life, and your neighbor may not be, but both of you will experience storms in your lives. No matter how much you honor God, you’re going to have some problems.

Then he paraphrases Matthew 7:24-27, the parable where one man builds his house on the sand, not honoring God, and another man, a wiser man honors God with his life, and builds his house on the rock. Here’s what he said of this parable.

“When you honor God, the storms may come. But you have a promise that others don’t have. When it’s all said and done, you’ll still be standing. In difficult times, you have to remind yourself this is not the end. My house is built upon the rock. The enemy doesn’t have the final say. God does, and He says when it’s all over, I’ll still be standing…It rains on all of us. The promise God gives us is if you’ll stay in faith, when the smoke clears and the dust settles, you will not be the victim. You will be the victor. You will still be standing.”

Osteen goes on to recall how when his father died, he took over Lakewood Church, and some of the oldest church members decided to leave, how it made him feel awful knowing they were going to leave. Then he remembered,

“I did it through all those other things…,” which included his father’s death, his mother’s battle with cancer, the three year lawsuit to get the church’s current building, naysayers, and his own doubtful, negative thoughts. Then he heard God say, “They may leave, but I’m not gonna leave.” And with that, he was fine.

“You need to look back at all God’s done before…You’re house is built on the rock…You have this promise that no matter what comes your way, when the storm is over, when the trouble has passed, when the opposition has ceased one thing you can count on: you’ll still be standing.”

He then recalls how Katrina killed most of the trees in New Orleans, all but the palm trees. There’s even a certain kind of palm tree, he says, that not only bends all the way over in the wind, but it’s roots grow even stronger while it’s bent over. And when it stands, it’s even stronger than it was before. He says that’s because God put the bounce back into that tree. It may get pushed over for a time before it stands right back up.

“That difficulty [like Katrina] is not going to defeat you: it’s going to promote you…You’re going to be standing stronger than ever.”

Osteen tells a story about a friend who’s had cancer three times. He exercised, thanked God he was getting better while he waited to hear the results, saw himself as healthy and whole, and ended up defeating the cancer. Then he spoke of another couple who had their home and livelihood taken in Katrina. Now they have a better house, job, and schools for the kids than they had before.

“When it’s all over, you’ll still be standing, not the same, but increased, promoted, better off than you were before.”

Osteen also says that when bad things happen to you, when storms descend, “That bad break…gets God’s attention.” And then God tells those bad forces that they’re dealing with the wrong person. You don’t go after His child. God’s got our backs and He’s put that bounce back inside of us so that we can once again stand tall.

He ends by declaring that we need to have a warrior’s mentality. Instead of sulking and being the victim during hardship, we need to be strong and face that adversity. And then we are to go after what belongs to us in this world.

“When you’re in a tough time, you can’t sit around thinking about the bad break…or you can have this warrior mentality, do what you’ve got to do, push…and beat it.”

But Does Osteen Really Address Pain?

Osteen admits that he’s been through hard times in his life. His father died and his mother suffered from cancer. You’d think he, of all people, would be most sympathetic to those who are suffering. Interestingly enough, however, Osteen skips right over those long-term battles. You see, the Prosperity Gospel teaches that if you’re truly faithful to God, your problems will disappear. Your faith will allow God to remove those hardships from you; and if your troubles don’t disappear, your faith is obviously lacking.

Well, I can tell you that as a child, I prayed every night with the faith of a child that God would heal me of my tics and anxiety. I can tell you that I had rock solid faith that God would heal me at the age of eight. And yet, He didn’t. Here are some more (and much more severe) cases of suffering that God has not taken and made everyone happy, healthy, and rich merely because they had faith.

  • Joni Eareckson Tada, a lifelong quadriplegic injured in a diving accident as a teenager. As a young woman, she attended a “faith healing” session with all the hope that God would heal her. And yet, she never left her wheelchair.
  • Sufferers for ChristFamilies of those with Alzheimer’s, who must watch their loved ones disappear before their eyes.
  • Children like the little girl I hear about on Facebook all the time, “Kaley” (name changed for privacy purposes). Kaley was adopted from China with a heart defect, and she’s spent her entire time in the United States in tubes and under monitors. Her parents and friends and friends of friends have been praying desperately for this baby girl, but no miracle cure.
  • Individuals with debilitating disorders, severe cases of Bipolar, OCD, Tourettes, Anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder who live with their struggles all their lives.
  • The Christians who are faithful to the end all over the world, like those who are being beheaded by ISIS, sent to work camps in China, crucified in the Sudan. What faith could be greater than declaring it until death?

In the light of all of these pictures of suffering, Osteen’s message of “bouncing back” rings hollow. When he says you’re guaranteed to “bounce back,” he’s speaking under the assumption that you were fine to start with. This doesn’t work when your storms have been raging for years, or when you’ve grown up in fear because of your faith. Logically, if you don’t “bounce back,” according to Osteen’s argument, you’re not living in faith, because everyone honoring God with his life is guaranteed worldly covery.

By Osteen’s reasoning, these Bible characters weren’t living by faith:

  • Abel was murdered by his brother, Cain, when Abel rightly offered God a sacrifice, and Cain did not.
  • Jonathon, David’s best friend and King Saul’s son, had to suffer the consequences of his evil father’s scheming and foolish planning.
  • Samson, after realizing he’d acted foolishly, gave His life to kill the evil Philistines.
  • Stephen, after proclaiming God’s word to the religious elite, was stoned to death for his faithfulness to Christ.
  • According to scholars, John is the only apostle of Christ who was not horribly martyred. The others, they believe, were killed by stoning, beating, and crucifixion, among other things

Now could God heal all of our problems? Absolutely. But it is His right to choose not to. God does, however, promise His children the reward of living with Him for eternity in a perfect new Heaven and new earth, never to want or suffer again in Revelation 21:3-4. Saints shall receive rewards for their deeds on earth in Heaven in 2 Corinthians 5:10. This, however, will not be immediate. There is still suffering to be endured on this earth. Life will not be hunky dory if we just declare it, and there is a reason for this. God sees all suffering, and indeed, uses it to refine us so we are ready to receive our eternity in Heaven with Him. There is a purpose in the pain.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. – Hebrews 12:5-10

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 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

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But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christand be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death – Philippians 3:7-10

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So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Let me clarify now by stating that suffering isn’t enjoyable, and God isn’t saying we have to enjoy it. In fact, He hears all our sighs and groans. Psalm 56:8 says he counts all of our tears. God doesn’t have fun torturing us like the pagan gods did in mythologies. So why does God allow suffering, which He sometimes does, according to these verses? Why does Osteen’s vision of God make it out that God doesn’t like us to suffer?

Joel Osteen’s problem is that the god he describes isn’t a big god. According to Osteen, when trouble happens, God (who for some reason was busy and not paying attention) suddenly comes running over when he realizes what’s going on. The God of the Bible is so much bigger than Osteen’s portrait. Then he threatens whatever or whomever has gotten in the way of our happiness.

The true God of the Bible is intimately involved in all details of our lives. In fact, He’s so involved that He’s willing to do whatever it takes to draw our stubborn souls closer to His own. Sometimes, that hurts…but it’s worth it. He’s so involved that when evil (thanks to Adam and all his descendents) tries to rear its ugly head, God is there to only let it go so far…and what He does let happen is even then worked for the good of His children.

Now, sometimes that good isn’t what many would consider to be a blessing. But then, growing closer to God isn’t something you can put in the bank. I can assure you from personal experience, however, that the closeness to God that is produced by suffering is far more precious than any jewel or amount of gold. As I’ve stated before, if given the choice now, I would not give up my tics or anxiety; they’re key players in my life that drive me back to Christ over and over again.

I cannot answer for all the evil that happens in this world. My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters-in-Christ who are being slaughtered across the world, for those who struggle with chronic diseases, for those who have been abandoned and feel utterly lost. But those who have truly been chosen as saints of God and have received the hope of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, we, like Paul, cling to this promise ever more with each year we spent on this dark world:

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18

We don’t need to worry about “bouncing back” as Joel Osteen says we should, for God doesn’t consider the things of this world worthy of pursuing over our relationship with Him. Wealth, social status, jobs, fame, health, and fine objects aren’t evil in andSuffering is Never Meaningless of themselves, but when they become the goal of our recovery, we’ve lost sight of our real prize, which is the person of Christ.

If you notice, the overall theme of Osteen’s speech has nothing to do with Christ. Rather, God is there to help us achieve our goals of earthly rewards here and now with instant gratification. God isn’t to be glorified above all else, and He certainly isn’t actively involved in our lives. The Bible, however, reminds us that this world is just in passing; our jobs are to glorify God and share His Word and love with others. Sometimes, it takes hardship for us to do that best. The difference between Osteen’s definition of pain and the Bible’s definition, however is remarkable.

In Joel Osteen’s world, pain has no purpose other than to bring us more earthly riches and to be gotten over as quickly as possible; the Bible, however, comforts us with the knowledge that no pain is meaningless. There is always an eternal purpose in the pain. Whether it’s to teach us, rebuke us, train us, rid us of a certain sin, or is even for the sake of another, God allows nothing to touch us without reason. As we endure, we can take comfort knowing that Christ has suffered nothing less for us, but has accomplished all we could hope for and more through His life, death, and resurrection, and one day, He shall return to bring us Home out of all sufferings with Him forever.

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6 comments

  • Kara on August 12, 2014 at 5:13 am said:

    You brought up some good points. We are called to paus praise God through the storm. The storms will come and cause great damage to us and our surroundings. It is not easy to thank Him for our struggles, but we are called to do it. I believe God is great and can do anything He wants to. I know first hand that God answers tough prayers in ways we don’t want Him too. I’ve seen people healed but Ive also seen people die who has great faith. The key for me is to give God my everything, my hopes, my desires.. And then trust Him to do what’s best for me no matter if I understand it. That’s the toughest part, for me in it. I didn’t know you struggled with tics until you wrote this blog, but I’m so glad you are sharing your journey. You wouldn’t have this particular testimony (that has encouraged and challenged me personally) if He had healed you years ago. Thanks for taking the time to share this!

    • brittanyfichterwrites@gmail.com on August 29, 2014 at 3:42 am said:

      Great points! I’ve heard it said by people wiser than me that Paul never says we have to praise God for the storm, but rather, praise Him for who He is in the storm. Gold only becomes pure when held over fire and it loses its dross. Thanks for sharing!

  • NOVAMan on June 28, 2015 at 2:48 pm said:

    Interesting. I just watched #657 “Don’t Waste Your Pain” from Joel Osteen. Sounded like he addressed your issues with his messages, many of which you brought up in this article. Yes, he is a Prosperity Gospel guy. He even admits that he is NOT a biblical scholar and not qualified to carry ALL of God’s messages; but, Alistair Begg of Truth for Life is the best expository preacher of our time. http://www.truthforlife.com. To hear messages solidly based in Gospel truths.

    • brittanyfichterwrites@gmail.com on October 21, 2015 at 4:44 am said:

      I tried to watch #657, but you have to pay on his website to watch it (which is just another reason to question his teaching. I understand selling books to make a living, but selling the majority of your sermons, which should in essence be the message of Christ’s saving blood, is more than questionable.). If he does right these wrong doctrines, then good for him! Unfortunately, it’s not just this sermon that he speaks improperly on, however, but most of them. The main message he sends is one of self-reliance and personal gain. Instead of living for the glory of God, our faith can be judged by how many “blessings” we acquire. I can’t in good conscience recommend him as a gospel-centered Christian, let alone a man qualified to share his information with others, specifically because what he says isn’t Bible-based, but bits and pieces of the Bible, cherry-picked instead of taken as a whole and digested in light of other scriptural verses. I’m not familiar with Mr. Beggs. I’ll have to check out his site sometime. And I’m sorry this response is so late! I realized tonight that I hadn’t commented back, and I thought I had. My apologies!

  • Pamela Terry on October 29, 2015 at 3:43 pm said:

    Brittany Fichter, you are obviously a skillful and talented writer. I have only one problem with this article. It did not originate from or is it blessed by the Lord. Who are you to judge another man’s spiritual gift? I’ve never heard Joel Osteen claim that he or the message he brings is EVERYTHING. I think he’s very aware that he is simply a “member” of the Body of Christ. Have you ever read 1 Corinthians 12:4-31? Joel Osteen has been given a gift of edifying the body of Christ and keeping us looking up which is what Jesus said we should do when we see the things that are happening today. Today, we live in a world that is doing everything in it’s power to destroy anything or anyone who lifts up and edifies the Body of Christ in the name of the Lord. And people like you who write articles like this are just joining in and agreeing with them. Is Joel Osteen’s message EVERYTHING? No, because Joel Osteen is only one member in the Body of Christ. If you’re missing something from his message, maybe you should pick up your Bible and find it or look to another member of the Body that has been given that gift. But you are letting the devil use you like a tool, by writing articles like this. And unless you repent and start using your God-given talent to point to the goodness of God rather than point to what you think is wrong in a minister of God’s word, someday you will stand before God and pay for every word of it.

    • brittanyfichterwrites@gmail.com on October 29, 2015 at 9:56 pm said:

      First of all, I appreciate the compliment on my writing skills. That is very kind of you.

      Unfortunately, I must disagree with you on your charges against this article, not because of my merit, but because of what the Bible says. Know first of all, however, that this is not at all a personal attack on either you or Joel Osteen. The place of his heart is not my place to judge, but as a Christian, it is my responsibility to “test the spirits,” as Christians are instructed to do in 1 John 4, and to emulate the Bereans in Acts 17:11. No matter how likeable a person is, I must first be loyal to the Scriptures as God’s sufficient and inerrant word over any man. For example, I love my pastor. He’s a great guy. But I must still examine what he preaches every week and compare it to the Scriptures. Man can err, but God’s word is perfect.

      That said, not every single message of Osteen’s is wrong. His driving messages in general, however, are watered-down and non-offensive. As a general rule, he refuses to get deep into theology or doctrine. He refuses to take strong stances on important issues such as sin. While I believe it’s wrong to preach only law and no gospel, it’s also wrong to preach gospel without law. When asked by Katie Couric about preaching on sin, he says, “‘There’s enough pushing people down in life already,’ he added. ‘When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.'”

      This is very different from what Christ and the apostles did in the Bible.

      “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?” – Acts 17:11. This doesn’t sound anything like the “feel-good” message Olsteen shares every week. Now do I deny that obedience to God brings joy? Not at all! The joy of forgiveness is my greatest treasure, the knowledge that God loves me and gave everything up for me. But skimming the seriousness of my sin cheapens that joy, and tempts me to think I am greater than I truly am.

      A good example of the depth with which a Christian must examine himself with honesty comes in Psalm 51. I won’t print the whole thing here, as it’s a lengthy psalm, but it’s fully of both contrition and joy. David, a man after God’s own heart, struggled with sin. “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

      In addition to his refusal to take sin seriously in his preaching, Osteen also admits multiple times to “not know” about the salvation of others who are obviously not of the Christian faith. While it’s one thing to judge another’s heart (as he says, that’s God’s job), it’s another to admit that their belief systems, which are in contradiction to the Bible, possibly lead to Heaven. If someone denies Christ by embracing another religion, the Bible explicitly states that they are not going to Heaven. A Christian pastor needs to absolutely sure that there is only ONE way to God, or he needs to stop preaching until he is sure what he preaches.

      “…desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”- 1 Timothy 1:7

      Finally, he condones his wife’s absolutely false claims that “When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourself. Because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. Do good ’cause God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself because that’s what makes God happy.” (Huffington Post)

      “through whom [Paul is speaking of Christ in the prior verse] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,” – Romans 1:5.

      We give obedience to God because He deserves our obedience. In obeying God, we honor Him by striving to live like him. “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” – 1 Peter 1:16.

      For Osteen to allow his wife to say such things from the pulipit and to stand there smiling and nodding on as she does is absolutely wrong. The Bible says that our elders are to be “above reproach” in Titus 1. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound[f] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” When does Osteen rebuke? A “positive” message is one that uplifts people, according to him, but when does he ever preach to convict wandering hearts? Telling Christians of the danger of sin once and expecting them to never need reminding again is like reprimanding your child for breaking the rules once and never addressing his waywardness ever again. No, we correct and discipline our children throughout their lives because we love them…as God loves us. The scripture says it should be used this way repeatedly.

      “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” – 2 Tim 3:16 (emphasis mine)

      “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. “-2 Timothy 4:2 (emphasis mine)

      “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” – John 16:8-11. Preaching under the influence of the Holy Spirit will render these convictions, according to Jesus. Before there is joy in forgiveness, there must be true conviction of sin.

      So is Osteen striving to instruct the way the Bible teaches? Even if he is, his omission of the other purposes of scripture is still sin.

      Just because someone has a gift doesn’t mean he will automatically use his gift in a biblically sound manner. Are ministers perfect? No. But they are under specific instructions to teach ALL of God’s word, not to pick and choose, as Osteen admits doing. They are held to a higher standard, according to 1 Timothy 5:17.

      “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” – 1 Timothy 5:17.

      So no, I cannot judge the man’s heart, nor is it my job to. That is God’s job. I am, however, to searcg the scriptures and test hus message against the like the Bereans before I subject myself to his teaching. And in testing his words, sadly, the man falls short of biblical standards.

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