“The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
I stood in my kitchen late one night after another incredibly long workday and begged God to let me close my business. When I first opened the store, I knew without a doubt that I heard God’s direction to do so. Now, after almost two years of struggle, I was working two jobs and bringing no salary home from my business, and neither was my wife. I felt like I was failing my employees, my community and, most importantly, my family. In the dark stillness of that moment, I “heard” a pregnant silence from God. He communicated directly to my heart without words: “You can close your business and you will not be in sin, but you will forfeit what I have in store for you.”
I trusted that God was using me in his great plan, but I was beginning to wonder how this was all going to work out. I assumed that God wanted success for me. Now I was wrestling with what seemed to be the impending collapse of my business… and the possibility that it was God’s plan for it to fail.
One thing was for certain: I did not expect that following Jesus into business would look like this.
Years later, my business is still alive and continues to get healthier. I am so thankful that God led me down this path. I have grown tremendously from the struggles of entrepreneurship and I know I have gained much more than an income from it.
I am also very aware that most growth happens through difficulties and facing failure.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV)
“…but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that sufferings produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
When any disciple-turned-entrepreneur sets out to change the world with business, he needs to know that just because God loves him doesn’t mean that his business will succeed. In fact, God’s love for him may be the very reason he has to struggle through various difficulties. Failure is a very real possibility and God can use failure to accomplish great things. I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t waste pain.” I would say that God doesn’t waste failure, either, if we will remain teachable.
If I found myself sharing coffee and advice with this disciple-turned-entrepreneur, it would sound something like this:
This thing you’ve set out to build, this business you’ve planned for and prayed for, will not turn out like you thought it would. Guaranteed.
Even apart from the “God factor,” the best-laid business plans are just hypotheses about how an entrepreneurial endeavor will shake out. You can forecast, budget, and vision-cast all you want, but the future is going to hold what it is going to hold and you’ll simply have to deal with it when you get there. As the pieces come together, you’ll find that your building blocks may not fit together like the picture you were studying. That’s OK. After all, you’re an entrepreneur, not a fortune-teller. (Unless you own a fortune-telling business.)
Factor God back into the equation and things get even more unpredictable. You have your plans for your business and he has his. Your primary goals are about profits, market share, product development, and customer satisfaction, whereas his may be sanctification, trust, compassion, and humility. You may define your business as successful when your retained earnings are healthy; he may see success when your deficient bank account drives you to prayer and dependence.
Here’s a scary thought: what if God’s plan for your business is for it to tank?
That statement sounds like heresy to the American Christian. What about Jeremiah 29:11? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (NIV)
What is God’s definition of “prosper”? Did the apostles prosper when they were executed or exiled? Paul would say so: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain… I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:21, 23 ESV) Did Jesus prosper when he was crucified? Mankind prospered through salvation as a result of the cross. God prospered by gaining glory as a result of the cross. We know that Jesus eventually prospered by returning to his original glory after being crucified and resurrected. However, he was still murdered and Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane lets us know that he would have appreciated a different ending to that story.
What about Romans 8:28? “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV) You already know my response to this verse – what is God’s definition of “good”? Time and time again, Proverbs shows us that wealth does not always lead to good things. Maybe God sees your brokenness as a greater good than your financial success.
Get a vision for your life that is bigger than bank accounts and your definition of success will change.
God is not necessarily determined to see your business fail. He does not find pleasure in inflicting pain on you. Perhaps God’s will is for your business to thrive and become a success story in the eyes of our culture. One thing is for certain – whether God’s definition of “prosper” or “good” is accomplished through the success or failure of your best-laid plans, he will be sure to use your circumstances to accomplish his will, according to his plan for the world. You may be an entrepreneur, but he is the ultimate Entrepreneur and he has a plan that is unfolding, one generation at a time. While your business will not turn out as you planned, his plans are guaranteed to be fulfilled exactly as he intended.
Allow God to redefine your understanding of success and help you find incredible joy in the role your plans play in his BIG plan. After all, this story really is about him… and not us.