Two years ago, I was sitting in a Panera pouring my heart out to my pastor. At the time, we owned a business and it was failing. I wanted someone to commiserate and pray with.
In late 2012, my wife and I decided – after what we thought was thorough planning and much advice and prayer – to open a business. It took nearly all our savings (bad idea) and a $250,000 Small Business Administration loan to get the doors open, but in April 2013, we took our first customers.
Business took off right away! By the end of the first month, we were one of the top franchisees in the system. Revenues were ahead of our projections, but so were our expenses. It was truly amazing how fast we were burning through our cash reserves!
The Beginning of the End
We were nearly out of money by the end of the summer so we applied for – and got – another $150,000 in SBA follow-on financing. This, in conjunction with equipment financing from another source would be enough to get us to profitability…or so we thought/hoped.
That first amazing and exhausting spring and summer melted into a tepid fall and a frightening winter. Customers were coming few and far between. And while we knew the business was seasonal, we had no idea just how seasonal – especially at the beginning!
We hoped the upcoming spring and summer would help us recover and maybe even put us into the black for the first time.
But, alas, after many long, hard days, it was fall again. And while the influx of customers slowed the bleeding a bit, the debt payments we had to make every month just became too much. As we headed into the winter of 2014, it seemed the proverbial writing was on the wall.
Something Out of Nothing
I was reminded of this chapter of my life this morning as I ruminated on the story in Ezekiel 37. My Bible subtitles it, “The Valley of Dry Bones”.
God takes the prophet Ezekiel to a huge valley where he is surrounded by old, dry bones. Bones probably from an old battle fought years ago, or maybe from an old graveyard; who knows? The point was these bones had no life in them – no muscles to make them move, no tendons to hold them together, no structure.
Then God askes Ezekiel a leading question: “Can these bones live?”
Ezekiel’s response surprises me. He said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” I don’t think I would’ve responded in such an insightful way; even though I accept it as a true statement.
The story continues as God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and tell them to come to life. Ezekiel obeys and, as he says the words, he begins to hear the bones rattle all around him. He watches as this valley of random bones is assembled into human bodies – a vast army of living, breathing human beings.
Once again – out of nothing – God created life. Out of broken, useless, worthless and forgotten bones, God brought life.
Renewal Out of Despair
And he did the same thing to me in the winter of 2014.
As it became obvious the business was beyond saving, I dug into God’s word. I started by reading one chapter of Psalms every day. After I read, I would pray for understanding and guidance; for an answer to our situation.
Throughout December and January; into February and March…I read, I prayed, I confided in friends and family. And we prayed and prayed…and prayed some more.
And the business continued to decline. We started having to pull money from our savings and non-business credit sources just to stay afloat.
But in April, we started hearing the bones start to rattle. We watched as God gathered the bones in our valley, put them together with tendons and muscle and breathed life into them.
At the end of June, we sold the business in a deal that made no business sense for the buyer. $650,000 in debt gone in one day. More than a year of worry and 2 years of struggle over with a few strokes of a pen.
But what’s even more precious to me is the work God did inside of me during that time in the valley. The dry bones he raised to life in me personally.
He developed the discipline of a daily Bible study and prayer time. He built a desire to know him more fully and live more completely for his glory. He taught me of his love, his providence and his sovereignty.
Our relationship became personal again. Intimate. Essential to my life.
Hope in the Darkness
So if you have struggles – big or small – take them to the creator of the universe. I have no idea what the outcome of your situation will be. Maybe it will be a miracle like mine was. Maybe not – I still have unanswered (yet) prayers too. Your answers and mine are wrapped in God’s sovereignty and providence and will come in the right way at the right time.
But in the waiting time, let me encourage you to dig into God’s word. Continue, even re-double, your efforts in prayer. Talk with your pastor and Christian friends and ask them to pray.
Be faithful and dig into God in the waiting and he promises he will meet you where you are and meet the deepest needs of your heart (Jer 29:11-14).
If we, as earthly mothers and fathers love our children and would do anything in our power to help them in their time of trouble, how much more do you think an infinitely powerful Father in Heaven wants to do the same for his beloved children (Matt 7:11)?
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