osteen_final_rectJoel Osteen wants me to be obedient.

That’s what he tells the ginormous congregation at Lakewood Church, and me, when I got caught in his magnetic Christian trance after Meet the Press. But not just any kind of obedient. Boldly obedient.

“You’re waiting on God,” he says, “but God’s waiting on you.”

Osteen looks like he was crafted in a televangelist lab, engineered to disarm, persuade. The blinding smile, aw shucks manner, and, let’s face it, fantabulous Christian-rock hair, sparkling with Jesus fairy dust.

But don’t be fooled: What Osteen is really saying is not to be obedient at all. Don’t wait til you’re told, he says, take the risk. Take action (which by the way is the opposite of “obedient,” which, in case you need reminding, means “do what you’re told.”) It makes about as much sense as me telling you to take initiative—but only when I say so.

The lambs who’ve gathered in the warm lamplight of Osteen’s angelic gaze are waiting for Joel to tell them what to do, and he’s saying: Don’t wait. Of course, the reason Osteen says you should take action is because then God can “release blessings into your life.” Mmm, not sure about that one.

This Is Self Help, People

If you peel away all the Christian this and God that, what you find is that Osteen is no different from any other motivational speaker or self-help guru (um, he has ads on the subway. Case closed). While I don’t buy any of his reasons for being obedient (read: disobedient), what he’s saying makes sense, no matter what your religious persuasion.

You should be disobedient (read: not because someone else orders or approves) because it’s the only way to get what you want. And this is why so much of the teachings of the Church work: Because they’re good ideas painted over again and again by every faith. Chip away at the churchy gilt and replace all the “God”s with “You”s. You can’t make a change by waiting. Change doesn’t just happen. You have to do a thing.

Osteen references the gospel story in which Jesus heals the blind man by smearing mud on his eyes and then, having him wash it off in the pool of Solomon. Why the charade, right Jesus? (Though of course anyone who’s read even a few pages of the New Testament knows he was every bit the showman). Because you have to perform an act to bring about your own change, your own healing. That’s something I can get behind.

Don’t Wait Around

You owe it to yourself to take action, to take risks, and not “wait” for the right thing or person or circumstance to come along. I hear this from my coaching clients all the time. If you wait for someone to give you the go-ahead—to get a new job, to find a boyfriend, whatever—you’re going to be waiting a long time. And if it doesn’t happen, you don’t get to point fingers at God; you have only yourself to blame.

(Do I need to remind you why fate is not your friend?)

And I don’t know about you, but I get fucking impatient. I can’t wait. At the same time, I’m just as scared as you are: of rejection, of failure, of whatever could get in between where I am and what I want. I get it. But you’ll never get anything you want by waiting for it to just happen. God, Jesus, the angels and saints, are not your stage managers, ushering the right person or places into the scene from the wings.

This is improv: You walk on and initiate. You start making decisions based on what’s in front of you, without knowing what will happen, and without any promise of success (or laughs). Your choices and actions in turn affect how someone responds to you, and on and on it goes.

That’s the good news. That no man is coming to save you or going to drop a net full of balloons on your head when you do the “right” thing. But that all of it is up to you. In fact, if we’re going to pick a fable, let’s go with the Wizard of Oz, because the real power Dorothy has never came from Oz at all. She had it the whole time. And so do you.


3 replies
  1. Dave
    Dave says:

    People like to hate on Joel but his message like you said is good for everyone. You dont have to be a christian. People like to say he isnt religious enough but i think at the end of the day if you feel better after listening/reading or watching him then that is good. His message is harmless.

  2. james b
    james b says:

    What in the hell are you talking about? You should be ashamed of your interpretation of what this man teaches . There is no take out the “God this ” and “God that” intended to sound like you should obey anything. It merely stating that if you want to inhereit the kindom of God, live by his teachings on how to love one another and more over how to live your life for the better. Live by his word!! Simple as that, yes take initiative to live life follow a path to be a good person, love and provide for your family and lead them to God. Pisses me off that ppl like you take and twist the ever so understandable teachings from the bible. This man is not distorting anything or lying, he is very good at taking what the bible teaches and simplifying it for those who may not understand it. Let it in and most importantly listen not interpret to your liking.

    • terri
      terri says:

      Dear Steelworker (as that is what your email says you are), I find it amusing that you find the sin here to be interpretation–when the act of interpreting is what we do to comprehend anything we read, see, or watch. And no, I’m not in the least bit ashamed. Interpreting is what we do to make sense of the world around us. I’m far more worried about people like yourself who take everything at the letter, without question. That kind of small mind is easily controlled. Interpreting is a high level cognitive function. It requires thought, reflection, and sometimes, it requires that you question what you hear–and even question yourself. It’s particularly fascinating when, in fact, your response reflects YOUR interpretation of what I wrote. Because that is what you just did. (Congrats! You have high-level cognitive function!) I think Joel Osteen is an alright guy–I’ve changed my mind about him. But if you think that only your religion / church preaches a generous, open, loving approach, well, you’re wrong. Because lots of people do. Maybe you should stop defending Joel (who doesn’t need your help) and start being a little more open, loving, and generous yourself.


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