Joyce Meyer is one of America's most popular evangelists, reaching millions via her television show and best-selling books. Known for her tough-talking preaching style, she has challenged listeners to "grow up" as Christians. Her multimillion-dollar Joyce Meyer Ministries is active in evangelism and aid work worldwide--it is currently involved in tsunami relief--but has also been criticized for financial impropriety. Meyer spoke with Beliefnet about her recent books, "Seven Things That Steal Your Joy" and "In Pursuit of Peace."
Many of your viewers remark on your no-nonsense preaching. In one of your books, you say the "truth hurts sometimes." What painful truths do people need to hear?
Individuals need to be willing to face truth about their attitudes, behaviors, even what we want out of life. Jesus said if you know the truth, the truth will make you free. We always delight in telling everybody else the truth about them, but we often have a difficult time facing the truth about ourselves.
I'm only going to stand before God and give an account for my life, not for somebody else's life. If I have a bad attitude, then I need to say there's no point in me blaming you for what's wrong in my life.
A lot of times, people make other people responsible for their joy: "You're not making me happy, you're not doing this, you're not doing that." I found out just in the past two or three years that my personal joy is not somebody else's responsibility. It's my responsibility.
How can other people become responsible for their own joy? You talk about people "changing their mental channel." How can they do that?
Your joy comes from how you think, the choices that we make in life. You know, I'm dealing with somebody right who's spent a lifetime making bad choices. Now they don't like the result of their life, so they want to put the responsibility on everybody else to take care of them and make them happy.
If you want to have sustained joy, you have to not only make sure that you think right, but you also have to make decisions now that are going to guarantee some joy in the future. One of the key things for people as far as joy is concerned is not living a selfish, self-centered lifestyle where we live our lives expecting everybody else to do something for us.
So we can find joy by not thinking about ourselves.
Right, by not being selfish and self-centered. There's such a push in our whole society today to take care of yourself, buy this for yourself, "you deserve it."
I used to be a very selfish, self-centered person. I was always mad at somebody because my life wasn't what I thought it should be.
The whole Bible rests on the principle of sowing and reaping. From the very beginning in Genesis, it says as long as the earth remains, there will seed time and harvest. If we sow into other people's lives--whether it's encouragement or helping them with a financial need or giving them a ride or babysitting or whatever we might have to give--then we receive a harvest of joy in our own lives.
One woman I know was extremely depressed. She talked to her pastor and was bemoaning her depressed state. He said, "I want you start X number of times a week baking cookies for somebody and giving them to them." Then she was like, "How in the world is that going to help my depression?" And he said, "Because you have your mind on yourself. You need to stop thinking about everything that's wrong in your life." And sure enough, just through starting to bake cookies for people, it helped her get her mind off of herself and her problems and then her joy level increased.
It seems like this idea of managing your emotions--changing your thinking patterns to become more positive--is popular among a lot of evangelists today. How do you think it differs from secular cognitive psychotherapy?
Being positive in thinking right is a godly principle. Even if a person doesn't attach God's name to it, if you operate on a godly principle, you're still going to get good results. There are people in the world who aren't necessarily Christians, but they're just naturally nice people who do a lot for other people. Those people will almost always be prosperous people.
When you say `prosperous,' what do you mean?
I mean that they're enjoying their life and their needs are met. And not only are their needs met, but they're able to reach out to other people. They like their life.
That doesn't mean they're getting everything they want but there's a total difference in having favor when you go places and getting promotions at work when promotions are available. People who live under God's favor just find a lot of good things happen to them.
We can't break these laws of the spirit and expect to be blessed. Even people who aren't believers in God can still operate on those principles. Positive thinking just helps you in general.
I was a Christian for a long time before I knew that my own thoughts were causing me problems. If I got up in the morning and thought, "I feel depressed," then I would just spend the day being depressed. I learned that I could literally change the way I felt by taking some positive action and not just letting my thoughts rule me.
You say it's a choice. Should people who are really depressed or who have serious anxiety problems try psychotherapy or anti-anxiety medications?
Each person has to be led by God for their own lives. I don't have any problem at all with going to the doctor [or] with taking medicine--I do both when I need to. But even if we go to the doctor or take medicine, we still have to trust God and lean on God to work through that avenue to help us. Jesus said in John 15, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." I happen to be a person that absolutely 100% believes that. Just being a positive thinker might help me, but putting my trust in God and asking him to help me think right thoughts, I'm going to get a lot more results than trying to do it on my own.
Could you talk about your Stand Up and Be Counted initiative, which calls for Christians to fight ungodliness in the government and the media?
Over the last number of years, ungodly people are trying to take God out of everything, a little bit at a time, whether that's taking "In God We Trust" off the wall or prayer out of the schools or "One Nation Under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. There just seems to be this huge push to get God out of everything.
I don't think even ungodly people realize what a society would be like that had no godly influence at all.
Well, absolutely horrible. All you have to do is look at what happened to Russia when it became Communist. I've been to Russia and there are literally people there who lived through that reign that don't even know how to smile. They have to take classes to get their smile muscles to work because they've had such sadness and sorrow in their lives.
There are societies where people don't naturally smile that much, as a cultural thing.
Well, God gave us a smile and I think we need to use it. I don't think it's a cultural thing. I think people can have such bad lives that they never learn how to smile.
Even if people were successful in getting God out of society--I don't think they ever will be, because you'll really not going to get rid of God--I don't think they'll like the results.
Going back to your books, you say even when you're thinking positively, life can't be filled just with things fun to do--but we can enjoy mundane things with the help of the Holy Spirit. How can that happen?
God wants to be involved in our everyday life. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he wants to be part of and invited into everything that we do. We need to let God out of the Sunday morning box that we try to keep him in.
When you really make a commitment to let God get involved in everything, he begins to get involved in even simple things, like how you dress or what kinds of movies you see or who you have for friends. God cares about everything I do.
We get him involved in the everyday things of life and then that ordinary life can become very joy-filled and even exciting. If I'm really praying and trust in God, I can go to the grocery store and God can put somebody in my path that needs a word of encouragement. I can tell somebody, "Hey that color really looks great on you," or "Boy, your hair is really pretty."
We need to have a mindset of letting God use us to make somebody else's life better. When we do that, then there's a joy released in us that we're not ever going to get anywhere else.
This sounds like Rick Warren's and Max Lucado's recent books, which say, "It's not about trying to make ourselves happy, it's about God using us for other people."Exactly. And there's a scripture in the Bible in Mark 8:34--I'm going to quote the Amplified Bible--where Jesus says that the cross God asks us to carry is to forget yourself, lose sight of yourself and all your own interests.
It's amazing if you just listen to people. They tell you all the time things that you can do for them, without even realizing what they're doing. I've learned to take notice of those things and if it's something that I feel God wants me to do, then I try to do that to add joy to their life. "What do I have here in my closet that is of no value to me that I can give to somebody else and really brighten their day?"
That's the biggest challenge that any of us will ever have: to really get up in the morning and say, "OK God, what can I do to help somebody else today, how can I be a blessing to somebody else?"