Joel Osteen is senior pastor to the 30,000 members of Lakewood Church, the largest church in America according to Forbes and Outreach. The church, soon to be renamed Lakewood International Center, will move into the newly renovated 18,000-seat worship complex at Houston's Compaq Center in early 2005 in order to facilitate its rapid growth. Joel's #1 rated inspirational television program by Nielson Media Research is seen worldwide in 100 million households on ABC Family, BET, PAX, and CNBC Europe and Australia, among others.
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December 15, 2004
Diana Keough, contributing writer to FaithfulReader.com, interviewed Joel Osteen, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller YOUR BEST LIFE NOW: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. Osteen explains why he decided to write the book, addresses critics who believe that his overall message is too positive, and discusses what he hopes readers will take away from his writing.
FaithfulReader.com: Where did the idea for this book come from?
Joel Osteen: The book is the basic message I've been speaking about for the last two or three years. I just wanted to get it into print and have an opportunity to reach more people.
FR: Aside from trying to get these sermons in print, what is it that made you decide to write YOUR BEST LIFE NOW, now?
JO: The main reason I decided to write it was to help people enjoy their life and to realize God has a good plan. I wanted people to see that you can be happy today --- that you can bloom where you're planted and enjoy your life right now.
FR: Did it come out of some sense of frustration from ministering to your congregation or looking out on your flock every Sunday and seeing how many of them go through each day frustrated and not growing in their faith?
JO: I don't know if I necessarily see it as much at my church as everywhere else. It just seems like so many people are stuck in the rut and the routine of life, and not enjoying their life as they should. So many times they're just going to be happy "some day when problems get solved." Just seeing that people are not living as happy and enjoying their lives as much as they should right now made me want to get my sermons, which addressed living your life to its fullest each day, into print.
BRC: Christians are often accused of being so insulated and insular. What difference is it to you if "the masses" are happy?
JO: It makes all the difference. From the very start our whole goal has been to reach the general public and not just the church world. I just want to make my message broad enough and try to affect the culture in which we live today and not just the church world.
FR: Has the success of the book surprised you?
JO: It really has. This is all new to me. I never dreamed I'd be doing this. It's really been overwhelming seeing it do what it's doing and seeing all the favor that I've had.
FR: And why do you think your book is resonating with readers and people are gravitating to it in droves?
JO: I think that a lot of it is that my core message is a message of hope and encouragement. I think people are looking for that these days. There are a lot of negative things in our world. It's really easy to get pushed down and live discouraged and depressed. I think people are looking for a voice of hope and somebody that will let them know that things are going to be better and that you can live a good life today.
FR: How do you think readers should use this book --- read it alone, study as a group, use it as a reference? How would you ideally want them to use this book?
JO: I have not thought about that. I think it could be any of the ways you just said. I think the best thing to do is to read a chapter at a time in 10 or 15 minutes and really ponder it. People also tell me that they'll go back to the chapters that helped them. I don't think it's something you read one time. You can't get it all reading it one time. I think it's something you can read and go back and reread.
FR: How would you address your critics?
JO: Some people say, "Well, it's all so positive." My thing is this: the Bible says it's the goodness of God that leads people to repentance. That's right out of the Bible.
I just don't believe in condemning people and being judgmental. Yes, there's a way of condemning people and knocking them down and getting them to feel bad. That maybe can turn some people around, but I believe in just speaking the truth and letting them know they have good things in store. Some people don't like it when you're positive. However, we've seen thousands and thousands of lives changed, so I try not to focus on that.
FR: There's an emphasis, especially in the beginning, on wealth and prosperity in the book. Did Mother Theresa not wish for the right things and was she not blessed because she was not wealthy?
JO: Prosperity to me is having a happy family, having good friends and having good health, so I don't ever see view prosperity in the monetary sense.
I want people to have a bigger image of God, a bigger vision for their life. My father came out of the Depression. He rose above it while all of his family stayed there. They were in poverty and on welfare all of their lives while daddy saw himself preaching to thousands and doing things like that. The whole message is to believe that God has more in store and not to get stuck in a rut.
I believe that you have to bloom where you are planted. God may want you to be a Mother Theresa and not have worldly possessions. But if you know that you're going to be as happy doing that as you could be, you have to be realistic.
I've never once preached a message on money in my whole life. Some people group me with others when they see me talk about prospect. I've heard that before. But I've never preached one message on money. I think prosperity is much bigger than that. It's all relative.
If my dad had it his way he would have lived in India because he loved those people. Well, I don't feel called to that, my point being it's all in what you're called to do. It's not necessarily the money part of it. I just want people to believe they can have more and believe that you can be happier today. I want them to believe that they can have a better marriage; believe that they can get promoted on the job and things like that.
BRC: The way that you laid out the book also, it wasn't until Chapter 23 or 24 that you started talking about going through trials and suffering. So many of my friends who are believers suffer, and you must realize there's a tremendous amount of pain in the pews. Where does suffering fit into all of this, and are those people who are suffering just not asking enough of God's favor?
JO: There's a chapter in there on how God enlarges us in our times of distress. I think I used that scripture in there. God is in control of our lives, and he uses the tough times to strengthen us and give us character. There's a section in there on trusting God's timing. You can't just pray and snap your fingers and believe your problems are going to go away. God allows things to happen in our lives and I think I have a balanced approach that you can't fight against everything.
I think the whole thesis of the book is that you need to just bloom where you're planted. You may be dealing with a terrible boss or a child that won't do right. You have to say that maybe God's using that to do a work in me. To me the favor part is this: go at each day expecting something good and quit expecting the worst. I know people who are just expecting to get the short end of the stick or I knew this was going to happen to me. You know what --- you're a child of God. It's not because of what you did; it's because of who you are and you should believe for God's favor, believe for good things in life.
FR: Do you need to have a personal relationship with Christ or even be a Christian to benefit from what you write?
JO: I think that these principles will work in anybody's life. I think Bible principles are principles for life.
I was reading today about one of the wealthiest men in the world. Every week he gives away homes and cars and surgery for the poor in his country of Saudi Arabia, and he continues his business and continues to be one of the wealthiest men in the world. I thought about it and that's just right out of the principles of the Bible. When you give, God is going to give back to you. I think that having a positive attitude and expecting good things is just what the Bible says. The answers I think will work for anybody.
FR: You put the prayer to accept Christ, or the "salvation prayer," on the very last page of your book. What went into this decision to put it at the very end?
JO: I feel my calling in life is to encourage people to help them live their lives better, to just be who God made them to be. Most of my ministry is not necessarily Evangelistic. Mine is to help people to live, but I do believe the Great Commission is to go into all the world and to teach and make disciples. I believe I'm helping to make disciples, to train people how to live.
I could have put the salvation prayer on the first page: that would have been great too. It's just that in my weekly broadcast I always give the message, and then at the end I take the 30 seconds and I say that prayer. I guess it's just a habit thing.
BRC: Do you know how many people have responded to that invitation on the last page of your book?
JO: I don't have any figures now because the book was just released six weeks ago. I'll tell you this --- last year in Lakewood at my church we had 18,000 people walk down the aisles.
FR: 18,000? I thought that's how many people were members already?
JO: There are more members than that. They don't all live there but they come. My point is that for the criticism that you're not turning people's lives toward the Lord, we see that every week.
FR: Besides the home that you were able to move into, worshiping at the Compaq Center and a parking space that came available in a very busy mall parking lot, are there other examples in your life that once you've expanded your life God blessed you?
JO: I just see it in my everyday life.
I'll tell you an example I taught about on Sunday. I went to the airline ticket counter and I had to change my ticket. It was supposed to cost me $50 a ticket. I smiled at the lady and was friendly and she said, "We're not going to charge you. We need more happy people around here." It doesn't have to be big things, just simple things. I just believe in favor in general. I think people have to get out of the money side of it.
FR: You and your wife look like the perfect couple. In the way that you present your lives in the book, there's not a lot of suffering that you yourselves have done aside from the parking space or the deal that's gone bad. Losing your father is a major loss. Do you find that you have to pray for compassion and to have empathy on others that may have had a tougher road than you have?
JO: I think that's always good but if you knew me and have ever watched me on television, half the time I cry up there at the podium. You may not see it and you probably don't know it, but I can't help it. I don't think I have to pray for it. Every service we have a time of prayer where people come down. I deal with people who just buried their kids or they just found out they have cancer. I can't help but cry with them. I think that keeps it real being able to touch people everyday like that, every week in the service. I have had a fantastic life. My mother did go through cancer and that was a very dark time for our family --- although God did turn it around. The death of my father was a dark time as well. I haven't had terrible things happen in my life and I'm thankful for that, but I feel like everyday dealing with these people and hearing their stories helps you keep compassion.
FR: I just read 310 pages of a book that you wrote. Shouldn't I know more about you and maybe a little about what you struggle with personally, or even how you came to have a personal faith in Christ? There's nothing in your book about that.
JO: Well, I just think if you knew me or were able to watch me on television, you'd know more about my ministry and my compassion and love for people.
FR: What do you hope readers will take away after reading YOUR BEST LIFE NOW?
JO: I hope it will improve their attitude. I hope they'll know that God is in control and that He has good things. I hope that they will have a bigger vision for their life and not get stuck in a rut. I hope they'll take away not being selfish. A whole chapter in there is about living to give. I think one of the biggest reasons that people are unhappy today is because they're focused on themselves. Helping others and reaching out --- that's the whole message. We're blessed so we can bless others. I hope I make that clear in the 6th chapter.
FR: I don't think you made it clear enough. Tell me how you're blessing others in your church?
JO: How we're blessing others is pouring our lives into encouraging them. Not only that, but we have about 100 programs where we reach out to the rest of the people in our community. Just encouraging them every week. If you come to our church you will experience it --- living to give.
BRC: What have you been hearing about the book from readers on your book tour and at your readings?
JO: I'm sure it's biased, but they all like it. They're buying 10 copies. I didn't know it would sell 10,000 copies. I just think people resonate to a message of hope.
FR: Is there anything that has been shared, just a story that has been shared that has deeply touched you?
JO: At one of our book signings in Chicago a young lady came up. She was probably 18, and her mom was there and she said, "Me and my mom have not spoken in the last six or seven years and we have been watching you on television the last couple of years and we talked by phone and said that we'd meet in person at the book signing. My mom showed up right in front of me." It was a very emotional moment. I just hope things like that are happening.
FR: What book are you currently reading?
JO: I don't have one in particular. I read my Bible everyday and I have a whole group of study books, but I don't have one in particular.
FR: And who inspires you?
JO: I don't think one person does. I don't really want to mention names. I don't know one person.
FR: We've heard that the journal that can be used as a companion to this book will be out in early 2005. Is there anything that you can tell us about this in preparation for its release?
JO: We're still working on it and I think it's almost finished. It's along the same lines as YOUR BEST LIFE NOW. It's very good. It's very practical. It's a little more thought provoking as it makes you ask yourself questions.
Here's an example: What are two or three of your dreams that you've kind of given up on or that you've laid aside that you don't think will ever come to pass? We ask people to write them down. Then we ask, what are ways that these could begin to come to pass? The book is filled with things like that. I like the thought provoking questions in it, so I feel like it's going to be a very good follow-up to the book.
FR: Are you currently working on another book?
JO: I am, but it's in the early stages. A lot of the book's content comes from the messages that I speak each week. I think it'll be a couple years before it comes out.
FR: We're talking 2006 or 2007?
JO: Yes, that's what I'm thinking.
FR: Do you think your publisher will let you get away with waiting that long after this one's been such a success?
JO: This one took me two years to write and two years to work on and edit. It's a lot of work.
BRC: Did you write it by yourself?
JO: I write all of my services and 99% of what is in this book is those sermons. I had someone help me format it and tie it together.
FR: As you read it now, is there anything you might do differently?
JO: If I had it to do again, I would have condensed the first five chapters down to three because there were a lot of examples. You live and learn. It's my first book.
FR: Is there anything you already can see in the next book?
JO: In my next book I'm going to be clearer and define what prosperity and success are. I'm not talking about financial prosperity, which I know is what many people relate to. What I'm trying to say is expand your vision. Old wine and new wineskin is not going to happen unless you change your attitude and believe that you can get that promotion and that your marriage can be better; believe that your child can come back home.
My biggest disappointment with this book will be if people read it like you mentioned earlier in this interview. I feel that sometimes I get grouped into being labeled as a prosperity preacher in the wrong way. I've never once preached a message on money or financial prosperity. I'm talking about having a prosperous image.
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