The Power of Favor 15 | Chapter 4.2

by Glenn on May 19, 2020

In The Power of Favor, each chapter has references to both Biblical and personal stories to illustrate lessons. If I’m correct, Moses is the 14th reference to a Biblical character as an example of favor. Osteen uses this story to illustrate the idea of “A Hedge of Protection” as this section of the chapter where I am picking up again is called. He refers to the plagues that God sent on the Egyptians and how they didn’t affect the Israelites. As the plague of flies is about to be introduced, Osteen has God speak to Pharaoh in this way,

“I will deal differently with the land where My people live. No swarms of flies will be there. I will make a distinction between you and My people.”

He continues to tell the story,

“Millions and millions of flies came into Pharaoh’s palace and all the houses of the Egyptians. The flies were so dense the people couldn’t see, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. Their land was ruined by flies. But right next door, the Israelites had no flies. . . . It didn’t make sense in the natural. This was the hand of God putting a distinction on His people.”

And then there’s the application,

“God has put that same distinction on you. When He breathed life into you, He marked you for favor, marked you for blessing, marked you to stand out. What will defeat others won’t be able to defeat you.”

One of my ongoing questions about this book is Who is “you”? Who is marked for favor? Those who read this book? If so, what is it about reading this book that makes it so that a person is marked for favor? Is everyone who reads this book marked for favor? Is it possible to be marked for favor and not read this book? Other questions come from the statement, here, that the moment God “breathed life into you, He marked you for favor.” It sounds like favor is given to us at birth. Do I understand that correctly? Is it given to everyone? If favor is connected to salvation, does that happen at our first birth or does it require, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus, a second birth. Do “you”, whoever you are, have any responsibility related to that favor? Is there a way to reject it, for example?

Leaving behind this ongoing question of Who is “you”?, I’m struck by the juxtaposition of these words and the global Coronavirus pandemic that we are experiencing. We’re told that “What will defeat others won’t be able to defeat [us]”, but in our current circumstance there doesn’t appear to be a distinction between who gets and does not get the virus. And maybe this statement doesn’t apply to a global pandemic. To what does it apply, then? Is what Osteen is saying meaningful or meaningless? I don’t mean to be snide, but I am trying to understand the author’s claims.

To what extent do the promises of God create better and different realities in this world than they do for non-Christians? In other words, do we play by a different set of rules? Gravity seems to apply to everyone.

I watched pastors defy stay-at-home orders when the Coronavirus hit. On the one hand, I admired their faith: “No weapon formed against me will stand!” At the same time, it felt so foolish. Christians get colds, the flu, cancer, why was it that they wouldn’t get this disease? Either faith doesn’t work, or we are bringing the wrong expectations to our faith. I was curious what Osteen was saying about the virus and I found this press conference. When asked what encouragement he had for people, he said,

“I think it’s important to make that choice to not live from a place of fear, a place of worry, a place of panic. You know you draw in what you consistently think about and it’s easy—you know, you’re watching the news, and I’m not saying, you know, there’s not a lot of negative going on, but you have to make that choice, I’m going to live from a place of faith, a place of trust, a place of hope, not downplaying it, I want to be smart, I want to use wisdom, I’ll wash my hands, I’ll stay away from people, but I’m going to stay in a place of peace. I believe when you do that you draw in peace, you draw in faith, that helps you to make it through.”

This seems absolutely reasonable. Have faith. Don’t be foolish. What it doesn’t say is that Christians aren’t any different than anyone else. The measured tone is markedly different from the claims of the book. When asked about parents with kids at home, Osteen remarked,

“I believe God will give you grace for every season and this is not a surprise to him, so I think that as parents if we can stay in peace, if we can be the example, that we’re not panicked, that we’re not upset, I think it translates down to our children and again I think we have to take it one day at a time. God gives us grace for today. You think about Can I do this for a month? Can I do this for a year? I don’t know, but if you come back to Can I can get through 24 hours?—“God, give me your grace for today,” I believe that is going to help you make it through each and every day. Not looking at the long term but looking at today.”

There was a check for understanding from the reporter, and Osteen continued,

“You can use your energy to worry or you can use your energy to believe. It takes the same amount of energy to worry or to say, ‘Okay, God I know you’ve got me in the palm of your hand. I know you’re guiding me, that you’re protecting me, that you’re helping those who need your help.’ And so you just use that energy to stay positive, to stay grateful. Yes, it’s difficult. Some of us can’t go to work, but you know it’s time that we can spend with our family, that we can make the most of that. I even have a friend of mine that’s doing a little bit … learning more of a new career, improving his career, because he has the time off, so I think we have to see the good in it and stay in faith and pray for those that have contracted the virus, but let’s stay in faith and believe that good will come out of it and I know like it always happens we’ll come out of it better than we were before.”

This strikes me also as a good response. The essence of the Christian faith is that while we’re not immune from the emotions we all feel from the things going on around us, we’re not undone by them because we have inner resources given to us by God. This is the only way I can explain, for example, the lack of pain mentioned in the letters of Paul. He describes these awful things that happen to him but he always speaks of the joy he feels in the midst of trying circumstances. It’s both inspiring and convicting.

These are tough times. And there are questions that aren’t easy to answer. For me as a pastor, what do I say to my congregation? I’ve seen a number of approaches:
1. Continue on in ignorance of science. I think this has been largely seen as foolish. Well, and it’s illegal right now, although that appears to be changing.

2. Continue on in small groups. I’ve noticed some churches that are very small simply continuing to meet.

3. Cooperate simply by stopping meeting.

4. Cooperate and innovate. Figure out new ways to do and be the church.

It appears that Osteen has taken the last path. Honestly, I don’t envy larger churches right now. There is such a potential for disaster if they re-open.

To return to the book, after assuring his readers that we “don’t have to live worried … even though there are so many negative things in the world, so much crime and violence. It may be happening all around you, but you have an advantage. God has put a distinction on you,” Osteen hedges his bets a little bit:

“I’m not saying negative things will never happen. That’s not reality. I’m saying you are protected by the One who controls it all. If God allows it to happen, He’s promised that He will turn it somehow and use it for your good.”

I can’t tell if he is being contradictory, here, or finally acknowledging that the blessing of God is not a straightforward path of everything getting better and better. Where I think he wants to go is to say that God has good in mind for you. That good may include material blessings and protection from bad things. If not, don’t worry, because God still has good things ultimately. I feel like the difference is between “good things are coming your way” and “Trust in God’s goodness.” The former is a promise that not even God makes. Or perhaps he is saying that everything that happens is an example of God’s favor. Why pray, then, for example God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? It really is challenging to reconcile all of this.

Osteen picks up the Moses story noting that Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Israelites go even after the plague of flies. He says that the rest of the plagues only applied to the Egyptians. Even if they tried to get away from the flies (and frogs and locusts), “everywhere they went, the plagues followed them.” As far as the Israelites, “It wasn’t where the Israelites were that kept them from the plagues. It was what was on them—the distinction, the favor, the blessing that comes from being a child of the Most High God.”

I wish Osteen would address this point that while the Israelites have the favor of God, the Egyptians most decidely do not. If there is a point of application for us today from the story of the Israelites in terms of favor, isn’t there a point of application that could be made about disfavor in the story of the Egyptians.

Also, this would be a good place to establish how one becomes “a child of the Most High God.” What if this was the first of his books that Osteen’s reader picked up? It is in my case. It feels like there are things assumed that are never explained. Rather than take the time,  Osteen simply moves on to make an application for his readers, who he tells,

“You and I have that same blessing. We may have things around us that could harm us, keep us from our dreams, bring us down. Stay in faith. There is a distinction on your life, on your property, on your children, on your career, and on your health that is put there by the Creator of the universe.”

Is this the message he would have written had he known the Coronavirus was coming? Maybe not a fair point on my part. But there certainly are plenty of assurances about the future and one wonders what Osteen would have said had he known about the coming crisis. At the very least, measured tones would be in order, although there are some preachers who are not measured at all about anything.

Next, Osteen tells an incredible story about an orange farmer who heard a freeze was coming and walked around his property “thanking [God] that [his oranges] wouldn’t freeze and that he would have a harvest that year.” Osteen says the other farmers thought this man was “so strange” and “[t]hey made fun and ridiculed him.” We can see where this is heading. This man’s orange grove was saved while the orange groves around him died. Osteen anticipates objections of those who might think this man had a lucky break, but he says “that was the hand of God putting a distinction on his property.” I have no problem with the miracle. I take that at face value. There are Christians who experience tragedy, though. It’s hard to reconcile it all. How do we rejoice at the one thing and help people know what they can expect from God.

Osteen says, “The economy doesn’t determine if you’re blessed: God does.” He goes on to talk about someone who was having a great year in sales even in a bad economy. We get something of a condition, here. Osteen writes,

“Here’s the key: As long as you stay close to God, as long as you keep Him first place, you are connected to a supply chain that will never run dry.”

Wouldn’t it be good to have that notion of staying close to God explained? Osteen talks about how his father raised an enormous sum of money to build a building in tough economic times after having open-heart surgery. And then we’re back to Joseph. This jumping from Bible story to Bible story gives me a bit of whiplash. Joseph made an appearance in the first chapter. Here he is back again. Two pages later it’s Abraham.

One of the things that needs to be explained is how can we make this promise of favor to the general masses when one of the things in Scripture is the way God seems to single out individuals to put his favor on. Abraham received favor that no one else did. The point that Osteen makes, though, is that favor will spill out onto those around us, so that favor may not be on everyone, but if it’s on us, it will get on others.

Chapter 4 ends with another story of someone in his congregation for who great things happened. I rejoice for them. It’s not that I don’t believe the story. It’s that the world is more complicated than the story we are being told. We need stories to illustrate the points we want to make, but the stories would easier to accept if I felt like they were illustrating points I understood or agreed with.