It was 36 seconds heard around the Christian world. At a recent Lakewood Church worship service, Victoria Osteen told the congregation:
“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize: When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God. I mean, that’s one way to look at it. We’re doing it for ourselves. Because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning. So I want you to know this morning, just do good for your own self. Do good ’cause God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
While the congregation shouted “Amen,” the reaction from many Christian leaders has been quite the opposite. Responding to her statement, seminary president Albert Mohler describes Joel and Victoria Osteen as “the exaggerated fulfillment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive mega-church media empire.” He considers their message “the latest and slickest version of Prosperity Theology,” and calls it “heresy.”
Pastor Steve Camp branded her remarks “the age old sin of idolatry—that it’s not about God, it’s about us.” One man went into the bookstore at Lakewood Church and began knocking books off shelves and overturning display stands, citing Matthew 21:12 and claiming that he was driving moneychangers from the temple.
Does God promise us happiness? Not necessarily. Happiness is based on happenings. Nowhere does Scripture promise that Jesus’ followers will always be happy and prosperous. In fact, Jesus warned us: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). “Tribulation” translates the Greek word thlipsis, which was used for the weight that crushed grain into flour. If you’re not feeling pressured by the world today, just wait a while.
Does God promise us joy? Absolutely. Christian joy is a deep-seated sense of tranquility that transcends circumstances. Jesus told his followers, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). David said to God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
Joy in every circumstance is a powerful witness to the world. And sharing our joy multiplies it. Augustine: “When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.”
So where can we find joy today? It is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), a result of the Spirit’s work in our lives. Paul urged us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). Note the location of our joy: “in the Lord.” Not in your health or wealth or happiness. Not in your present circumstances, whatever they may be. If Jesus is the King of your life, you will experience his transcendent joy today. If he is not, you will not.