Well, the life-changing secret is now out. And we have Victoria Osteen to thank for this. The wife of Joel Osteen, author of the best-seller Your Best Life Now and other such nonsense, has recently proclaimed to all who will listen that God’s supreme purpose is to make you happy. Yes that’s right. Apparently Rick Warren and John Piper are wrong; you see, it really is all about you.
In a video clip posted on YouTube, Mrs Osteen, husband standing beside her, declares boldly to her Sunday morning audience:
So I just want to encourage every one of us to realise that, when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God. I mean, that’s one way to look at it, but 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 because 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.
According to Victoria, God wants us to be happy, and since living for myself is key to such happiness, then I am to abandon myself to a self-centred lifestyle. Sounds like the way most are living anyway. No big secret here.
It would seem fair to conclude, in the light of Victoria’s “secret,” that Jesus obviously did not understand this, for He said that if we put ourselves first then we will lose our life (Matthew 10:39; 16:25). He said that the key to true happiness is to forget about myself. Oh, if only He would have known Victoria’s secret! Just think how happy God would have been if Jesus would have pursued His own happiness! There would have been no humiliation, no betrayal, no arrest, no crucifixion, no abandoning by the Father of the Son. In fact, there would have been no incarnation (Philippians 2:5–8). But of course, neither would we have salvation but, hey, that is obviously beside the point. At least we could be happy as we plunge headlong towards eternity in hell. Clearly, the Bible teaches that obedience is in our ultimate best interest, but she has turned this principle completely on its head. She is claiming that the motivation is me, not my Master. Victoria’s secret contradicts God’s Scriptures.
Such blasphemous nonsense seems prevalent in the church at large. It is certainly popular. In fact, the church that Victoria co-pastors with her husband boasts a membership of over 100,000. Such heresy is exactly what unbelievers want to hear. Yet it is rebellion against God dressed in religious costume. Fundamentally, there is no difference between this kind of narcissism and that espoused by militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. Further, it is equally damning but far more dangerous. No one in their right mind takes Dawkins seriously. Even many of his fellow atheists are embarrassed by his over-the-top attacks on religion in general and Christianity in particular. But the heresy of the Osteens is far-reaching in its damning effects because most people claim to be religious. This makes them vulnerable to charlatans who tell them what they want to hear. The result is that people continue to live for themselves, deceived that God is happy because they are happy. The Osteens apparently are increasingly very happy. The problem, of course, is that one day reality is going to come crashing down on their happy house of cards. And that is no secret.
Even a casual reading of Scripture reveals that to follow Christ can be perilous. In many cases, relationships are lost, employment may be lost, wealth may be lost, and health and one’s physical life may in fact be lost (see Matthew 10:34–39; Hebrews 11:35–40). “Happy”? It is amazing how the Bible can ruin our theologies!
It is no secret that one day we will stand before God on the final Day of Judgement. And the verdict concerning our eternal welfare will be closely related to how we lived our lives (2 Corinthians 5:10). That is, those who have been born again by the Spirit of God will have evidence (though imperfectly) of living for Christ and for others, not living for themselves. In fact, it would appear that those whose pursuit is God’s glory (God’s “happiness,” if you will) rather than their own happiness are the ones who will hear, “Well done … enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23). In other words, if you are living primarily for your own happiness then it is obvious that your Lord is you. And you will get your reward—now (Matthew 6:2). However, if Jesus Christ is your Lord, then you will seek His honour. The ironic twist is that this is where true and everlasting happiness is found. Consider the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
They were facing the death penalty for refusal to comply with Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship his golden image. You see, Nebuchadnezzar just wanted to be happy, and these three young men were spoiling his party! They were concerned about God in heaven being happy. And so there was a huge “happy conflict.” These faithful believers said that they knew that God could deliver them from the fiery furnace, but they did not know that He would do so. Yet if God chose not to deliver them, then they were happy to continue to obey Him—to death (Daniel 3:16–18). Remember the outcome? Nebuchadnezzar, not a happy camper, cast them into the fire. They didn’t know if they would be delivered. But they knew a secret: God delights in obedience. Victoria needs to learn this secret. And so do I. And perhaps so do you.
The hard reality of the Christian life is that sometimes the marriage collapses, sometimes the loved one dies, sometimes the job is rendered redundant, sometimes the friend becomes a foe, sometimes the unbelieving family member or friend does not repent, sometimes the sinful habit grips us again, sometimes the ungodly prosper, sometimes the persecuted do not escape, sometimes the medical report is ominous, sometimes the ministry comes to an end, sometimes the child rebels, sometimes the prayers are answered with a painful no. Yes, sometimes God is most happy to not make us “happy” (as defined by us). For, ultimately, God’s purpose is to make His people holy as they seek to live for His honour. And that is where true happiness is found. For those who take the Bible seriously, this is the victorious secret—and that really is no secret at all.