Your Best Life Now? Really?
by Steven Harper
Unless you've been living in a cave for the past few years, you've probably heard of a man named Joel Osteen and have probably seen one of his books, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps To Living at Your Full Potential. [He also has a new book out now, Become A Better You.] By his own words, it is a book that is meant to get you, the reader, to change your way of thinking so you can "improve your life for good and help you experience victory, joy and satisfaction every day." Amazon.com's review says Osteen's message "is that achieving a successful, prosperous life of fulfillment can only occur when we stop worrying about the past or future to make the most of each present moment by using our God-given strengths and talents to achieve our goals." [Amazon.com] Note that this secular organization recognizes there is nothing spiritual about Osteen's "message."
Publishers Weekly was even more blunt in their review of Osteen's book. Consider the following words carefully [I have highlighted certain comments]:
"Houston megachurch pastor and inspirational TV host Osteen offers an overblown and redundant self-help debut. Many Christian readers will undoubtedly be put off by the book’s shallow name-it-and-claim-it theology; although the first chapter claims that "we serve the God that created the universe," the book as a rule suggests the reverse: it’s a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals. Osteen tells readers that God wants them to prosper, offering examples of obtaining an elegant mansion or a larger salary ("don’t ever get satisfied with where you are," he cautions). In seven parts, he details how readers should enlarge their vision, develop self-esteem, discover the power of thought, let go of the past, find strength through adversity, give back to others and choose to be happy. The section on giving comes as too little, too late — Osteen’s message to remember others and "get your mind off yourself" flies in the face of the previous 200 pages. There are some good pockets of advice, such as letting go of past hurts and avoiding bitterness. Editorially, the book would have packed more of a punch if a third of its repetitive slogans and stories had been pruned. Theologically, its materialism and superficial portrayal of God as the granter of earthly wishes will alienate many Christian readers who can imagine a much bigger God."
It should be clear that even the secular world recognizes Osteen's message is not spiritual, but materialistic. Osteen clearly falls into the "motivational speaker" category and his message is one that could be repeated in business conferences and stadiums filled with those seeking some sort of positive reinforcement that might help them gain that "edge" in the business world. He also gives some great advice for living a positive life [some things some of our brethren could learn] and the need to dwell on more positive things instead of being complacent, constantly critical, and just generally negative.
Now, if this was written by Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar, I wouldn't be writing this article and you wouldn't be reading it because it would have little to do with spiritual matters. But that is the problem: Osteen has cloaked his materialistic "positive thinking" message in the gospel and is selling it as God's will for everyone.
Osteen would have us believe "God wants to increase you financially by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity," and "God wants this to be the best time of your life." [Your Best Life Now, pp. 4, 5], but he never says God wants you to repent of your sins, never says anything about God wanting you to believe in Jesus as the Christ, and even says nothing about God wanting you to be saved or God not wanting you to perish. I guess those things are not as important as "living your best life now"? Apparently not, for according to his introductory comments, Osteen asks, "Are you ready to develop your full potential? Let's get started! It's time to begin living your best life now!" — and then fails to mention "sin" or "salvation" for the next 300+ pages. Amazing.
There are simply too many statements in this book that could be addressed sufficiently in this article, but let me just say this: I am all for living a "positive life" and I believe we need to focus more on the positive things sometimes, but to cloak this materialistic message in the gospel and profane the glorious message of salvation by saying God wants us to be financially and materially wealthy more than He wants our souls to be saved is simply blasphemous. This "name-it-and-claim-it gospel" that has become so popular in this country is, sadly, a picture of the shallow spirituality of many Americans who are willing to believe much of anything as long as it has some sort of "religious" connection, and the men who are willing to feed the people this vacuous pablum are reprehensible. It is a sad example of how many people in this country are convinced they can be materialistic and somehow fit God into their lives at the same time instead of demonstrating true repentance and a willingness to commit themselves fully to Jesus Christ.
It is more than a tragedy that many are told we should be seeking our best life now — it is an outright lie. The gospel speaks of a people who are looking beyond now and into eternity, who “wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23), whose “desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23), who “walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7), and who “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18). True disciples believe the words of their Master, Jesus Christ, who said, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24) and they do not try to cloak their materialism in the gospel to convince themselves and others that they are serving one master when, in reality, they are trying to serve two. Not even the world is fooled.
Nowhere in the gospel message does God promise disciples of Jesus Christ that they will be financially or materially blessed because of their service. What God promises is this: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12). The apostle Paul could write this from personal experience, as one who had “learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:12), and who had faced stonings, beatings, whippings, imprisonment, shipwreck, “toil and hardship,…many a sleepless night,… hunger and thirst, often without food,…cold and exposure” for the sake of Jesus Christ and the spread of the gospel (II Corinthians 11:22-33). And let us note that he didn't endure these things for the shallow expectation of material rewards while on earth! No, Paul said at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (II Timothy 4:7,8). Paul's expectation was not an earthly reward of financial independence and material wealth, but “the crown of righteousness” and eternal life in heaven! He would soundly condemn the men who preached otherwise!
The true disciple of Jesus Christ does not serve the Lord expecting financial reward or material gain; that is a twisted message of those who are “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (I Timothy 6:5) — and they are not of God. Discipleship is not about the servant [you and me] and all the earthly rewards he may garner, but should be all about the One whom we serve — Jesus Christ. For that reason we should set our minds on the heavenly things (Colossians 3:2). Let us not forget that disciples are to be considered as “sojourners and pilgrims” (I Peter 2:11) and whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).