(Photo: Courtesy of Joel Osteen Ministries)
MIAMI, Florida – Joel Osteen preached a message of hope and encouragement to the sold-out crowd of 37,000 who packed Miami's Marlins Park Saturday night to experience the fifth annual "America's Night of Hope" event that the megachurch pastor hosts to cast a wide net and introduce the Gospel of Jesus Christ to new believers.
The Night of Hope event incorporates contemporary Christian music and inspirational messages to reach the unreached and restore hope and faith in believers who feel discouraged. Osteen cited Isaiah 30:18 and said, "God is longing to be good to people who are looking to His goodness. … When you honor God, God always honors you."
Osteen emphasized that God needs Christians to rise to the level of their highest expectations – to be refreshed and restored – so that he can use them to help others. "Instead of looking at what you don't have, give thanks for what you do have."
Encouraging the audience to reach their full potential, Osteen said he wants believers to stop criticizing themselves, because the enemy is already aiming for them. "You'll never reach your full potential with negative dialogue in your life; you already have enough people against you. If you criticize yourself, you're criticizing God's own creation."
Osteen said that in his 50 years, he's come to understand that each day is a blessing. He added that Christians should choose not to waste their days wallowing in anger or engaging in battles that don't lead to their godly destiny. "You're not supposed to fight every battle," he said. "If it's not going to benefit you, it's a distraction – not everyone is going to like you. Focus on your family; devote your time to them. … Tell your family what they can become, and be a lifter, not a pusher down."
"Praise precedes the victory," Osteen said about giving thanks to God, the father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. "God is not just the God of perfect people. He's the God of people who've had a rough time and the God of people who've failed. God uses imperfect people to do extraordinary things," he said, listing the names of flawed people in the Bible who God used to achieve greatness.He emphasized that God even used Lazarus, and he was dead. "What's your excuse?" he asked.
Osteen's 80-year-old mother, Dodie, shared her testimony by talking about her ability to overcome the cancer diagnosis she received 32 years ago in which she was told she'd only live a few more weeks. At 89 pounds and with yellowing skin, Dodie said she prayed for healing and sent letters to everybody she knew who she thought she might have offended at one time or another. She even mailed letters to her husband and children, asking for their forgiveness. She said she also read scriptures about healing and would visit other people who were suffering with physical illnesses.
"Forgiveness may be the key to your healing," she said to the Miami audience and the hundreds of thousands who watched online in the United States and 40 countries around the world.
Osteen reiterated his mother's message about forgiveness and told the audience to treat every day as a new day, and to stop feeling guilty and condemned. "Don't bring the poison of yesterday into today," he said. "Forgive yourself for the mistakes you've made. You can't do anything about the past, except to learn from it and move forward."
"Relinquish control to God. God will never take you where he can't sustain you," he said, recounting the story of the walls of Jericho falling down in Hebrews 11:30 as an example of what God can do in the lives of people who are faithful and trust in him.
Speaking about the close relationship he had with his father who died in 1999, Osteen broke down in tears, and shared his grief over the loss of loved ones. "Life is not always fair, but God is fair. Every day of your life is written in God's book. Be encouraged, God will bring you through it," he said. "What God started, he will finish. Even sickness and death cannot stop it."
Victoria Osteen also shared a few anecdotes with the audience, and quoted Romans 5:8 to reveal God's greatness and love for humanity: "...while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." She then made an appeal, asking everyone to value their relationships with their families and to bring peace into their homes. "It's not about figuring out who's right, it's about doing what's right. And that's treating people with respect, disagreeing respectfully and finding common ground," she said, relating the fact that she and her husband don't agree with each other 100 percent of the time.
Underscoring Victoria's message, Osteen reminded people that God can help to heal relationships and make up for lost time. And noted that "the enemy uses lies to deceive," and to thwart progress.
"The enemy is called the accuser of the brethren," he said. "If anyone brings up the negative things of the past – that is not God that is the enemy."
Osteen then asked people to take action by committing to four things: first, to start attending a Bible-based church; second, to stop hanging around friends who pull them away from God; next, to use the Night of Hope to start a new beginning; and lastly, to start every day off with a prayer to God.
During the Night of Hope, Osteen introduced the Miami crowd to 20 pastors who have ministries in Florida, including Troy Grambling, and used them as examples of positive Christian leadership.
Osteen also spoke a blessing and prayer over the audience before asking believers to recommit their lives to Christ, and for new believers to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. For those who grew up in hate-filled households and never received one word of encouragement, Osteen asked God to help them get rid of their negative thoughts; and to "bless every person with wisdom, and to help them to become obedient, and to help them make good choices in their lives."
He then assured the audience that "God is not mad at you, your sins have already been forgiven. All you have to do is to accept Jesus Christ."
Osteen's two children, Alexandra, 14, and Jonathan, 18 – whose birthday was on Saturday – performed together on stage during the Night of Hope event. Jonathan played the electric guitar and Alexandra sang several times, including during her father's message inviting people to receive Christ into their lives.
Previous Night of Hope events were held at Yankee Stadium in New York, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago and Nationals Park in Washington D.C.
Osteen is the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, which has a weekly attendance of 43,000 people. The popular preacher and best-selling author reaches millions worldwide through his radio and television broadcasts.