Joel Osteen has acquired a bad reputation in some circles. He is known for teaching a prosperity gospel, for avoiding the wrath of God, and for being squishy on key subjects, like homosexuality. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of Joel Osteen’s ministry that I want to emulate: his constant emphasis on encouragement.
Life is really, really hard. Parents grow old, kids get sick, friends get cancer, sons get addicted to drugs, and daughters get pregnant out of wedlock. Our bodies get older and weaker and fatter. We struggle to raise our kids in an increasingly post-modern world. We are constantly aware of our shortcomings as Christians. We need to pray more, read our Bibles more, and evangelize more. We need to do better, try harder, be more productive, get more done. Every day we are reminded that we fall short on pretty much every account.
Because life is so hard and exhausting, every day is a battle. Every day I must fight to believe in the goodness and kindess of God. Everyday I must fight to believe that God is working all things for my good and his glory. Every day I must fight to believe that I serve a God who turns mourning into dancing. What I, and everyone else, desperately need every day, is encouragement. I need fresh hope, fresh faith, fresh strength.
There are enough critics, watch bloggers, angry prophets, protesters, and trolls in the church and in the world. We need more encouragers. We need more people like Barnabas. Acts 4:36 gives us a description of Barnabas:
Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement)…
His real name was Joseph, but the apostles called him “Barnabas”. Why? Because he was a constant encourager! Encouragement was so woven into his DNA that the apostles gave him a nickname which meant encouragement. Barnabas was constantly encouraging and building up and strengthening those around him. Encouragement oozed out of his pores.
Encouragement is a wonderful, healthy, biblical thing. Romans 15:4 says:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The scriptures are written for our encouragement, that we might have hope for the daily grind of life. In 1 Thessalonians 4:18, Paul told the Thessalonians to, “…encourage one another with these words.” The Thessalonians were to encourage one another with the truths about the second coming of Christ and the final resurrection of our bodies.
Paul concluded his first letter to the Thessalonians by saying, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
We need encouragement every day. There are so many times when life is hard and awful and depressing and sad. Every day I need to be reminded of the rock-solid, unshakable truths about God’s ways and works. And every day, I need to encourage others with the wonderful truths found in God’s word.
Let’s not let Joel Osteen hijack the biblical practice of encouragement. Let’s be biblical versions of Joel Osteen. Let’s be sons of encouragement, like Barnabas. Is there a place for criticism and correction? Sure. But there are enough critics out there.