Sun Stand Still
By Steven Furtick
“The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel.” (Joshua 10:13b-14)
Steven Furtick claims that these verses (and 12b-13a) form the core of what he calls a ‘theology of audacity’ (7). He goes on:
“You probably don’t have one of those yet, but it’s essential. In fact, if you ever encounter a theology that doesn’t directly connect the greatness of God with your potential to do great things on his behalf, it’s not biblical theology. File it under heresy. I’ll take it further: if you’re not daring to believe God for the impossible, you’re sleeping through some of the best parts of your Christian life. And further still: if the size of your vision for your life isn’t intimidating to you, there’s a good chance it’s insulting to God. Audacious faith is the raw material that authentic Christianity is made of” (7-8; paragraph breaks omitted, emphasis added).
At the heart of my review of this book lie two questions. One is theological, the other personal. First, is Steven Furtick’s interpretation and application of this verse from the book of Joshua fair, biblical, and orthodox? That is, why did God causes the sun to stand still, what is the theological lesson learned in the context of The Story, and what are we to take from it? Frankly, this question must lie at the center of our inquiry of any book whose author takes a passage of Scripture and develops an entire idea or principal of living around it—as Christian authors are fond of doing (even though the Bible was not written in a verse by verse vacuum). I ask this question of every book and every sermon I read or listen to. I’m not one who believes the Scripture can be used in a willy-nilly way in order to fashion any old or new idea or justification for an idea. (Many times, while reading this book, I thought, ‘This is little more than the Prayer of Jabez for a younger audience.’)
So I did some research on Joshua chapter 10, consulting some of the more significant commentaries that have been written [among them, Joshua, by Richard Hess (Tyndale OT Commentaries); Joshua, Trent C. Butler (Word Biblical Commentary); The Book of Joshua, Marten H Woudstra (The NICOT); and Joshua, Mark Ziese (CPNIV Comentary)]. What I wanted to know is if Furtick’s understanding and application of this prayer of Joshua is valid and not entirely outside the bounds of solid exegetical practice. The emphasis in each one of these commentaries centered around the idea that ‘God fought for Israel’ (Woudstra); of ‘God’s assistance to Israel’ (Hess); and of ‘God’s [provision] of victory for his people in battle’ (Butler). Ziese took another trail though focusing more on YHWH’s specific action noted in the text:
“Readers have the luxury of slowing down to contemplate the portents in the sky (hail, sun, or moon), but the narrator presents and altogether different reason for pause. The true marvel arises when an audacious prayer is coupled with a positive answer: ‘Yahweh listens’ or possibly even ‘obeys the voice of a man’” (Ziese, 222)
There’s that word, audacious. It shows up so much in Sun Stand Still that I was actually sick of reading it by page 21, but there it is—used in the same interpretive context, by another author, as Furtick uses it. Such a person who boldly comes before God with such a request is indeed audacious. What Ziese suggests is amazing about this chapter is not so much the audacious prayer, audacious though it may be, but the fact that God listened to a man!
The book of Hebrews says we are to boldly, confidently approach the throne of God with our prayers (Hebrews 4:14-16). Then there’s also this story in Matthew’s Gospel:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. (Matthew 8:5-13)
So there is a biblical theology of audacity or boldness and Furtick is careful to define what this means: “Audacious faith is based on who God is, what he’s already done, and what he continues to do” (120). Audacity of faith, worked out through the boldness of prayer in the throne room of God, is centered entirely on the person and character of God. Jesus, indeed, admired such boldness. And, furthermore, Jesus listened to the prayers of the audacious.
But is that the point of the story in Joshua? Is Joshua’s prayer, uttered during the course of an extermination program on YHWH’s behalf, to be used to fix broken relationships, secure financial provision, make career advancements, find physical or emotional healing, achieve important life goals, or to discover one’s purpose in life? (This is a partial list from Sun Stand Still found on page 37.) Frankly, it is difficult to square these ideas with the context of the Joshua prayer. There’s nothing wrong with those prayers (as the story from Matthew 8 partially demonstrates) but I’m just not certain that is the conclusion the author of Joshua wanted us to come to after reading this story—this story of the conquering of The Land. In other words, I’m not persuaded by Furtick’s use of the Joshua story—as if it were a mere outline for us to fill in with modern scenarios. There is far more going on in the story found in Joshua 10 than mere success in battle or overcoming obstacles standing in the way of important life goals.
The problem is: Centurion’s Servant Healed doesn’t make nearly as good a book title as Sun Stand Still.
The second question is personal: If Furtick’s thesis is correct and God does want us to be bold, audacious, and praying-like-a-juggernaut success stories, then why does it come so easily for some and not for others? (And why do those for whom it does come so easily always end up writing books about it?) Furtick provides plenty of answers to this question (especially in chapter 13 ‘When the Sun Goes Down’—which is a really good chapter in the book.) Ultimately, however, I found his answers unsatisfying and somewhat self-serving (He recounts the story of his ‘Aunt’ Jackie who told him one day after church, “Well, whether you believe it or not, it’s true. God always gets his, and I am praying that you’ll be one of God’s greatest instruments to get the Word out”, 168; audacious indeed!) Why God causes some preachers, even some Christians, great success and others great failure is beyond my imagination—and I’m not convinced, per Furtick’s argument, that it has anything to do with the sort of prayers we pray. I know plenty of faithful, prayerful preachers who are bold and unassuming and audacious who are mired in the morass of small church life, who pray for years and yet never see what Furtick describes in his book.
Here again is the difficulty: Furtick never talks about failure. That sounds negative and terrible, but it is the reality of life. I think the closest he gets to talking about failure is in chapter 14 (‘Pray Like a Juggernaut’) where he talks about Furtick’s Book of Dumb Prayers. He candidly admits, “Audacious faith doesn’t mean my prayers work every time. It means that God is working even when my prayers don’t seem to be working at all” (148). But what does this mean in a book full of stories about how his prayers have in fact succeeded every time? I’m not clamoring for ‘failure’ stories, but for those of us in the world and in the church for whom failure seems to be the way, the only way, God works—it’s a bit much to read of how one person’s prayers always seem to succeed. But that’s the point of the book, right?
We know a strange God according to this book. This is a God for whom prayer either doesn’t matter at all or for whom only the right kind of prayers matter. I haven’t decided which one yet is true, maybe I don’t want to. Maybe there’s a third option—the one that involves never seeing success, never tasting victory, and never seeing God ‘move.’ And maybe those prayers and the Christians who pray them are not heretics, but faithful in the way God has called them to be faithful. Or maybe we are just missing something.
Since to this point I have been mostly critical of Sun Stand Still allow me a minute to note just a couple of highlights from the book that add balance to my criticism. These are thoughts from Furtick that I believe are wholly justified and would be helpful to write down in your Moleskine for future reference.
- “Seizing his big purpose for your life is not just about figuring out what God wants from you and getting down to business. It’s about becoming intimately acquainted with who Jesus is. It’s about mining the depths of who you are in him.” (26)
- “How will God accomplish the impossible vision he has planted in your heart? By his grace—and through your willingness to sacrifice your life for the sake of Jesus.” (80)
- “The very sin you’ve been ignoring and minimizing may be the one that’s limiting your ability to rise to greater heights in God. The most powerful sin in your life is the one you haven’t confessed yet.” (135)
- “Prayer is the arena where our faith meets God’s abilities.” (153)
These are a few of the better sound-bites from the book. I’ll leave you to interpret them or apply them to your life.
There is a lot to admire in this book, and in the person of Steven Furtick. He seems thoroughly convinced of what he’s saying. Evidence of this is found in the prologue. When questioned by a friend as to whether he truly believed he would host a worship service in the same building where he had attended a U2 concert, Furtick replies, without so much as a hint of doubt, “Yeah. I did. I really believed.” The main problem I have with this book is its naiveté. Frankly, it reads like the journal of someone who has never experienced a setback or failure in his life (not that he has not). Furtick is the golden boy, charged at the ripe old age of 16 to be ‘one of the greatest instruments to get the word out.’ It’s hard to read this with enthusiasm knowing how hard it is for most preachers who struggle day in, day out, praying constantly for change that never comes to their small congregation. It’s hard to read this because in the back of my mind I constantly wondered: When is he going to tell us the reality of life on earth, that most of our prayers go unanswered? When a congregation is in the fight of its life to stay in possession of their building, after breaking away from the denomination, it is sort of difficult to understand why God was more concerned about whether Furtick’s church would take up space in a shopping mall.
That’s not a personal criticism, but a cold hard reality. In my experience, Furtick’s ideas and experiences are simply not the norm—maybe he wants them to be? So I wonder why this is true. Is it because those of us who haven’t had his success have simply not prayed the right prayers? Is it because we didn’t have an aunt or uncle who prophesied over us? Is it because we were unwilling to do something for Jesus? Is it because we are, gasp, the sort of heretics Furtick described in the opening salvo? Or is it because God gave only Steven Furtick the wisdom to figure out that Joshua, in fact, held all the clues to pastoral and Christian success? (Again, echoes of Wilkinson’s Prayer of Jabez.) It is difficult for me to read books that build a philosophy of discipleship on one prayer, from one book—especially when there is good cause to believe that prayer and the reason for it have been misinterpreted in the first place, as I do.
This is what troubles me most. I grant you this is personal and that may be unfair. Maybe, on the one hand, there are preachers in the church who can perfectly understand where Furtick is coming from and validate and justify his theology of bigger-is-better audacity. Maybe, on the other hand, there are preachers in the church who get so caught up in the everydayness of visiting nursing homes, preparing two or three sermons a week, preaching funerals, conducting weddings, visiting shut-ins, preparing worship services, writing letters, printing bulletins and newsletters, going to meetings, leading, etc., that they don’t have the time to dream as big as Furtick did and does—and maybe that’s OK. Most preachers, for better or worse, have time to pray, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread—that’s all I have time for.”
Most of the time, daily bread is enough.
*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
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