There are likely only a small number of North Americans who wouldn’t find Joel Osteen’s face familiar if shown a photograph of him. Seen beaming at book buyers from the covers of a number of best-selling inspirational/motivational hybrids, Osteen is perhaps best known for his #1 New York Times bestseller, Your Best Life Now.
Your Best Life Begins Each Morning: Devotions to Start Every Day of the Year is a collection of daily micro-devotions — each two to three paragraphs in length — which are based upon Osteen’s previous work. Not having read the titles which this derivative devotional draws some of its content from, namely Your Best Life Now and Daily Readings from Your Best Life Now, I read through this chubby, padded hardcover (with handy ribbon) as a stand-alone title.
After reading through the year’s worth of short readings — each consisting of a date, title, scripture, and Osteen’s text — I feel ready to make some comments concerning the work. Each reading, rather than resulting in a desire to dig deeper into the word of God, seems to consist of a simple, Christian-flavoured pep-talk. Osteen does motivation well, the "pull up your socks and do better, have more faith, and make yourself shine" sort of pep talk. However, he’s internally inconsistent. One moment he claims that God will do the work, the next it’s all back on you. Wait for God; God won’t move until you do. A seesaw found throughout this title.
Many of Osteen’s critics have planted him firmly in the “Name It and Claim It” camp. There are certainly hints of that throughout, but nothing blatant. What I did notice however is the one-sidedness of Osteen’s perspective of God’s blessings. While he acknowledges that believers can go through times of testing and trial, he says that these are always temporary and that God will bless us richly if we are faithful and trusting during these periods of testing.
What Osteen fails to share is that sometimes these blessings may not arrive during this life, but the next. Indeed, we’re told in the Bible to store up treasures in heaven and not here on the earth. Believers living their best lives will be living it in submission to the will of their Father in heaven, even when trials,suffering — and yes even poverty — come their way as a result. God is trustworthy, He is faithful, but His purposes do not always look like those that Osteen presents – such as promotions, wealth, church growth, and such.
Another interesting point is that Osteen never mentions the word sin. He couches the desired behaviour of a Christian in terms of living with integrity, living an excellent life, and so on. He describes clear-cut sins such as thievery and deception as living without integrity – something that God won’t bless. Well, God certainly doesn’t bless sin, but He does bless us despite our sins – loving us even before we loved Him. This avoidance of biblical language and classifications struck me as very lukewarm on Osteen’s part, as though he’s hard at work trying to avoid confrontation and offense.
Apart from my doctrinal concerns, I found Your Best Life Begins Each Morning rather unfulfilling. There wasn’t enough meat to sink my teeth into and contemplate throughout the day. The readings I completed were soon forgotten and I was disappointed to find that behind the charming, coffee-themed packaging lay little substance. Hard-core Osteen fans will no doubt be pleased; readers like myself will be better served by an alternate selection of devotional readings or, better yet, the Bible.