In megachurch pastor Joel Osteen’s new book, “The Power of the I Am: Two Words that will Change your Life Today,” he encourages his readers to use positive affirmations staring with the words “I am,” for example, “I am successful.” He claims that such affirmations will bring success:
- Let me give you some “I am” s to speak over your life. Read over these declarations every day. Get them down in your spirit. Meditate on them. They may not all be true right now, but as you continue to speak them, they will become a reality. “I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am successful.”
Do we have such power to use our words to change reality? To support his point, Osteen calls upon Paul:
- As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:17)
Osteen wrongly assumes that we have the same powers as God to call things into existence that are not. Instead, Scripture claims that we can do nothing without God (John 15:4-5; 2 Cor. 3:5). While Osteen might affirm this, it seems that he believes that God will affirm whatever we want to call into existence. Therefore, if we want success and recognition, all we have to do is to speak, “I am successful,” and God will automatically endorse our words.
However, Scripture warns us against such a presumptuous belief:
- Now listen, you who SAY, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to SAY, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)
Such presumption about the power of our words is boasting and this “boasting is evil.” Instead, our words must coincide with reality. What is our reality? We “are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” To presume that we can control events with our words, as God does, is therefore sin.
Instead, our words must always be in line with the truth. The truth belongs to God, and we are not free to distort it for our own benefit. Osteen confesses that our affirmations “may not all be true right now.” If this is so, we shouldn’t be saying these things. They are presumption and boasting, according to Scripture.
However, there are positive messages that we should preach to ourselves. Therefore, Osteen speaks with some truth when he writes:
- Instead of whispering, “I am inferior. I am less than,” you start declaring, “I am one of a kind. I am handpicked by Almighty God. I am valuable. I am a masterpiece.” When you get up in the morning, don’t focus on all your flaws. Look in the mirror and dare to say, “I am beautiful. I am young. I am vibrant. I am confident. I am secure.” You may have had some disappointments. People may have tried to push you down, but quit telling yourself you’re all washed up. Do as Sarah and say, “I am royalty. I am crowned with favor. I am excited about my future.”
Our positive affirmations must come from Scripture. Therefore, Osteen is correct to encourage his readers to say, “I am valuable.” We certainly are in God’s sight! However, he is leading his readers down the wrong path by encouraging them to say things that are not true: “I am beautiful. I am young. I am vibrant. I am confident. I am secure.”
Instead, God wants truth, as David confessed:
- Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. (Psalm 51:6)
To make positive affirmations/confessions that do not accord with the truth will bring disrepute on the church. It will also alienate us from life. Positive affirmations can be powerful, but they do not work unless they are believed. In order to compensate for my feelings of shame and inferiority, I would tell myself “I am great and beloved by all women.” For a short time, it worked. These affirmations enabled me to confidently face the classroom. However, I wasn’t aware of the great price I was paying. Here are some of the costs:
- The taller you are, the harder you fall. I began to see that my affirmations were not confirmed within the classroom, and I fell.
- In order to achieve the same high, I found that I now had to fed myself with even more grandiose affirmations and, in the process, to believe them.
- I could no longer find common ground with others, who saw me in a very different way than what I was projecting about myself.
- Whatever we manage well, we must understand accurately. More and more, my life became unmanageable.
- Even after coming to the Lord, He had to wean me away from this drug to which I had become addicted. Consequently, I was in withdrawal for many painful years.
Osteen tries to justify his affirmations through the lives of Caleb and Joshua who had reported that there were giants in the land, but that Israel would overcome with the Lord’s help. However, their confidence wasn’t the product of their own creation or desires. They were merely affirming that the Lord had spoken to Israel.
Sometimes, there is no easy answer to the deprivations we suffer. Instead, Scripture repeatedly warns us that we will have to suffer:
- We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
If we want to reign with Jesus, we must also suffer with Him. There are no easy ways to bypass this reality. However, many claim that there are and give people a false hope, which will eventually be dashed to the ground.