Joel Osteen — God Loves Imperfect People
When we don't perform perfectly, it's easy to think that God is far from us. "I blew it, God would never have anything to do with me". Have people ask me all the time, "Joel, will you pray for me? I know God would never hear my prayers, not with the life I've lived, the mistakes I've made". I say this respectfully, but sometimes religion pushes people down. It says if you turn your back on God, God will turn his back on you. If you make poor choices, don't expect God to bail you out. It was your own fault. No, the truth is when you fall, God doesn't turn away from you, he comes running towards you. When you blow it, God doesn't say, "Too bad, you had your chance". He comes after you with a greater passion.
I heard somebody say when you make a mistake, God doesn't love you the same. He loves you a little bit more, so much so that he pursues you. He'll turn up the intensity. He won't leave you alone until he sees you restored and back on the right course. In other words, God will express his love in a greater way. He'll send people across your path to encourage you, to help reignite your faith. Or maybe out walking through the neighborhood, you hear the church bells ringing. You feel a warmness on the inside. That's the mercy of God coming after you, saying, "You may have blown it, but you're still my child. You may have let me down, but I'm not going to let you down. You may have lost faith in me, but I haven't lost faith in you".
Friends, we don't have to have a perfect performance, where we never have a doubt, we never make a mistake, and certainly we should try our best each day to honor God, but what I'm saying is don't beat yourself up if you don't perform perfectly all the time. God loves imperfect people. Think about Peter. Before Jesus chose him to become a disciple, Jesus knew that Peter would deny him.
God knows every mistake that we will ever make. All of our days have been written in his book, from the beginning to the end. God knows every time we'll fail, every time we'll take the easy way out, every time you'll lose your temper, and the good news is God still chose you. He still says, "That's my child," and he'll still help you fulfill your destiny. Why? Because God's love is not based on our performance, it's based on our relationship.
When Jesus was about to be crucified, he said to Peter, "You will deny me three times before the rooster crows tonight". Peter said, "No, Jesus, I'm your most faithful disciple. I'll stick with you through thick and thin, to the very end". They arrested Jesus, and Peter was watching it all take place from a distance.
A young lady came over and pointed at Peter, and said, "He's one of his followers. I've seen this man with Jesus". Peter said, "No, ma'am, you've got it wrong, you're mistaken. I don't know the man". He denied him once. It happened a second time. The third time, the girl came over even more emphatically, said to the guards, "I know he's one of his followers. I'm certain that I've seen this man with Jesus". This time, Peter got upset, started cursing, swearing, "Girl, what are you talking about? You're making all this up. I've never seen the man".
Right on cue, the rooster crowed. Jesus looked over at Peter, their eyes met. You can imagine how Peter must have felt. When Jesus needed him the most, when he was at his lowest moment, if he ever needed a friend to stick up for him, it would have been right then. But Peter didn't do it. The scripture says Peter went out and wept bitterly. He felt ashamed. No doubt he was beating himself up, thinking, "Peter, what is wrong with you? How could I be such a coward"? Not long after that, they crucified Jesus. Peter never had a chance to make things right. He never had the chance to say, "Jesus, I'm sorry, I blew it. I promise you I'll be there for you next time". He had to carry the guilt, the heaviness of betraying his friend, the Messiah, whom he dearly loved,
And we've all made mistakes, we've all failed, but none of us have failed as big as Peter. None of us have denied Christ when he needed us the most, when he was about to be crucified. You would think that Peter would have missed his destiny. Surely God wouldn't have anything to do with him. No, when you make a mistake, God doesn't turn away from you, he turns to you. He doesn't love you less, he loves you more, he comes after you.
They crucified Jesus on Friday, and Sunday morning, Mary went to the tomb to check on his body. When she arrived, she noticed that the stone was rolled away. And the Angel appeared, said, "Mary, don't be afraid. Jesus is not here, he is risen. Now, go tell his disciples and Peter that he is alive". Out of all the people in the world God could have mentioned at this historic time, the only person this specifically pointed out was Peter. God was saying, "Peter, I know you think I'm disappointed in you and I'll never have anything to do with you. But Peter, that's not who I am. I'm the God of another chance. When you fall, I come running towards you. When you turn your back on me, I don't turn my back on you."
And on this resurrection Sunday, God is saying to all the people that have fallen, the people that have made mistakes, "I'm not only alive, but I still love you, I still believe in you. If you'll let go of the guilt and move forward, I'll still get you to where you're supposed to be". Now, you've got to do your part and receive God's mercy.
If Peter would have listened to the accusing voices and gone around beating himself up, he would have gotten stuck where he was. But I can imagine when he heard Mary say, "Peter, the angel specifically said to told you, that Jesus is alive," he said, "Mary, did he really call my name"? "Yes, he said tell Peter". Peter heard that, something igniting on the inside, he shook off the guilt, he shook off the self-pity, said, "I may have blown it in the past, but that doesn't have to keep me from my future. I'm still going to become what God's created me to be".
Not long after that, Peter went out and ministered, and 3.000 people came to know the Lord, the most ever recorded in the scripture. It would have never happened if Peter didn't understand this principle: God doesn't write us off when we make mistakes. God doesn't cancel our destiny because we've taken a few detours, and some of you today, you're kind of down on yourself 'cause you're not where you thought you'd be in life. You've made some poor choices, now you're letting the guilt weigh you down, and that heaviness is keeping you from God's best. But just like God specifically called Peter's name, he's calling your name today, saying, "Tell John, tell William, tell Ricardo, tell Shannon, tell Maria I've forgiven them. I'm not disappointed in them. I'm not withholding my blessing. I still have an amazing future in front of them". God is calling your name today. He's running towards you.
In the scripture, it talks about the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I can understand how he's the God of Abraham. Abraham is the father of our faith. I can understand how he's the God of Isaac. Isaac was extremely obedient, even willing to be sacrificed. But when it says he's the God of Jacob, that doesn't make a lot of sense. Jacob was a cheater. He went around deceiving people. He stole his brother's birthright. Jacob was known for making poor choices. Yet God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What was God saying? "I'm not just the God of perfect people. I'm not just the God of people that never make a mistake. I'm the God of people that have failed. I'm the God of people that have blown it. I'm the God of people that have had a rough past.
It's interesting, later in Jacob's life, he changed his ways and he got his life straightened out, and God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. That was to signify his new beginning. God could have been known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. That seems to make more sense. That was his new name once he was restored and redeemed. No, God on purpose left it as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to forever settle it that I'm not just the God of perfect people, I'm the God of imperfect people too.
Now, you may have made mistakes, but be encouraged, he's the God of Jacob, he's still your God. You may have lost your temper, struggle with an addiction, compromised your integrity. Don't beat yourself up, he's the God of Jacob, is your God too.
In the book of John, there was a lady that had been married five times. She was living with the sixth man. You could imagine the heartache and pain that she had gone through. I'm sure she felt beaten down by life, not really living, just existing, and Jesus was about to travel to another city, and told his disciples, "I must go through Samaria". They said, "No, Jesus, that's the long way. There's a shortcut, there's a much quicker route". They tried to talk him out of it. He said, "No, you don't understand, I must go through Samaria. There's a woman there that feels condemned. She's about to give up on life. I must go express my life. I've got to encourage her, get her back on the right course".
She was known as the woman at the well. Do you know the first person that Jesus revealed himself to as the Messiah was not the religious leaders, was not the priest and rabbi's synagogue, it was this woman? A woman that had made mistakes, a woman that was beaten down by life, an imperfect person, and that one encounter changed her life.
But too many people like her are sitting on the sidelines of life. They feel like they've blown it too many times, they've failed and they haven't measured up. Now, they're letting the accusing voices to convince them, that God's disappointed in them. You can't expect God's favor. No, you've got to get this truth down into your spirit, you may have made mistakes. God is not running from you, he's running to you. He doesn't love you less, he loves you more. He's expressing his love to you today. You wouldn't be hearing this if God wasn't reaching out to you. Now, get rid of the guilt, shake off the condemnation, quit thinking about what could have been, what should have been, and get back in the game. You're not supposed to sit on the sidelines.
Let me tell you, God is not disappointed in you. Nothing you've done is a surprise to God, and you've got to do your part and start moving forward. You can still fulfill your destiny. God's mercy is bigger than any mistake that you've made, and the scripture talks about how God searches the earth to show himself strong in people whose hearts are turned perfect toward him. It doesn't say that God's looking for a perfect performance. No, God is looking for people that have a heart that's turned proper toward him. That means if you get up each day with a desire to please God, if down deep you really want to honor him, then like Peter, you will have times that you fail. You wanted to resist, but you gave in. The good news is that does not cancel your destiny.
Your performance may not be perfect, but because your heart is perfect toward God, he still has something amazing in your future. No matter what you've done, don't go around beating yourself up. You can't change the past. Learn from your mistakes, but don't get stuck there. Keep moving forward, receive God's mercy. Be bold enough to say, "God, I blew it. I know I was wrong, I should have done better. But God, I know you're not holding it against me. I know you're not just the God of Abraham, you're the God of Jacob too, the God of imperfect people".
When Thomas heard that Jesus had risen from the grave and people had seen him alive, everyone was so excited. Everyone, that is, except Thomas. He was more practical, more logical. He said, "Guys, if you want to believe, that's fine, but not me. A man can't be dead for three days and come back to life. I'm not going to believe unless I see it with my own eyes. I want to see the nail prints in his hands".
Now, Thomas had spent just as much time with Jesus as the other disciples, yet they were full of faith. They were all believers. Thomas was full of doubts. He had all these questions, and one day, they were in a room together, and Jesus came walking through the doors. They nearly passed out, and what's interesting is Jesus didn't go over to Andrew and say, "Andrew, I made it". He didn't walk over to Matthew, give him a big hug. Jesus walked right to Thomas, bypassed all the people that had faith, and went to the one person in the room that had doubt.
He didn't say, "Thomas, what's wrong with you"? No, he said, "Thomas, I know you don't believe. I know you have doubts, you have questions, and Thomas, that's okay, I understand. That's why I came to you first. Now, feel the nail prints in my hand. Feel the scars in my side". Notice the pattern. When you have doubts like Thomas, when you blow it like Peter, when you fail like the woman that was married five times, we think God is so far away from us. It's just the opposite. God came to the people that have doubts, before the people that had faith.
See, we try to put God in this box and tell God who to save, and who to bless, and who to forgive, and who to heal. The longer I live, the more I realize, that God's ways are not our ways. God will save the most unlikely people. He will show mercy when we think they deserve judgment. Sometimes God will bypass the people with faith to go to the one person that has doubt. It's because God never writes us off. God doesn't judge us the way people judge. God understands when you make a mistake. He understands when you have doubt.
It's interesting, Thomas doubted this one time, and he became known as doubting Thomas. Probably wasn't a week or two of his life, yet people labeled him a doubter. The good news is God doesn't judge you by one mistake. We call him doubting Thomas. You know what God calls him? Believing Thomas, forgiven Thomas, redeemed Thomas, restored Thomas, amazing Thomas. What we don't hear much about is Thomas went on to touch all of India. He's credited as being the one that brought the good news to that entire nation.
Now, you may have struggled with an addiction your whole life, but know this. God is not judging you by that one setback. Get rid of that negative label. Maybe you've failed in business, blew a relationship, did something you're not proud of. Don't let that become your identity. Stop seeing yourself as doubting Thomas, addicted Thomas, undisciplined Thomas, failing Thomas. No, you've got to turn it around. Start seeing yourself as blessed Thomas, free Thomas, redeemed Thomas, successful Thomas.
Too often, we get our performance mixed up with our identity. In other words, you may have failed, but you are not a failure. That's what you did, that's not who you are. You are a child of the Most High God. You've been handpicked by the Creator of the universe. You may struggle with an addiction, but you are not an addict. That's what you did: that's not who you are. You are free, you are clean, you are restored. Now, don't go around dwelling on your past mistakes. Quit replaying all the times that you failed, the times you gave into temptations, the time you blew the relationship, the time it didn't work out. All that's going to do is depress you.
Just like you have a remote control to change the channel on the television, you've got to change the channel in your mind. You will not be free from guilt, you will not enjoy your life if you're constantly replaying the negative memories of your past. If you're going to replay anything, replay your victories, replay the time that you honored God, replay the times that you helped someone else in need. That'll change your perspective, and some of you today, you would go to a new level if you would just get good at changing the channel in your mind.
Few years ago, a young lady Named Rachel Smith won the miss America beauty pageant. She's a bright young girl and goes all over the world helping underprivileged children. Later that year, she competed in the miss universe pageant, and as she walked out on stage, during the evening gown competition, all by herself with millions of people watching around the world live on television, she lost her footing and fell flat on her backside. She was so embarrassed. She got up as quickly as she could and put a smile back on her face. The audience wasn't very forgiving. There were jeers and laughter and boos, very humiliating.
In spite of the fall, she made it into the top five of the competition. Her next task was to answer a question randomly chosen by the judges. She walked back onto the stage where she had fallen just a few minutes earlier. A judge picked a question out of the hat. Her question was, "If you could relive any moment of your life over again and do it differently, what moment would that be"? Here her most embarrassing moment was just 20 minutes earlier. How many of us would say, "Boy, I want to redo that. I want to relive that"? No, without missing a beat, she said, "If I could relive any moment of my life again, I would relive my trip to Africa working with the orphans, seeing their beautiful smiles, feeling their warm embraces". Instead of reliving a moment of pain, a moment of embarrassment, she chose to relive a moment of joy, a moment where she was making a difference, where she was proud of herself.
In life, we're all going to have times where we fall, embarrassing moments, unfair situations. I can assure you they will come up on the movie screen of your mind again and again. You got to get good at changing the channel. Put on your accomplishments, put on your victories, put on the times where you're proud of yourself.
I heard about this man that had a dream, and in this dream, he was in a large room kind of like a library, and there were file cabinets all around him from the floor to the ceiling, hundreds and hundreds of files. He walked over and opened a drawer, and they were full of index cards. He took one out and read it, and it had to do with his life, something that he had done. He soon realized the whole room was about him. Every thought, every word he had spoken, every action, both good and bad, were recorded on these files.
There was a whole section of everything that he had done wrong, the times that he lost his temper, the times he was unfaithful, the times that he cheated. His deepest, darkest secrets were all recorded in these files. His first thought was, "I've got to destroy these cards. I can't let anybody see them, I'd be so embarrassed". He went over and tried to tear up the card, but it was impossible. They could not be destroyed. As he sat there thinking about his failures and all the times he had blown it, he felt so ashamed, and about that time in the dream, Jesus walked into the room, and while he felt this incredible love, he also felt, "That's the last person I want to see. Now, I'm really ashamed".
Jesus walked right over to the files of everything that he had done wrong. He took a card out, and one by one, Jesus crossed the man's name off, and Jesus signed his own name, followed by the phrase, "Paid in full". The time you lied, crossed the man's name off, Jesus paid in full. The time you were unfaithful, crossed his name, Jesus paid in full. Before long, all the cards had been signed, and in the dream, this man said, "Jesus, you don't have to do this. This is not even your room. These are not even your mistakes". Jesus is smiled and said, "Don't worry about that. The price has already been paid. It is finished".
And friends, one message of the resurrection is your sins have already been forgiven. Because Jesus rose from the grave, every mistake you've made and ever will make already has that phrase written on the top of it, "Paid in full". The real question is, will will you receive God's mercy? Will you stop trying to pay a debt that's already been paid? You don't have to go around feeling guilty, feeling wrong on the inside, not excited about your future. God is running towards you today. He knew every mistake you'd ever make. He doesn't love you less, he loves you more. He's not just the God of Abraham, he's the God of Jacob. He's saying, "You may have blown it, you may have failed, but I'm not disappointed in you. I still love you. I still believe in you. I still have an amazing future in front of you".
Your performance may not have been perfect, but because your heart is perfect toward him, God's going to show himself strong in your behalf. My challenge, shake off the guilt, receive God's mercy, and I believe and declare today is a new day. You will rise higher, you will live freer, you will become everything God's created you to be, in Jesus's name.