While public speaking continues to remain the #1 fear in America, I am one of those strange people that actually enjoys it. When an opportunity presents itself to do some kind of public speaking, I get excited rather than anxious. In fact, I enjoy public speaking so much, I take time off of work so that I can coach high school students locally through a great organization called the NCFCA. To put it mildly, I am a total communication junkie and love most anything related to great communication.
So when my church asked me to share a 5 minute story at an upcoming event, naturally, I was absolutely enthralled. Once a month, my church does an event called “Theology Uncorked” where people are invited to come to a local pub and discuss a particular topic or current event and how it relates to faith. On this particular occasion, they had asked a handful of people who regularly come (and may be inclined towards sharing stories/public speaking) to share a 5 minute story around a particular theme.
Once I got the email asking me to do this, I quickly went to work combing through my mental litany of stories to find the right one to fit the particular topic. Once I had one in mind, I went to work on diving into all the usual details; planning the narrative arc, building in particular jokes or comedic moments, developing the right facial expressions, tone of voice, and inflection for each section, coming up with smooth transitions, nailing down what my key points were to make and when, and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, carefully crafting how to deliver poignant and powerful truths through the vehicle of story.
It was going to be awesome.
Yet God seemed to have a totally different story in mind he wanted to tell on this day.
To get to the heart of this story, we first must go back five years. It was my birthday in January of 2011. A good friend of mine at work had gotten me a gift for my birthday. When I opened it, I now found a Joel Osteen book in my possession.
I rolled my eyes as soon as I saw his name on the book and released a derisive chuckle.
“You know he only preaches prosperity theology, right?” I said sardonically to my friend while my face illustrated my utter disdain for him.
Needless to say, I did not read that book – it simply sat at the bottom of a pile of books in a corner of my room like it was in time out for bad behavior.
Fast forward to the present time. It was the morning of the day I was supposed to present my story at Theology Uncorked and a different friend had sent me an email. It was a link to a Joel Osteen sermon. Apparently, my negative opinion of him is very well known as she prefaced the entire email with “Regardless of what you think of him, this is worth listening to.”
I have a great deal of respect for this friend, particularly on spiritual matters. It is only due to that respect for her (not for Joel Osteen) that I gave in. So with a roll of my eyes and an audible sigh, I reluctantly clicked the link.
After the 30 minute sermon was over, I found something entirely unexpected had happened – I found myself feeling very encouraged. Joel’s sermon was incredibly positive, incredibly encouraging, and his words were absolutely dripping with hope. It was then that the Holy Spirit really went to work on me as God brought back to mind something I had learned years ago from one of my favorite pastors, Graham Cooke. He had said “Negativity is the worship language of hell.”
God’s conviction hit me like a brick crashing through a car door window as I realized how I have spoken so negatively about Joel Osteen for so many years now. I have completely judged him for being someone who teaches something I dislike (prosperity theology), yet do you want to know what the most ironic part is? I’ve never even listened to a sermon of his or read any of his books. I had made that judgement solely by accepting the opinion of another pastor whom I respected a lot.
As the conviction about my judgement towards him landed on me, I found myself a puddle of tears. I ended up listening to 6 Joel Osteen sermons that day, and cried through everyone one of them. Not only was it conviction I was feeling, but it was the incredible irony of God’s goodness to me that someone I had spoken so negatively about was speaking so much encouragement, positivity and hope into my life through his sermons. Joel might be the most positive and encouraging pastor I’ve ever heard, and I am totally someone who feeds off of positivity and encouragement. I never encountered the dreaded “prosperity theology” in his teachings, but rather someone who understands the power of words – that speaking negatively over yourself and others brings death, and speaking positively over yourself and others brings life.
In a particular twist of humor, guess what the theme was for the church event I was supposed to speak at that night?
The theme was “misjudged”.
Here I was sitting in total judgement of someone for well over 5 years, and on the day I am supposed to tell a story around the theme of “misjudged”, you reveal my judgement about him. At that point, I knew I needed to tell a different story than the one I had planned – a more current story around the theme of misjudged.
So I did. I shared about all my judgement and how God shattered my perception of Joel Osteen that morning. In addition, now that I had stopped judging Joel I was finally able to learn from him so I also shared something profound he taught me that day.
Through Joel’s teachings, something was uncovered that I was completely blind to – there were some areas of my life that I had slipped into very negative thinking about; some areas where I was speaking with the worship language of hell. The most poignant area I found this impacting was the area of getting married.
I have longed to be married for quite some time and in the absence of that occurring, my mind had subtly drifted to some very negative thoughts. Listening to Joel exposed how I had internal dialogues saying things like “Does this person even exist?” or “This seems impossible to find someone who is a good fit for me given where I am spiritually, emotionally & relationally.” or “This has been such a frustrating journey, I feel really tempted to just give up.”
Instead, I found I needed to replace those negative thoughts with positive ones like “God you have someone amazing in store for me.” or “God you have someone in store for me beyond what I could ask think or even imagine.” or “God I’m so excited about who you’re going to bring to me because you are such a great dad!”
Now some of you may be thinking “Okay, so I understand the idea of speaking that God had has good for you because that’s true and he is a great father who gives his kids good gifts (Matthew 7:11), but God hasn’t specifically promised you that he has a great wife in store for you, so how can you say that he does?”
To that I would respond by saying that you are correct, God has not specifically promised me that he has a great wife in store for me. However, let’s just do a little thought experiment around this to tease out the possibilities.
Suppose on the one hand, that God does have this amazing wife in store for me. If I adopt all this negative thinking of “I’ll never find someone, this person doesn’t exist, etc”, then I’ll live in despair up until the time I marry her. If I adopt positive thinking, then I’ll live full of joy, hope, and excitement up until the time I marry her. If on the other hand, suppose God doesn’t have this amazing wife in store for me. If I adopt negative thinking, I’ll live my entire life in abject despair around the area of marriage. If I adopt positive thinking, then I’ll go through life full of joy, hope, and excitement about marriage, even if I never marry!
I don’t know about you, but I would rather have the life full of joy, hope and excitement. See this is where these mindsets reveal their true colors – what is the fruit produced by walking in them? Jesus says that “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Luke 6:43). The fruit of walking in a negative mindset is despair, hopelessness, and anxiety. The fruit of walking in a positive mindset is joy, hope and excitement. This is why negativity is the worship language of hell – look at the fruit it produces – despair, hopelessness and anxiety.
I don’t want that fruit, I want joy, hope and excitement so I am going to choose to walk in a positive mindset.
Maybe you too find yourself with some negative thoughts about yourself or about certain areas of your life. Thoughts like “I’m a terrible parent.” or “I’ll never get the job I really want.” or “I’m not good enough to do that.” or “I’ll never be loved.” etc.. However, the worship language of hell isn’t the only option, there is also the worship language of heaven which is positivity.
So the question then becomes, which worship language will you choose?