This year's grim economic statistics threaten to bleed red all over Easter Sunday's traditional pastels: 15 million Americans are out of work, over 2 million mortgages are at risk of foreclosure, and more than 6.5 million people have now been out of work for six months or more. Given the Easter season's message of hope and resurrection, many believers will spend at least part of their weekend praying that the nation's economy will indeed experience a revival.
Joel and Victoria Osteen, who the lead the nation's largest worship venue, Lakewood Church in Houston, refuse to accept the gloom-and-doom prognostications prevalent in the media.
"I believe that you can't have faith if you don't first have hope," Pastor Joel Osteen tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview. "I believe that, when you have that hope, it allows God to do great things."
Osteen has a new best-selling book that explains why people have good reason to feel encouraged, even when the surrounding circumstances of life may seem gloomy, or even desperate. His book is titled “It's Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor.”
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One of its main precepts is that you're always closer than you think. Feel like you'll never find that job you're looking for? Struggling with an illness? Worried because you're behind on your mortgage? Don't get discouraged and keep trying to attain your goal, Osteen says. His rock solid belief based on the love of God that is exemplified by Christ's work on the cross: You are closer than you think to a breakthrough, no matter how difficult things may look or feel momentarily.
Of course, to those reluctant to swear off the pessimistic elixir commonly imbibed by contemporary society, Osteen can be maddeningly optimistic. He's also been accused of preaching all of the benefits of a prosperous relationship with God, without mentioning the Biblical fine print that promises a life of tribulation.
When you visit Lakewood Church in Houston – and folks journey from all around the country to do just that – the qualms over doctrinal precision have a way of fading away, however. It's hard to worry about the minor keys of faith when a standing-room crowd in an erstwhile arena is rocking with gospel praise. One reason the place is inspirational: It's managed to break through the color barrier that once led Dr. Martin Luther King to declare Sunday morning the most racially segregated hour in America.
One may not agree with exactly how the Osteens address matters of faith. But what as close to 45,000 souls stream through its doors each week for services, it's hard not to feel they have touched a powerful chord among America's faithful.
"I believe that God will help you, because God is our helper," Victoria Osteen tells Newsmax. Both she and Joel find themselves constantly reassuring their followers by saying: "God loves you. God isn't angry at you."
Just wishful thinking? Actually, as revealed in the April cover story of Newsmax magazine, titled "Does Faith Help in Hard Times," Joel and Victoria Osteen offer words of practical wisdom that will help you through difficult times. Master a few simple principles, they say, and you'll be on your way to becoming a "bounce-back person" who can overcome just about anything.
Among their keys to keeping your head above water:
- Live in gratitude. People who focus on the negatives of life run the risk of missing great opportunities that are right in front of them.
- Start your day right. Looks for positives as soon as your feet touch the ground each morning. "I really think how we start the day has a big affect on how the day is going to be, and how our life is going to be, because really faith is just all about what we are expecting, what we are believing," Pastor Joel advises.
- Look for your purpose. Recognize that "you are a person of destiny, that you are here for a reason." Joel Osteen says people who get beaten down by tough times often begin to wonder, "Why am I here?" But he believes there's always someone who needs what you have to give. "You have to realize you are not here by accident," he says. "God breathes his life into you and there is something for you to do."
- Surround yourself with positive companions. Victoria Osteen says that just people, like plants, need the right conditions in order to thrive. "When people want to grow in their faith and see the world through the eyes of faith," she says, "they've got to get in a place that is faith-filled, or keep it before their eyes …. It has a lot to do with how strong you become and how strong you stay and what you are feeding yourself."
- Don't just be a survivor. Osteen writes in his book: "News reports of a sinking economy or personal problems of our own can tempt us to think: 'If I can just hold on, maybe I can make it through another day, another month, another year.' If we're not careful, we develop this survival mentality. We stop releasing our faith. We stop believing we can rise any higher." Sadly, he says, some folks who adopt the survival mentality never snap out of it even decades later. He says God didn't create you to just barely break even. In God's view, he says, you are "more than a conqueror."
- Learn to let go of bitterness, anger, and disappointment. Joel Osteen admits it can be hard to move on. But you can and must, if you expect to receive God's best for your life. "You know," he tells Newsmax, "we all have a remote control that we [use to] change the channel at home. A lot of times, you've got to change the channel in your mind …. You have to make a decision on purpose to say 'You know what, I'm not going to dwell on the person that hurt me or the anger or the offense. I'm going to let that go.' And you have to replace it with those grateful thoughts and thoughts of, 'I'm not going to let something that happened in my past destroy my future.'"
- Remember others who are less fortunate. Tithing and giving show obedience to God and help you keep things in perspective, Joel Osteen says, adding, "There are so many ways that God can pay us back."
- Accept the new normal. After things change, things may never quite like they were before, but that's not always bad! In his book Osteen writes: "To reach up for the new, you must let go of the old." Victoria recently explained it this way: "When you begin to say, 'God, this may not have been what I wanted, it may not be what I asked for, but I know you can do something good out of all this.' When we begin to give God those kinds of words, and we begin to look for those good things, God will open up the windows of heaven and poor out blessings, and he'll make sure you get where you need to be …. Because he's a good God, and he's a faithful God." The lesson: Don't bemoan the good old days so much that you miss opportunities for a brighter tomorrow.
- Maintain family unity and support. The Osteens are devout champions of strong families. Whether the main bread winner is the husband or the wife, Victoria Osteen says "we've got to support one another." The tough economy has reminded folks that "the simple things in life can be some of the greater things in life. I mean, just spending time with your family."
- Realize that adversity builds character. Yes, there could be a deeper reason for your travails. "I really think sometimes the hard times can bring the best out of us and it doesn't necessarily have to bring the worst out of us," Victoria says. "And I kind of feel like that is what has happened to this nation. It is bringing the best out of us and is making us support one another. Especially in the family and showing out kids that we can make it."
- Try to live with "eyes of faith." Expecting God to bless your life, he says, is more than just wishful thinking. "I believe it's the faith that God wishes us to have." With the eyes of faith, he adds, "You can turn any situation around and you don't get desperate and despondent. Difficult things happen but there is a peace and a strength knowing that God is guiding you."
- Never, never, never give up. You're closer than you think. In his book, Joel Osteen tells of hiking up a mountain trail during a recent vacation. The thin air began to take its toll and he wasn't sure he could make it. Then another hiker walking down from the summit told him: "You're closer than you think." And with those encouraging words, Osteen made it to the top.
Osteen believes that when things seem most unbearable, people just need to turn to God and hang on just a little bit longer. Often, your moment of salvation is "closer than you think."
"You will feel the wind of His spirit lift your sails once again," Osteen promises. "You are not meant to simply endure life. Barely getting by is not acceptable. You were meant to dance on top of the waves."
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