Thursday, 28 February 2013

Joyce Meyer, The Unexpected Preacher


When she was a child her father raped her. When she was eighteen she left home and got married to a womaniser, drunkard, and thief. When she was twenty three she was a divorcee, a single mother, and a bankrupt. Married again a year later, she described life with her new husband, David Meyer, as ‘a perfect storm’ because she was manipulative, moody and stubborn. And for the last twenty years millions have been listening to her sermons all over the world. 

Joyce Meyer is the unexpected preacher: living proof that God still chooses the ‘weak...the low...the despised’. Her success rests on three pillars: faithfulness to her calling; the support of her husband; and a down to earth and honest way of teaching the Bible.

Her calling: ‘You will go over all over the place and teach my Word.’

Joyce Meyer gave her life to Jesus Christ when she was nine years old. As a child her own family never went to church; but her cousins did and when she visited them one Sunday, Joyce was more than happy to go. She felt dirty and stained by the sexual attention her father forced on her. She was desperate for God. So even though the pastor gave no altar call that Sunday, she grabbed the hands of her two cousins and said, ‘Come on, we’re going to get saved!’[1] They appeared in front of the pastor who prayed for them to receive salvation. Joyce Meyer today testifies that she sensed the cleansing power of the Lord in her life that special day. But her early days as a Christian did not go very well, and there was certainly no calling.

Back home in South St Louis, Missouri the light of faith in Joyce was soon overshadowed by her father’s dark visits.
These increased as she entered her teen years. As soon as Joyce turned eighteen she left home and after a few months had married the first man who had shown any interest her. He was a thief and when Joyce got a job in the accountant’s department of a firm he persuaded her to write fake cheques which he would then cash. As a teenager Joyce had also stolen from her workplace, and now she was a partner in this crime[2]. Her new husband was also a womaniser and when Joyce told him she was pregnant, he marked the occasion by going to live with a mistress. Later he was arrested for writing his own fake cheques and he ended up in prison. Joyce got a divorce, became a chain smoker, and started having short flings with strange men. It seemed the flickering light of faith had been completely snuffed out.

But it hadn’t. The next year Joyce married a Christian man, David Meyer, and through the rubble of pain of her father’s abuse and her first husband’s adultery some fragile shoots of faith began to appear in her heart. She started to attend her husband’s Lutheran Church in St Louis. As the children came along, the Meyers seemed to be a very ordinary Christian family. There was nothing though in Joyce’s walk of faith that marked her as a future Bible teacher. The call had not yet come.

The call came in February 1976. Joyce was driving home from the hair dresser and in the car she shouted out a desperate prayer: ‘God, there has to be more. There must be something I am missing, because I see in Your Word that people live in victory, and I certainly do not have victory.’ She was shocked that God spoke back to her: ‘Joyce, I have been teaching you patience’. A few moments after that she was overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. Here’s her description: ‘Someone...opened me up and poured liquid love into me.’ And it was not long after this that Joyce was called to become a Bible teacher.
Her experience with the Holy Spirit sent her to study the Scriptures with new zeal. She believed the Holy Spirit was teacher her personally, and believed she was called to share what she was learning with others. Indeed she believed God spoke to her these words: ‘You will go all over the place and teach My Word.’

For more than thirty five years Joyce Meyer has been faithful to this call, even though the journey from being a Bible teacher to small groups to having her own international ministry has not been easy. Joyce Meyer started her ministry as a preacher by holding a small evening Bible study for about twenty five people in her home for her Lutheran Church, and an early morning one for mainly her work colleagues at Miss Hullings restaurant in down town St Louis. People enjoyed her studies, but there was no lift off in terms of the ministry growing. In fact as the months went by things became more difficult. There were problems with the church. Women leading Bible Studies was not normal for the Lutheran Church, and after a while the pastor asked Joyce to stop her teaching. She refused, and David refused to follow the church line. First they were relieved of all responsibilities in the church; then they were asked to leave. The next church they joined was charismatic with an insecure pastor who did not believe women should teach the Bible. Without having a sense of peace they could move, Joyce and her husband stayed with this church, till it eventually closed down because nobody was coming. Another difficulty the Meyers had was finance. After starting her Bible teaching Joyce felt God wanted her to stop her secular work so she could focus more on studying the Scriptures. This meant a severe dent in the monthly income. Joyce thought there would be abundant provision, but there wasn’t. Often there was no extra cash for the smallest luxury. The most important difficulty lay within Joyce herself. Not surprisingly given her background there were some inner issues: plenty of anger, a definite tendency to blame others rather than herself, and a lot of her own perfectionist goal setting. Divine carpentry was going on, there was painful chipping and cutting, but Joyce remained faithful. She refused to turn back on her calling.

She was right not to give up. For when Joyce and David joined their next church, the Life Christian Church, in 1982, her ministry grew to a new level. After a few weeks, Joyce agreed to teach a Bible study. One hundred and fifty people came to her first meeting. Soon she was attracting between four to five hundred women a week to her meetings which she held three times a week. And she was appointed as the Associate Pastor of the church. Her journey had turned a corner. One year later Joyce went on radio and her sermons were soon being heard on six radio stations from Chicago to Kansas City. Joyce Meyer deeply appreciated the solid support she had received from Life Christian Church, and especially the mentoring give by her pastor, Rick Shelton, but in 1985 she believed it was God’s will for her to launch out with her own independent ministry. It was called, ‘Life In The Word.’

The new ministry had plenty of challenges. There was there was no money. To get around the team had to use an old van with bald tires; they couldn’t afford motel rooms so could not travel too far from home; sometimes there wasn’t enough in the offering for the team to eat after the service. Another challenge was the size of the congregations. They were not huge. For several years the average number coming to a Joyce Meyer meeting was between fifty to seventy five people. And another challenge was cancer. Out of the blue Joyce was diagnosed as having aggressive breast cancer in the autumn of 1989 and she had to have a radical mastectomy as soon as possible. No money, no congregations, and now cancer. Some would have given up. Joyce Meyer remained faithful. During her bout with cancer she had times when she was gripped with fear, but ultimately her faith grew stronger and she emerged determined to be the preacher she was called to be.

In 1993 Joyce and her husband raised funds to purchase TV air time for a weekly Bible teaching programme. This was the step that saw Joyce fulfil the calling she had been faithful to since 1976. People liked her – a lot. Funds flowed in to support her and soon the weekly programme became a daily one being broadcast not just all over the USA, but all over the world. Her largest presence is in Asia. Here her programmes are beamed into eighteen countries. God’s word to her has proved true, she teaches ‘all over the place’. And there is good response. From India alone she gets over ten thousand letters a month. Her success as a TV Bible teacher has been matched by her success as an author. The woman who left school at eighteen and never went to university has written more than fifty books, some of them appearing in the New York Times best-seller lists.

Gone are the days when less than a hundred turned up for a Joyce Meyer meeting. Now when she speaks at conferences, which she often does, the venue needs to be big. Thousands come. They enjoy the teaching, and Joyce enjoys teaching. And she can look back and be grateful that through all the early hardships, she stayed faithful to her calling. Back in 1976 she believed God was calling her to preach, and she has stuck to that. Her life is a challenge to us all to be faithful to what God has called us to do.

The support of her husband, David Meyer

Her life is also a challenge to husbands and wives to support their spouse if they are called to ministry. For Joyce Meyer without David Meyer would not be the Joyce Meyer she is today. He nurtured her bruised faith back to life; stood by her when she started off as a Bible teacher; and today is responsible for the accounts of a very large ministry.

The role of supporting Joyce Meyer wasn’t always easy because in her early twenties she was a woman full of rage. A sea of anger swelled near the surface of her heart, fury at the way she had been treated by her father and first husband. She would call herself Christian as her commitment as a nine year old had not been forgotten, but there was little or no evidence that she was a follower of Jesus. And she was certainly not all Christian sweetness towards her new husband, David. She would dictate the details of the day; flare up if things didn’t go exactly how she wanted them to be; and refuse to talk to him for days when he annoyed her – usually when he was being very passive, or when he was trying to have normal marital relationship with her. This went on for six years. And through most of that time David kept on loving. And in the context of that covenant love and his example of exercising Christian disciplines like tithing and praying, so David Meyer nursed back to life the wounded faith of Joyce Meyer. And this meant she was talking to God when He overwhelmed her that day in the car when she was coming back from the hairdresser.

David Meyer stood absolutely at the side of his wife when she began her Bible teaching ministry. This was not something all men would have done. First of all there was the teaching of the church he had attended all his life which was against women Bible teachers; then there was the family. In the 80’s the Meyers had four growing children. David could have argued that they needed a mother, not a Bible teacher. There was the issue of financial pressure. If Joyce went into ministry, there was a question over how the bills were to be paid; added to that there was the fact that Joyce was a terrible worrier over money. In the evening David would be fooling around with the children, while Joyce sat at the kitchen table, pouring over the bills, and then she would storm in, infuriated that the rest of the family were having such a good time and demand what he was going to do about it. He would just shrug his shoulders and this would make her more annoyed. There was the question of his pride. Not all men find it easy to see their wife in the spotlight, getting praise for a job men usually do. And finally there was the question of her attitude to him. The bottom line for many years, even after they were in full time ministry, was Joyce Meyer did not really respect her husband as she should have done. He knew this, so he could have argued: since she does not respect me as the Bible says she should, why should I support her as a Bible teacher. But he didn’t. He stood by her and slowly but surely God dealt with Joyce’s attitude to him.

And when Joyce decided to start her own ministry, David not only encouraged her, but took care of the money side of things. So when Joyce believed they were called to move into TV, it was David who started contacting supporters for funds to come in. And they did come in. As the ministry has grown so he kept on looking after the accounts, a crucially important aspect of Christian work, for without proper book-keeping, a ministry cannot survive, however charismatic or popular the lead speaker is. David’s thoroughness in this matter was put under the spot-light in 2007 when Senator Grassley launched a government investigation into several high profile TV evangelistic ministries, including Joyce Meyer’s. The Senator demanded a detailed report on the ministry’s expenditure to assess whether it was the legal for the charity to enjoy a tax exempt status. David Meyer responded in time and in full to the enquiry and the charity was not found guilty of any wrong doing.

Joyce Meyer’s success: faithfulness to her calling; the support of her husband; and...

A down to earth and honest way of teaching the Bible

Around the world there are Joyce Meyer addicts. If they cannot watch her, they record her. Why? Because she communicates the hope of the Bible message in a down to earth way. She is easy to understand. And she is not at all flashy like Benny Hinn with his special suits, nor does she sweep onto the stage in extraordinary white dresses as the last famous female Bible teacher, Kathryn Kuhlman, did. She just walks on, dressed smartly, not exotically. Because she does not present herself as a glamorous super star, millions of ordinary women can identify with her. She then talks to you, almost as if you were in her kitchen in the same working class St Louis accent she’s had all her life. There is humour, but she is no comedian, because as soon as she starts speaking there is a definite conviction that she has a serious message she wants to bring. Like a practical house-wife you feel she has a job to do and she does not want to waste time. It is this down to earth, no nonsense approach, which appeals to millions around the world – especially women. 

And they can easily follow her because she has prepared well. It is true she now speaks to crowds of thousands, but she is really doing what she started doing all those years ago when she met other Christians in Miss Hullings Restaurant in down town St Louis. She is giving a Bible study. Her audience also like her teaching because her messages are very practical. She is giving good solid advice from the Bible about how we can live happier lives. She deals with behaviour and she often focuses on how Christians need to discipline the way they think to deal with all the negative thought patterns that can drag people down. She would plead guilty to teaching positive thinking techniques, because – quite rightly – this is what she finds in her Bible. As Christians we are ultimately meant to think positively.

There’s one other thing that makes her a brilliant communicator: she is very honest about her life. Again, it’s as if you are in her kitchen and so very naturally we start to hear about what has been happening about the house. And it is not all sweetness. So we hear about how horrific her childhood was, we hear about her struggles - and this attracts. It is real. She is a down to earth housewife with flaws – just like us, but she has a message from God. It is treasure in an earthen vessel. The vessel just makes the treasure that much more attractive. And we think, well, if this message worked for somebody like Joyce. It can work for me.




[1] See ‘Joyce Meyer, A Life of Redemption and Destiny’ by Richard Young, published 2009 by Whitaker House, page 16. Much of the detail of this article is based on this book.
[2] Years later Joyce went back to the company she had stolen from and confessed her crime. The directors accepter her apology and repayment. 

2 comments:

  1. She is a down to earth woman of God

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love this story. To see how far God has brought this woman is an inspiration to all of us. At times when all we have left is God, He is all we need!

    ReplyDelete

Followers