There’s More to Life Than This: An Interview with Brian Houston

“There Is More for Your Life”: An interview with Brian Houston, global senior pastor of Hillsong Church and author of the brand-new book, “There Is More: When the World Says You Can’t, God Says You Can.”
Christopher Cook / March 25, 2018

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” That’s the power of belief. And it’s so much greater than positive thinking. It’s a deep-seeded sense of personal significance; significance that will be the breeding ground for determination, focused effort, perseverance, and a commitment to become your best for those that matter most in your life. You see, life, ultimately, isn’t about building something. Instead, it’s about building someone.

Perhaps you’re reading these words with glossy eyes and a heart beaten-down by disappointment from the past, thinking, not for me. It’s too late. And worse, I’m too late. But allow me to counter by saying this: there is more for your life than whatever you’re currently facing. And even if you’re already living a success-filled life, there is more.

How do I know this to be true? It’s the story of my life.

And more specifically, it’s the story of Brian Houston, global senior pastor of Hillsong Church, whose reputation and success are as equally profound as the scars he bears; scars that tell a story of God’s faithfulness in crisis; God’s provision in heartache. Yet his scars don’t masquerade a life characterized by victim-hood, but instead, prove the reliability of a God Whose promise is simply this: there is more.

It’s from that phrase that Brian’s new book, There Is More: When the World Says You Can’t, God Says You Can (2018, WaterBrook), emanated. I sat down with Brian to discuss his new book through the lens of personal growth, intentional living, leadership, and dealing with the pain of disappointment. What follows is a candid glimpse of the new book, but more specifically, the heart of its author, whose passion in life is to see the potential of people maximized.

CC: Pastor Brian, you’re recognized around the world, certainly as the global leader of Hillsong. You’re one of the most encouraging voices I’ve ever known. I’d love for you to talk to us about your passion and focus for people to live successful lives and then what led you to write your new book, There Is More.

BCH: Thanks. The reason I wrote the book is to inspire and encourage people to believe that God has so much more for them. I’m a huge believer in the potential of people, and I want to do all I can to encourage people to step-up and be everything He [God] has called them to be. When I think of “more,” I think of more opportunity, more possibility; everything that relates to the will of God in a person’s life.

CC: Where does a “there is more” life begin for each of us? In other words, the notion is that it isn’t a platitude. It’s a deep level shift in our spirit and belief system.

BCH: What this book is not about is more stuff, more things, or even more money. It’s not about that. It’s really about people understanding that we’re on a journey — a journey of life — and it’s far from over. And so, as long as someone is still alive, God has a tremendous plan for them. And it’s based upon Ephesians 3:20 (MSG), which says “God can do anything, you know — far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” I fundamentally believe that God is working in us and that by pursuing Christ, we enter into the “more” the He has for our lives. My own life, and my wife, Bobbie’s life, is a perfect example of God doing exceedingly, abundantly above what we could ever ask or think.

CC: For years, I’ve listened to you speak about the difference between growth and health. Healthy things not only grow, they flourish. As you mentioned, this message isn’t about accumulating more stuff. It’s about experiencing health and wholeness in every area of life so that we experience convergence between passion and gifting. But there’s one other aspect that trumps both: calling. Can you unpack that for all of us? How do we recognize calling and step into it?

BCH: I think so many people lived saved. They’re Christians. They go to church, tithe, and read the Bible, etc. But there’s one verse that always challenges me, and it’s 2 Timothy 1:9, where in that one verse, it says He saved us and called us and purposed us and graced us. And so, I believe He saved us for purpose, called us for purpose, and graced for purpose. It’s one thing to live saved. It’s another thing to lived called. When you live called, there’s a sense of responsibility. There’s a belief that whatever it is that God has called a person to do, whether it’s business or just raising a family, that we’re on Earth for purpose; that we weren’t just saved for Heaven but saved for now. And I love seeing people get ahold of the fact that they have been called for a purpose — and then live it out.

CC: I suppose the second part of the question is this: quite honestly, we’re inundated by a “do it yourself,” build your platform, celebrity culture, where everyone is their own PR agency. Where does self-awareness and feedback from trusted leaders come into play? How do you receive feedback in your own life? How do you stay self-aware? And then as leader to so many, how do you give feedback? How do you help others become more self-aware so that they can become their very best?

BCH: I guess one of the great things about being part of a local church is that you do tend to get feedback in one way or another from leadership and I think it’s absolutely critical. As we move ahead in life, God puts people in our lives to mold us and shape us so that we can become who He [God] has called us to be. For me, the local church is absolutely the best way to do that. When the local church is functioning well, functioning properly, it tends to be a factory for leadership. It’s like Jethro and Moses in the Bible. Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law, and his position in Moses’ life enabled him to tell Moses when his leadership was unwise. And then he was able to give him direction to get on course with everything that God had for him. I feel like we all need that in life. The potential of a person is huge, but if we’re alone and isolated, we’ll never see all that potential come to pass.

CC: I want to talk about disappointment and even despondency. I really believe one of the greatest challenges we will face in life is our ability to navigate through disappointment. How have you developed a strong spirit; a resilient spirit in the face of major crisis? And then, how would you encourage us to do the same?

BCH: One of the chapters in my book is called “Appointment and Disappointment,” and to me, it’s an important chapter because number one, we talked about calling already; we talked about being “appointed.” Literally, the prefix “dis” means to go in the other direction, so disappointment is literally taking us away from appointment. And I think the devil would love to do that with everyone. He’d love for us to live with such disappointment that we’d draw back and miss-out on staying in line with our God-given appointment. They say discouragement is the single-greatest reason people leave the ministry (or whatever they’re called to do). There’s no doubt disappointment is part of life. But it’s our ability to navigate disappointment that is so important. I feel the key is knowing the strength of the call of God in the first place. When you have a sense that God’s hand is on your life and that He has a purpose for you, you find a way to get back up off the ground and keep going. I would encourage everyone to be aware of the potential of disappointment (getting us off-course, giving-up, etc.) and that we would just refuse to allow that to happen. And then live with such a sense of vision and calling that no matter what knocks you down, you’ll always find a way to get up and keep going.

CC: This is where a deep-seeded sense of hope comes into play, correct? As we said, this statement of “there is more” isn’t simply a mental assent. This is something so deep inside our belief system; in our spirit, correct? It’s like Proverbs 18:14 says, “…but a weak and broken spirit who can raise up or bear?”

BCH: We can live a certain amount of time without food, a lot less time without water, but we were never ever created to live without hope. And again, I think the devil would love to rob us of the “more” that God has for us by robbing us of hope. Hope is so powerful. And when it’s mixed with faith, we start seeing incredible miracles in our lives. Hope is something we really need to protect in life. If it’s deferred, the Bible says that our heart will become sick. And obviously, the heart is our core, it’s our engine. And if our heart is sick, our work and our serving Jesus is going to be stuttering and sick as well.

CC: What are some really practical daily disciplines that you employ to keep yourself stirred-up and focused, even in the face of disappointment?

BCH: My days are quite unusual because I travel so widely and so constantly. And because of that, I’m not the type of person that has an absolutely regimented life. But I do take the time to do what I consider fundamentals in life. For me, one of the best times is on airplanes. I spend a lot of time with the Lord on airplanes. I spend time with Him whilst exercising, too. I think for everyone, this is so critical. Someone asked me, “How long does it take to prepare a message.” And my answer is usually, “So far, 64 years and a few hours,” because I think that’s how life works. Our whole life is a preparation. A very presumptuous leader is one who never prays or spends time with God. You know, being a husband and a father, you have to live with certain disciplines. And certainly, being a pastor, too. Discipline is never an issue if we’re committed enough to change. And if you want something to change enough, you’ll find the discipline.

CC: This message of your book, There is More, isn’t simply positive thinking or self-talk. It resonates from you. Speak to cynics and even those who’ve been disillusioned by a painful past about what it takes to bring health back to your spirit and soul so that the truth of God’s Word is almost reflexive in our beliefs, thoughts, and actions.

BCH: Obviously there is a devil. And he will do anything he can to bring cynicism or doubt or discouragement into a person’s life. I think life is a choice. And we have to make the daily choice that we’re not going to allow any of those things to dis-appoint us; take us off course. When I was in Bible college, our principal said to us, “Whatever happens to you in life, never develop a wounded spirit.” Way back then, I made the choice that I was not going to live with a wounded spirit. It’s the best choice I’ve ever made because it is journey working through loss and pain. But I can honestly say that at the age of 64, there’s not a single person that rules my spirit in a negative way. And I think that’s one of the great keys to longevity in ministry. The Bible says to be filled with all the fullness of God. But if we’re filled with other things, baggage and so on, then we can’t have that fullness of God which leads to His exceeding, abundant life of blessing.

CC: Pastor Brian, what’s the most difficult challenge you’ve ever faced as a leader, as husband, a dad, and a man? And how did you come out of it being able to say confidently, “There is more for my life than this.”?

BCH: Growing-up in a ministry home, my father was my pastor. But in 1999, I received the horrible news that many years prior, back in the 1970’s, my father abused children and was basically a pedophile. And for me, that was devastating. I lost my hero. But I also had to deal with (and address) things that I never ever thought I’d have to deal with as a pastor and especially as a son. The way I came out of it, to be honest, was very, very difficult. But what I didn’t do was look after myself. And so, for the next 12 years, I went on a slow spiral emotionally, which is something I never believed could happen to me because I wasn’t “that guy.” But eventually, it got to the place where I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.), which for me, was very helpful, because it gave me a reason for the way I was feeling and where I was at. It all came to a head with a massive panic attack 12 years after I found-out about my dad. I didn’t even know what was going on. It’s a long story, but I got help and came out of that remarkably quickly, in fact I think miraculously. The whole situation made me a softer, more mellow person; more compassionate towards other people. The fruit of it has made me a better leader. But it was a horrible journey. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’d encourage everyone that no matter what comes our way in life, if we live knowing we’ve been saved, graced, and called for purpose, God can bring us through anything.

CC: In your book, you wrote that dreaming can be a lonely place. For every creator, leader, entrepreneur, and dreamer out there, give us a battle plan to not give-up when things get hard or even impossible.

BCH: The first chapter in my book is all about dreaming. Holding onto your dream and not allowing it to be diminished by life itself is critical. Firstly, the environment you’re in is so important. Hang around other dreamers. Be around people who are also dreamers; who encourage dreams and not discourage dreams. So many people are threatened by a person who lives life with a big dream because of the lack of a dream in their own life. There will always be candidates to attempt to dislodge us from our dream. But if that dream is strong enough, it’ll sustain whatever comes against it (like it was with Joseph in the Bible). It comes down to the strength of the dream that you have. Are you easily knocked off-course? Most dreams don’t come to pass in five minutes. It’s time. It’s a process. So be in an environment with peers and friends where dreams can flourish. Dreams have an incredible capacity to come to pass.

CC: What might people not implicitly understand about how obedience in the little things and even compromise in the little things affect our future success?

BCH: There’s no doubt that compromise and taking shortcuts — taking the easy road — is a temptation. There’s a joy in living your life being able to say, “I’ve run my course, I’ve finished my race” like the apostle Paul was able to say. Compromise is a possibility and a temptation every day of our lives. It may sound trite, but you just have to want what you want enough to decide that “this is my calling” and “this is where I’m going.” This is why friendships and relationships make a huge difference because there will always be voices trying to get us to find an easier way, to compromise. It comes down to this: who’s speaking into your life? Who do you open your heart to when compromise is a temptation? And again, if you want something enough, you will find the discipline to see it through.

CC: My favorite statement in the book is this: “Attention brings retention — you can’t retain what you don’t contain.” What does that mean for our lives?

BCH: We need to make sure we build our lives with all of the right things inside of us, that we build our lives with a sense that “I want to retain all that God has for me.” The idea of living our lives from wholeness means there are a lot of things we have to protect in our heart and spirit; there are things we must give our attention to. As we decide to do that, God comes to our side and helps us hold onto what He has for us. He gives us the wherewithal to develop the qualities necessary to step into His plan for our lives.

CC: Last words: speak to those who might feel like giving-up at this point in life.

BCH: One of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill is when he said, “never give up.” And I think giving-up is a choice, just as never giving-up is a choice. Living your life with a sense of calling and purpose, that there is more, will enable you to step-up and embrace that which God has for your life. In 1993, I sat and wrote the dream that I saw. I described the church I desired to pastor. It was audacious and kind of crazy. And today, by God’s grace, it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is the church that we pastor. Two or three years ago, when our church turned 30, I re-wrote it to say, “the church that I now see.” And it’s just as audacious. People around me have adopted that. If you have the sense that God’s hand is on your life and that you’re here for a reason, sit down with a pen and paper; take a whole afternoon or as long as it takes and pen what you’re believing for in your life. I do believe it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and that one day, you’ll testify to the grace of God, the goodness of God, and that you can live genuinely saying, “there is more.”

In my conversation with Pastor Brian, the clarion call to each of us is this: make the choice to live your life on purpose. The seeds you are sowing now will not necessarily be harvested in your lifetime, but they will live on deep within the hearts and lives of generations to come. Proverbs 13:22 (The Message) says, “A good life gets passed on to the grandchildren.” The point is, live beyond yourself and beyond the short-term. You might not consider yourself to be creative, talented, or innovative, but I assure you that you have something to contribute to the people in your life. Every life-promoting choice, word, and action collects interest in an account that will pay dividends in the future; dividends that testify to this phrase: there is more.

Christopher Cook is the primary writer and host of “Win Today with Christopher Cook,” a weekly podcast devoted to helping worn-out, stressed-out, and unsuccessful people design their roadmap to wholeness…from the inside out. You can subscribe to the podcast on any platform here. Additionally, he is a featured contributor on SUCCESS Magazine’s digital platform.