Allison Kugel: I’ve been listening to you and applying your advice in my life for many moons. What’s curious to me about that, is that I was born and raised in the Jewish faith. I’m wondering how many people of different faiths find comfort and inspiration in your words. Have you heard that before?
Joel Osteen: I’ve heard it a lot, Allison. Jewish people stop me every day. Somehow, I have that connection with the Jewish people, and interestingly, with some Muslims as well. I’ve sold many, many books in Muslim countries. I feel blessed to be able to connect with people from different faiths, and I even have people come to the church sometimes that are not from the Christian faith. My goal was to reach a broad group, and I feel honored that people listen to me from different faiths.
Allison Kugel: How has your ministry changed in the wake of this COVID-19 pandemic in terms of how you’re interacting with your congregation, and with the world at large? Are you approaching your messages differently?
Joel Osteen: You know, I wouldn’t say that I am. I guess I am approaching it differently in one sense. I’m speaking more to the subject at hand, and talking about choosing faith and not fear, and things like that. Other than that, it’s just a shift away from the people being here [in Houston’s Compaq Center] and being able to pray with people in person. Fortunately, we had our online platform, and this network of television stations already lined up. Other than not seeing everyone in person, it hasn’t changed that much.
Allison Kugel: Apart from 9/11, which was of course devastating, the last several decades we’ve just kind of had good times. We didn’t live through things like the Spanish Flu, The Great Depression, World War I or World War II, like previous generations did. Now we are faced with the enormity of this pandemic. Do you think the word “faith” has taken on new meaning now?
Joel Osteen: I think it has. I think our faith is tested and tried in the difficult times, and you make a good point in that we haven’t lived like previous generations did. We haven’t had to endure that. This is such a time of uncertainty, but I do believe this is when we turn to our faith. This is when you can feel that peace and that hope to get through it. That is what I feel faith is all about. It’s not just for the good times. Even though we hadn’t previously experienced those kinds of things in our generation, we all experience difficulties in relationships, finances, the loss of loved ones and with health issues. I think our faith can be seen there.
Allison Kugel: Faith comes into play any time we have to believe, in the absence of concrete physical evidence…
Joel Osteen: I think we can see we are not really in control as much as we think we are. I think for me, I’ve encouraged people that it’s a great time to re-evaluate your life, and your priorities; and to ask, “Do I have things in order? Am I taking people for granted? Am I loving the people God’s given me to love?” These things can cause us to ask those important questions. That’s how good can come out of it. We can reevaluate and maybe make some adjustments.
Allison Kugel: Any personal “aha” moments over the last few weeks you’d like to share?
Joel Osteen: I don’t think I’ve had an “aha” moment, per se, but I do think I’m like a lot of people. We can go 90 miles an hour, because life is so busy and we’re always in a hurry. It’s a fast pace and this has kind of made us slow down. It’s made us not be able to travel and it’s made us spend some time. I do think that’s hit me, to think, “Wow, it’s good to slow down sometimes and enjoy life, just let stuff go by, and not take people for granted.” I hate that people are dying and that people are sick, but in one sense I’ve learned to just embrace where I am. We can’t have services on the weekend, we can’t do all that we used to do, but you know what, I’m just going to slow down, take it at this pace, and not fight it; not live upset, and not live fearful.
Allison Kugel: What’s your take on destiny versus free will as it applies to us humans?
Joel Osteen: I do think that God’s planned out things for each one of us. Like you said, he gives us a free will. We can make choices that can keep us from becoming who we were created to be, but I believe that when you’re honoring God, when you’re being your best, I believe that God will get you to where you’re supposed to be. So, a sickness, or a virus, or another person can’t stop your destiny. I believe that. I know that sometimes it’s hard to reconcile that God gives us free will, and he knew all that we were going to do wrong, but I think he gives us the free will, and I believe when you’re doing your best, God will get you to where you’re supposed to be.
Allison Kugel: People often comment about the enormity of your church. My feeling is that it took courage for you to preach a message that it doesn’t matter what you did yesterday, you’re welcome here today. It doesn’t matter what mistakes you’ve made, if you want to do better and be better, you can. It certainly goes against traditional concepts of sin and guilt.
Joel Osteen: I do believe everything you said, Allison. It probably does go against the old school, or the generations that had hellfire and brimstone, where you go to church to feel guilty. People are already feeling guilty enough. I do believe that is what the scripture teaches, that, you know what, you move forward, and your past doesn’t have to stop you. You go through the scripture and you see it again and again, with different examples. When Jesus was here, he lifted the fallen, he restored those who were broken, and so I do believe that. Of course, I believe in sin and repentance from sin, but we’ve all made mistakes. Life beats us up, and I feel like my message is to tell people to get back up and go again, because God gives us another chance and He can still get you to where you’re supposed to be.