Victoria Osteen, notable co-pastor of a Houston mega church with her husband Joel, recently made a statement in their church service that drew a lot of attention: Here’s the clip and here’s what she said:
“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…”
“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. Amen?”
Osteen’s words raise a question that is worth asking:….does God want us to be happy? The Bible doesn’t directly say “God wants you happy”, but it also doesn’t say God wants us unhappy. I think the problem with Osteen’s statement is two fold: (1) Our happiness is not God’s great concern and (2) Osteen is looking in the wrong end of the telescope.
First, I do not think our “happiness” is God’s great concern. What does the Bible say about what God wants for us? Well, we know what He REQUIRES from us:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
And we also know that God requires us to be “holy”
1 Peter 1:15-17
15 “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
“Holy” doesn’t mean “holier than thou”. It carries the idea of being a person of integrity. That we walk our talk and obey God’s commands. That’s what God wants from us.
And we know that Christ said He came to bring us “abundant life”.
“I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”
While no one knows the mind of God (and whether He wants us to be happy or not), I think a it’s a fair conclusion to draw from looking at the entirety of Scripture that our “happiness” is not something God seems all that concerned about. I think what God wants for us is something bigger, deeper and broader than “happiness”. He wants us to have a genuine, humble, holy relationship with Him and for us to live a life of justice and mercy and kindness toward others. This kind of life is “abundant”. Not always “happy”, but abundant. I think that’s what God wants for us.
The second problem with Osteen’s statement is she is looking through the wrong end of the telescope. When she says “Worship and obey God to make yourself happy” she’s making the same mistake people in the pre-Galileo world made: thinking the center of the universe was earth–or us. God–not us– is at the center of the universe. He deserves worship for who HE is, not because it makes us “happy”. The origin of the word “worship” is “worth-ship” where the focus is on the one being worshipped, not the worshipper:
See where the focus is supposed to be? On God–not us. Keeping God as the center of our worship–and our obedience–is looking in the right end of the telescope.
So does God want you to be “happy”? Scripture tells us the first listed fruit of the Holy Spirit is “joy” (Galatians 5:22-23) which is different than happiness: joy is deeper, richer and broader–and not based on happenstance or chance. I think God wants us to be MORE than happy. He wants us to have an abundant, joyful life. And we will find that joy and abundant life when we seek and focus on God rather than our own happiness.