Joel Osteen - Freedom in the Fire
I want to talk to you today about Freedom in The Fire. In the National Park in California there are these huge sequoia trees, they stand over three hundred feet tall, they can live over two thousand years, they're magnificent trees. On the branches they develop a cone. Inside that cone are the seeds to produce new sequoia trees. What's significant is those seeds are locked up in the cone, they don't just naturally come out over time. The seeds can be in the cone hundreds of years, never produce a tree. The only way the cone will open is through fire. Lightning will strike, the heat from the fire will cause the cone to open, the seeds are able to germinate and become what they were created to be.
But I always saw fire as a bad thing, "Oh, man, there's another fire in the forest", not realizing the fire was all a part of God's plan. It's how he designed nature to work. One article talked about how people tried to put out these natural fires for years as quickly as possible, not realizing that was doing more damage to the forest. Now there were no new trees. The fire was necessary for new growth.
In the same way there are seeds that are locked up in you: seeds of favor, seeds of greatness, seeds of purpose. The only way they'll come out is through fire. We don't like the fire, being uncomfortable, going through things you don't understand, business slowed, friend walked away, medical report wasn't good. It's easy to get discouraged, water down your dreams. But God won't allow a difficulty unless he has a purpose for it. There is potential locked up in you, that will only come out through adversity. There are gifts and talents that you won't discover without going through times when it's uncomfortable.
David said (Psalm 4:1), "God enlarged me in my distress". He didn't say, "God enlarged me in my good times. Enlarged me when everyone was celebrating me". He said, "God enlarged me when I faced a giant twice my size. God enlarged me when king Saul was trying to kill me. God enlarged me when my own father didn't believe in me". It was in that fire that David discovered talent that he didn't know he had. In the fire he stepped into courage, favor, greatness, that he would have never known had he not felt the heat, the pressure, the adversity.
You may be in the fire now, thinking, "God, what's going on in my life? This trouble, this child that's off course, this medical situation, it's setting me back". No, the truth is it's setting you up. What you can't see is God is enlarging you. You're about to step into new levels of your destiny. You're going to see new growth, new opportunity, new talent. It couldn't happen without the fire. You may not see it yet, but there's favor in that fire, there's promotion in that fire, there's freedom in that fire. The fire is opening up things that you would have never seen. Don't fight the fire, stay faithful in the fire. The right attitude is, "God, I don't like it. I'm uncomfortable, but I trust you. I know you're in control. You wouldn't have allowed this difficulty unless it was making me better".
I've learned: God will not mismanage your life. He knows how much fire, how much heat, how much pressure you can handle. He controls the thermostat. If that fire was going to take you out, he wouldn't have allowed it. You are well able, you are strong in the Lord, you are full of can-do power. Keep the right perspective: that fire is not going to burn you up, it's releasing you into new levels. The fire is all a part of God's plan, so you can become everything you were created to be.
That's why Peter said (1 Peter 4:12), "Don't think it's strange when you face fiery trials". He could have said, "When you face difficulties, adversities", but he used the word "Fiery". God was saying, "Sometimes I'm gonna let you go through the fire, through things you don't understand, things that are not fair". You'll be tempted to get bitter, upset, but trust him in the fire, he's ordering your steps, he's still in control. He wouldn't have allowed it if it was going to stop you. That fire is opening up seeds to your destiny, levels you could never reach without the fire.
Sometimes forest rangers will do what's called a controlled burn. They'll set a fire on purpose to burn off the underbrush. They carefully study and plan exactly what needs to be burned. When difficulties come against us can seem like things are out of control, "I lost my main client, was diagnosed with this illness, the pandemic, inflation, gas prices", it feels like a wildfire, but can I encourage you? You're in a controlled burn. God has you in the palm of his hand. He sees what you're going through. He knows who hurt you, what you didn't get, what wasn't fair. He wouldn't have let you get in the fire if he wasn't going to bring you out of the fire. The good news is: you're not going to come out the same. The enemy meant it to stop you, but God only allowed it so he can promote you. The fire is a sign that you're about to bloom, you're about to blossom, you're going to discover talent, potential, favor that you've never seen.
Don't believe the lies that the fire is out of control, "You'll never get well, you'll never meet the right person, never get out of this trouble". That fire is coming to an end. Before the fire ever started God set the boundaries, he planned how long, how much, how hot, the strategy. That's not a random fire, that's a control fire. The enemy is not in charge of your life. He cannot do whatever he wants, you are God's property, you belong to the Most High. He created you, he breathed life into you, he planned your days for good. And yes, we all go through the fire, but God has a comeback for every setback, healing for every hurt, mercy for every mistake. You're not doing life on your own.
In the scripture Satan wanted to test Job, but God had a hedge of protection around him. He couldn't just go and put Job into fire, he had to ask God for permission. This shows us that everything is a controlled burn. The enemy can't touch you without God's permission. Job was a good man, he honored God, but he went through all this trouble: lost his business, lost his health, lost his family. He got so discouraged, he sat down among the ashes. His wife said, "Job, just curse God and die". She was very encouraging. At one point Job got his passion back, he looked up to the heavens and said, "I know my redeemer lives". He was saying, "God, I trust you. I don't understand it, it doesn't seem fair, but I know you're still in control". God not only restored Job, gave him his health back, but he brought him out with double. Job had twice the sheep, twice the cattle, twice the joy. The scripture says (Job 42:16), "Job went on to live a hundred and forty years and enjoyed his children and grandchildren".
Maybe like Job, you're sitting in the ashes, looking at what you lost, what didn't work out, what you're up against. You could easily live discouraged, feels like a wildfire. The truth is: it's a controlled burn. God wouldn't have allowed it if you weren't going to come out better. There are seeds of increase, seeds of healing, seeds of destiny that are about to open. Yes, it was unfair, but when you come out on the other side like Job, stronger, healthier, more confident, you're going to say, "Look what the Lord has done". There was freedom in the fire, there were new levels in that fire.
David said (Psalm 66:12), "We went through the fire and you brought us to a place of great abundance". Notice, the abundance is on the other side of the fire. On the other side of the trouble, the breakup, the loss is an abundance of joy, an abundance of strength, an abundance of resources. The fire is necessary to see the fullness of your destiny.
When my father went to be with the Lord back in 1999, I was thrown in the fire. I didn't like it, my whole world was turned upside down. My father and I were best friends. I'd worked with him for 17 years, now he was gone. Everything felt like it was out of control. But looking back now I realized: it was a controlled burn. I was uncomfortable, I was disappointed. What I couldn't see is there were seeds of my destiny opening up in that fire. Seeds that had been locked up in that cone: gifts, talents, that would have lied dormant without the heat. I didn't think I could get up in front of people, I'd never ministered before, but I discovered ability that I never knew I had. When my father passed, I suddenly had the desire to step up and pastor the church. I never wanted to before. For 36 years he tried to get me up here, then overnight it changed.
Some things can only be released in the fire. I wish I could tell you that you'll reach your destiny with just good breaks, good education, doors opening, people being for you, but that's not reality. God's use is closed doors, disappointments, betrayals, even loss. In one sense we've all been in the fire: the pandemic, people have lost loved ones, couldn't be together, business struggled, loneliness. But God wouldn't have allowed us to go in the fire if he didn't have something better coming. Don't water down your dreams, don't quit believing. This fire is a sign that new growth is coming. You're about to bloom, to see favor you haven't seen, doors open that you could never open, to go places that you've never dreamed.
"Joel, it didn't happen for me. I've been in the fire a long time, nothing has worked out". Don't judge your situation too soon - seeds of greatness. God has not forgotten about you. He sees you doing the right thing when it's hard, he sees you being good to people that are not good to you, he sees you taking the treatment, not complaining, raising those children, nobody thanking you. There's about to be a shift, a turnaround. You've been faithful in the fire, now you're about to see favor in the fire. You're coming into great abundance, great opportunities, great relationships, great fulfillment.
I was eight years old playing baseball with some friends in my backyard. The ball accidentally went over the fence into the neighbor's yard. They owned this German shepherd that was huge. He was the meanest dog ever created. If you looked at him, he would start to growl, show his teeth like he's going to tear into you. We were terrified of him, fortunately they kept him in a fenced in area in their backyard, a 20-foot square chain-link fence. Had my friends give me a boost and I looked over the fence. I could see the dog was in his cage looking the other way. He's about 50-60 feet away, I very quietly climbed over the fence, and I walked to the ball as gently as I could.
Right when I got to it, the dog turned and saw me. He jumped on his feet growling ferociously, he ran toward the gate bumped up against it, and it opened. Somebody didn't close it properly. I nearly passed out. He took off running to me 90 miles an hour, I took off toward that fence, the whole time praying the sinner's prayer "God, forgive me of my sins, I'm about to come see you". I got to the fence. I was small, about four feet tall, it was a six foot wood fence. I grabbed the top with one hand, all in one motion I jumped as high as I could, somehow I jumped over that six foot fence right before the dog got to me.
It's amazing what you can do when you're put under pressure. When the fire is turned up, seeds you've never tapped into begin to open up. They say "White men can't jump", that day I got off the ground y'all. You'll discover potential, courage, strength, creativity that only comes out in the fire. Now, you may not have an angry dog chasing you, maybe it's a boss that's hard to get along with. Or you're dealing with a sickness, a setback in your finances. What you do in the fire matters. How you respond in the pressure will determine whether you come out better or whether you get stuck. You're not going to understand everything that happens. Life's not always fair. Sometimes it feels like a wildfire, nothing's working out. You have to remind yourself: it's a controlled burn. God allowed that fire not to defeat you, but to promote you.
In the scripture, three Hebrew teenagers wouldn't bow down to the king's golden idol, and he was furious. He told them if they didn't bow, he was going to have them thrown into a fiery furnace. They still wouldn't bow. They could have been upset, "God, were doing the right thing, now we're about to be thrown into a fire. Why is this happening"? No, they understood this principle that it was a controlled burn. It looked like the king was in charge, the truth is: he was a pawn in the hands of God. God is not just in control of your life, he's in control of your enemies.
The guards tied the hands and feet of the teenagers up, and threw them into the furnace. That fire was so hot, the guards were killed. That should have been the end, but God won't let you go in a fire that he can't bring you out of. If it's not your time to go, you're not going to go. The king looked in the furnace window said, "Didn't we throw three men in? I see four men lose. One looks like the Son of God". What's interesting is the teenagers couldn't see the fourth man. The only ones that could see it were on the outside. When you're in the fire, you may not see what God is doing. You don't think anything's changing, nothing's improving, but you can be sure: the fourth man is in there with you. The beauty of our God is he never let you go in the fire alone.
The king couldn't believe it. He had been brought out. The first thing he said is: from now on, we're all going to worship the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Sometimes you go through the fire so other people will see the hand of God on your life. They'll see the cancer couldn't take you out, the bad break didn't defeat you, the betrayal didn't stop your destiny. The scripture says (Daniel 3:60), "The king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to much higher positions in Babylon". The enemy sent the fire to destroy them, but notice how God works: he turned it around, and used it to promote them.
Now you may be in the fire now, odds are against you, seems like the sickness, the trouble the bad break is going to limit your life. What you can't see is there's a fourth man in there with you. When you come out, people are going to see you in a new light. Seeds that have been locked up for years are opening up: seeds of promotion, seeds of influence, seeds of honor. We pray, "God, keep us out of the fire, it's hot, it's uncomfortable", but you can't reach your full potential without the fire.
The late 1950s my father was pastoring a growing church that just built a beautiful new sanctuary, held a thousand people. He was on the state board for his denomination. Life was good. My sister Lisa was born with something like cerebral palsy. The doctors told my parents she would probably never be able to walk or feed herself. They were devastated. My father went to a hotel down town to pray and read the scripture. He saw how Jesus went around healing people, how when you believe all things are possible. He came back to his church with this new message of faith and victory. He thought they'd be so excited, but it was just the opposite. Didn't fit into their tradition, their denomination. There was so much opposition, contention, he had to leave the church.
For years he had poured his heart and soul into those people. My mother had lifelong friends that never spoke to her again. He never dreamed he would be put out of his own church. He could have been upset, "God, why did this happen"? But I've learned: don't put a question Mark where God put a period. Some things we're not going to understand right now. The scripture says, "God makes all things beautiful in its time". Give it some time. My mother and father went out and started Lakewood with 90 people, on mother's day in 1959. Instead of the beautiful new sanctuary, they had an old rundown feed store that someone let them borrow. Had holes in the floor that they had to cover. People said it would never last, but 63 years later here we are still going strong.
But my father was very disappointed at the time, felt like a huge step backwards. But what looks like a setback, is really God setting you up. When you get in the fire, it's because new seeds are going to come to life, new talents, new opportunities. My father couldn't see it at the time. Going through the rejection was painful, but if he would have stayed in that limited environment, he would have never blossomed. That fire was necessary so he could step up to who he was created to be. Don't fight the fire: there's favor in the fire. You may not be able to see it yet, but the fourth man is in there with you.
Today my sister Lisa is perfectly normal. God healed her, she's lived a healthy life. But think about this: if Lisa had not been born with that negative diagnosis, my father would have never read the scripture in a new light, which is why they ask him to leave. That's how he stepped into his destiny. What am I saying? We're not going to understand everything God does. Sometimes you get thrown in the fire, it doesn't make sense. You have to trust that God knows what he's doing. He's strategic, he can see things we can't see. There are seeds in you right now, potential that you haven't tapped into, gifts, talents, courage that can only come out with the heat, the pressure, the closed doors, the loss. It's uncomfortable, we don't like it, but the fire is not working against you, is working for you.
Moses was living on the backside of the desert in hiding. 40 years earlier he killed an Egyptian foreman, that was mistreating a Hebrew slave. He knew he was called to deliver the Israelites, but he got out of God's timing, and had to flee for his life. He was discouraged, felt like he missed his destiny. But one day out in the desert God came to him in a burning bush. He could have come to him in a cloud, very peaceful, at a lake, very serene. But God came to him in a fire. Moses went over to this bush that wouldn't burn up. What did God say? "Moses, you blew it, you've made too many mistakes, you've missed your destiny"? No, God said, "I haven't forgotten what I promised you. You're still going to deliver the Israelites. You're still going to lead my people".
That fire was saying, "Moses, you're about to blossom, you're about to see new gifts, new opportunities". Like Moses you may think you've missed your chance. If you'd only made better decisions, been more disciplined, it's been too long now. Those seeds are still in you. You may have given up, but God has not given up. Didn't work out the first time, God sent me as your burning bush: it's going to work out the next time. You haven't seen the best part of you. There are seeds our Creator put in you, that he's been waiting to open: blessings, favor, promotion. The enemy tried to use the fire to stop you: failures, mistakes, but he miscalculated. He thought it was a wildfire, that he was in charge. The truth is: it was a controlled burn. God is going to take that fire and use it to propel you into new levels of your destiny.
A friend of mine was raised in a very rough environment in South America. Eight years old he saw his grandfather get into a fight and stab someone to death. That spirit of violence and anger came on him. As a teenager, living in the Bronx, he was always in trouble. In and out of jail, he was arrested one time for shooting at a police officer. He ended up in prison, facing a life sentence. He had 18 counts against him. Everything you can imagine: drug trafficking, violent crimes, theft. It looked like that was his destiny. Sometimes we're thrown into the fire, and it's not our fault. We didn't choose the fire, it's what we were born into, it's how we were raised. He called his mother and said he needed a book on spirits, he thought someone had put a curse on him. His mother called this lady that was involved in the occult, she sent her son a book. He opened it. Much to his surprise it was the Bible. He was furious. He didn't have anything to do with God.
The next morning he picked it up and began to read it, couldn't put it down. He read the whole New Testament in three days. That night he got down on his knees, said "God, if you're alive like you say you are in the Bible, then come into my cell and save me, and I'll serve you the rest of my life". He went to sleep. 5:30 in the morning he heard a voice calling his name, "Salvador". He woke up, looked around, nobody was there, thought he was dreaming. Went back to bed, heard it again so clearly "Salvador". He said, "I'd taken so many drugs in my life, I knew I was going crazy". The third time he heard the voice, he realized it was God calling his name. His life was forever changed. By the grace of God he only served four and a half years. Today he's pastor Salvador sabina, a great pastor in the Bronx. He went through the fire, now he's on fire. He goes all over the world telling his story.
The scripture says (Isaiah 43:2), "You'll go through the fire, but you won't be burned". There are things that have come against you that should have stopped your destiny, but the fourth man was in the fire with you. Even when you couldn't see him, even when you weren't making good choices, even when you were running, he didn't let the fire take you out. The enemy meant it for harm, he thought it would stop your purpose, he didn't realize: you are God's property, you belong to your Creator. He's been watching over you your whole life.
And friends, the fire comes to us all: things we didn't ask for. I can't promise you that you'll never have fire, but I can promise you that you're in a controlled burn, that God knows what he's doing. That pressure, that heat is causing your seeds of greatness to open up. Don't fight the fire, there's freedom in the fire, there's new growth in the fire. When you're under pressure: recognize, God's up to something. You may be dealing with things now that you don't understand, but God said he's going to bring you through the fire without the smell of smoke. You're not going to look like what you've been through.
When the teenagers came out, not a hair on their head was burned. He may not keep you from the fire, but he will make you fire proof. My challenge is: stay faithful in the fire. God hasn't failed you in the past, he's not going to start now. I believe and declare: like Job, you're going to come out of the fire with double. Like David said into great abundance, new doors are about to open, negative situations are turning around. Healing is coming, breakthroughs, promotion, the fullness of your destiny, in Jesus name. And if you receive it, can you say amen?