The Power of Favor 11 | Chapter 3.3 More Misappropriation of Ruth

by Glenn on April 7, 2020

Continuing in Chapter 3 of Joel Osteen’s The Power of Favor. The author had told an abbreviated version of the story of Ruth to illustrate the point being made in this chapter about the importance of “Favor Connections.” If you don’t have favor yourself, which is exactly the opposite of what was said in the first chapter where we were told that we were about to receive favor, then hang around with people who are favored and let their favor overflow onto your life.

Good things did happen (eventually) to Ruth and Naomi, but it’s a more complicated story than is presented here. One of the things that is happening in The Power of Favor is that Bible stories are being condensed in a way that may not be ideal. Some of these stories—about, for example, Joseph and David and Ruth—embody truth and truths worth exploring in more depth. Rather than using these stories in a utilitarian way, to validate what you are saying, you could explore these stories and teach what they have to say.

The story of Ruth goes way beyond a poor girl finding a rich dude and hitting it off and “they lived happily ever after.” The story of Ruth, which is really the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, is the story of a set of individuals looking out for others. It’s not a story of a girl discovering a rich guy. That’s incidental. The people in this story were acting honorably and lovingly in a proactive sort of way. The kind of love presented in this story is not a selfish, “What am I going to get back from this?”, sort of action, but “How can I live in the ways of God, loving as He loved, demonstrating His love to the people around me?”

*    *    *

I return to the narrative on page 37, where the author says,

“When you recognize the favor on a person’s life, and you respect that favor by connecting with it, by honoring them and learning from them, that favor will come back to you.”

To modify this statement slightly (but I hope fairly), the author is saying that when you identify a successful person and connect with them “by honoring them and learning from them,” you, too, will enjoy success. Part of this feels exactly right and is good common sense. There are people who have more and are more than you are. They are more efficient, more skilled, more practiced, and more knowledgeable (both in the sense of knowing how as well as knowing that). They are better placed, resourced, and connected. It only stands to reason that connecting with a person like that can be very beneficial for you. Maybe it’s even You’re crazy if you’re not connecting with people like that. “Iron sharpens iron.” [1]

A couple of cautionary notes, though.

One is the fact that this feels a little bit like using people—connecting with people for what they offer rather than for who they are. In fact, it asks us to look at people through the lens of what they have to offer us. Now some people present themselves to us this way. For example, there are gurus (one of my favorites is the productivity expert David Allen), who ask us to connect with them because of their expertise. They write a book, create a seminar, make a Ted Talk, make a post on YouTube. They want people to take their ideas and incorporate them into their lives. No problem there.

Nor is there a problem with noticing people who are good at things and making connections with them and asking them questions about why they are good at what they do. Perhaps they have never seen themselves as people whose success is worth examining or emulating, but the question makes it clear that you are approaching them this way.

Where I get a little nervous is the idea of writing people off, which I think is being suggested here. There are people who, perhaps, on the surface don’t have a lot to offer us. Do we dismiss them?  In 12 Rules for Life, Dr. Jordan Peterson’s ninth rule says,

“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”

This is quite a bit different from Be on the lookout for people who know more than you do, assuming, of course, that I am being fair with what Osteen is suggesting. Rather than look at people through a grid to determine which people you want to associate with, look at people and learn from them. That feels very different to me. In the context of the instruction in the book, when we associate with people, are we targeting in only people who can do things for us and excluding everyone else? Is this a Christian idea? And it’s not that you can’t do both. Does success as a Christian mean identifying people who can help us be more successful or does it mean interacting with people in a Christian way. These are not mutually exclusive, but it seems as though there are no qualifications here. There is a selfish quality to this. The command here is to look for favor connections not to bless the people around you but to help you. Perhaps we will get there. If we do, then I think this is another place in the book where it feels a little contradictory.

A second cautionary note is the fact that the idea of “favor” hasn’t really been qualified very well. It feels like it means “success,” especially monetary success, but it seems like there should be some discussion of how we actually define success. To what extent is the Christian pursuit one of becoming more successful and to what extent is it something else?

Returning to the narrative of The Power of Favor, Osteen continues to riff on the story of Ruth,

“Naomi could have thought, Oh, Boaz, he’s wealthy, he’s busy. He’s not going to have anything to do with us. She could’ve dismissed it and just stayed with the friends where she was comfortable. If she had, we wouldn’t be talking about her today. She recognized Boaz was an eagle, and she was willing to get out of her comfort zone. No doubt, she had to break away from a few chickens, spend less time with a couple turkeys. She took these steps of faith and connected with an eagle. That’s what opened new doors and took her and Ruth to a new level.”

That is so not what the story is about. I don’t have high confidence in the author’s ability either to describe the mindset of Naomi or the whole metaphor of Naomi breaking away from chickens. First, it’s hard to know what people are thinking. It might be better to qualify things a bit. Make it a question, “What thoughts were going through her mind?” The advantage of this approach is that it invites the reader to use their imagination, to enter the story with the one who is retelling the story. Second, the idea of Naomi looking for an eagle ignores the fact that Naomi and Ruth were, in a way, the least of all chickens. Were there chickens and turkeys to break away from? And to follow this line of logic, an eagle shouldn’t want to be around a chicken. So if a chicken goes looking for an eagle, and the eagle sees a chicken approaching, shouldn’t the eagle fly off and look for other eagles? Ruth and Naomi were paupers and their situation goes far beyond needing an eagle. They needed salvation. And this is a story of salvation.

The book of Ruth is so important in the larger story of God’s dealing with people and this re-telling of it seems to ignore that. It neglects the fact that Naomi and Ruth were simply trying to survive. Ruth didn’t seek out Boaz. She “accidentally” (providentially!?) found herself in his field. Then Naomi realized he was a relation of hers, a “kinsman-redeemer.” Naomi tried to get Ruth to prostitute herself, to make herself appealing to Boaz in a way that he would take Ruth into his home as a mistress. Instead, Ruth asked Boaz to fulfill an ancient law that would be very costly to him. We don’t know why, but Ruth’s request was received as a great compliment to Boaz. Was he older? Was he unattractive? It’s unknown. But this is part of the story that gets missed in this re-telling. Naomi is telling Ruth to do something for her own self-interest, Ruth is making a request to benefit her mother-in-law, Boaz receives that request as a loving act on Ruth’s part. Everyone gets elevated because no one in the story is trying to advance themselves. No one’s looking for an eagle. Everyone’s trying to survive and do the right thing. Everyone is sacrificing for the other. That seems to be a wildly different message than the one we are being given.

Osteen tells us to be on the lookout for “favor connections God has put in your life.” We’re not to be “intimidated by their success.” Their success will help us see “doors open,” be able to “influence,” and achieve “promotion that you couldn’t have reached on your own.” Osteen alludes to the Biblical idea of sowing and reaping.[2] He puts this in the context of people. He cautions,

“If you sow into worry connections, people who are always upset, anxious, and worried, you’re going to reap worry. If you sow into compromise connections, people who are pulling you down, causing you to give in to temptation, you’re going to reap compromise.”

He continues on with the same idea to talk about gossip. Instead we are to “sow into … eagles, into people who are blessed, successful, and happy” because “that’s what you’ll reap.”

This confirms what I said before, Osteen divides people into two camps: There are people who can help us; and there are people who need help. We should be on the lookout for the former and avoid the latter. What about people who can help us who don’t look like people who can help us? It’s not that I disagree with his point totally. There are people we should avoid. The apostle Paul, quoting a Greek poet, says, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33, NIV). We do become like the people we are around. I don’t disagree, but I wish there were caveats.

Osteen tells a personal story, now, of a pastor friend of his in Houston who “had a church of several hundred people.” He had started the church fifteen years earlier and their numbers had plateaued. He assumed “they had reached their limit.” But this pastor saw a pastor of a much larger church in California and went to California to attend a service there, which was inspiring for him. He met the pastor and began flying out once a month to attend a service. “[H]e understood that to reach a new level, you have to have some favor connections.” What’s important is that he wasn’t jealous of this other pastor but celebrated his success. He took small donations from his smaller church to this larger ministry. The end of the story is that his church grew and now “is larger than the church in California.” There’s this line, though: “He outgrew that man.” Is he saying people are favor connections until they no longer are favor connections?

Osteen emphasizes the importance of avoiding jealousy. He offers this “key”:

“If you can’t celebrate other people’s success, you will never get to where they are. If you get jealous and try to outperform them, or if you’re intimidated by them, you’ll get stuck. It’s a test.”

This test comes from God who “brings these favor connections across our path.” The question we are to ask ourselves,

“Are you secure enough in who you are to honor them, to respect them, to cheer them on, or will your pride keep you from connecting with their favor?”

Again, this seems like good counsel. Osteen says, “[Y]our destiny is tied to certain people.” We need to identify these people, not be jealous of them, and learn from them until we surpass them. This is exactly right if you are trying to achieve something in life. You need other people. Even if our pursuits are solitary, we still need people to support us in our endeavors. If we’re pursuing online studies, for example, there’s a whole host of people who make that possible, from the person who teaches the class to the people hosting the class on the internet to the people who built your computer to the people who maintain the internet to the people who provide electricity to the people who provide groceries so you can eat and have enough energy to pursue studies. It’s a big web we’re part of.

To the extent his message here is be humble, I think it’s sage advice. But it doesn’t explain how we are to treat others, particularly the least of these.

This section of the chapter concludes with what I think must be meant as encouragement, but which comes across as a meaningless generality that is impossible to prove.

“[T]oo often, when we see someone who’s further along, someone who’s more blessed, instead of being inspired, we get discouraged, thinking, I could never get there. God wouldn’t have brought them across your path if He wasn’t about to take you higher. The favor on their life is an indication of what God is about to do in yours.”

This is great until you think about it too much at which point it feels like a false promise. You can meet Warren Buffett. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have the success of Warren Buffett. What you can do is read and study Warren Buffett and be a wiser investor. That seems perfectly reasonable.

____________________

[1] Proverbs 27:17.

[2] Perhaps 2 Corinthians 9:6: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (NIV) Of course, this is in the context of giving. Hard to know which passage he was thinking, but maybe it’s just the general idea.

Leave your comment

Required.

Required. Not published.

If you have one.