By Gentry Stanley & Micah Stanley, JD
Adverse fortune or fate; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity or distress. An unfortunate event or circumstance. A crisis. Trouble, affliction, opposition, pressure, anguish, testing, catastrophe, disaster, misery and loss. It is greater than our ability to resolve and it usually comes in multiples—it is adversity.
If you are in business, chances are you have been struck by adversity—especially during the great recession of 2009. Still today, even with hopeful signs of economic recovery, millions of Americans remain out of work. Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the percentage of the U.S. workforce out of a job or underemployed in November of 2009 was 17.2 percent. Housing prices have plunged 30 percent, leaving one in every four homeowners with mortgages worth more than their residences.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is the long-term joblessness. The ranks of the long-term unemployed have swollen from 18 percent in December 2008 to nearly 40 percent in November 2009. The longer people are out of work, the harder it is for them to find a job.
IHS Global Insight, a leading company for economic and financial analysis and forecasting, said in its Top 10 Economic Predictions for 2010 that the risk of a “hard W” (double-dip downturn) is still uncomfortably high. In other words, 2010 could be a continuation of 2009, meaning more economic adversity. Clearly, we have been, and remain, in a crisis.
Adversity can be our strongest motivation for growth or our deadliest source of discouragement and defeat. The difference depends on our understanding of God’s purposes for adversity.
Getting Our Attention
The Roman historian Livy said, “Nothing stings us so bitterly as the loss of money.” When we are stung by a bee, all of our senses, our total concentrated focus, is on the intense pain. Pain is one of our greatest protectors. Without its sharp and persistent warning, we would be likely to fatally injure ourselves without even realizing it. When adversity comes, we are suddenly faced with problems and pressures (pain) too big for us to resolve. In times like these, when things get really bad, we perhaps begin to pay close attention.
When I examine clients’ businesses, I often find huge sums of revenue have been mismanaged, incorrectly categorized or simply lost due to lack of attention paid to the numbers. This sort of financial injury is preventable through sound accounting and by working to learn where all the inflowing money ends up. Similarly, many managers I have encountered over the years have been completely oblivious to the disgruntlement of their employees. How can you hope to run a successful business if the people working for you don’t respect you?
Unfortunately, many seem to believe businesses can essentially run on autopilot; this is a false belief. In order for an airplane to navigate through turbulent weather, it needs a competent and alert pilot at the controls. Ask yourself how much you really know about your business. Have you been following the critical variables closely? Your business will grow and improve through the worst of times only if you pay very close attention.
Demonstrating His Love
The very idea of God conjures up hope in us. According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, not surprisingly, a full 92 percent of Americans claim a belief in God. “So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out […] This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training.” Hebrews 12 (The Message).
This is a hard sell. It is difficult to recognize God’s love when it comes to us in the form of discomfort. This is because our lists of priorities as business men and women often have money at or near the top, whereas God’s foremost desire for us is that our character—our moral and spiritual center—be refined. Thus, God’s “chastening” may appear, at first glance, vindictive. However, if we simply turn and recognize that God only wants the best for us, we can face life’s challenges with confidence that every hardship moves us closer to success. “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 (TEV).
Have you put yourself in a position to receive God’s blessing? Have you asked yourself the hard questions concerning fear, greed and pride? Have you evaluated your character, moral standards and ethics? Do you keep your word? These are all foundational issues typically left in the background of our daily lives. However, especially in times of great adversity, having the right answers to these questions can be essential to survival. For example, an overabundance of arrogance often results in hardship. “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18 (KJV).
Rather than looking honestly at ourselves and our businesses on a regular basis, we tend to coast when things are going well. It often requires a time of great adversity for us to take the time for careful self-examination. In my work, when a business owner or manager is required to acknowledge his or her true condition, the evaluation most often leads to some very surprising conclusions, because the self-evaluator had never before taken the time to look closely at his own behavior, his own attitudes and his own habits. As adversity brings with it a need for self-assessment, the critical feature most of us lack is a willingness to change.
The ability to adapt to new problems and situations often determines success or failure. A few years ago, I analyzed a business jointly owned by three partners. The company was facing bankruptcy. Two of the partners wanted to file, but the third saw the possibility of survival by changing a few aspects of his business. So, he jettisoned the other two partners and undertook the hard work of rebuilding and reshaping his company. The company grew into a thriving business due to one man’s willingness to change.
Revealing Our Weaknesses
The harsh reality of a recession is that many companies do not survive. Some shut down for lack of sales. Some are sold to larger businesses. Whatever the reasons, companies lost to recessions tend to have something in common—they lack profitability due to a variety of inner weaknesses.
In the same way exercise builds muscle and tones the body, adversity must move us to improve our business systems and develop new methods of operation. Adversity requires that we inspect and test our work. A wise man built his house upon a rock and the rain descended (to test the roof) and the floods came (to test the foundation) and the winds blew (to test the structure) and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. You already know the other half of this story: A foolish man built his house on sand; the rain descended, the floods came, the winds blew and the house crumbled, “and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27.) In the midst of adversity, it is easy to see those portions of our businesses and lives resting precariously on unstable sand. This enables us to seek the appropriate guidance and assistance to rebuild the foundation.
Reminding Us To Pray
A recent issue of Business Week had just three words on the cover: Buy? Sell? Pray? That cover demonstrated the sense of helplessness currently pervading much of American society, particularly business. The sad truth is, when life is easy, we don’t pray—at least not earnestly. Only in times of hardship do our own inadequacies drive us to our knees; and God answers prayer. Prayer provides the great benefit of adjusting our attitudes to humility and courage. Prayer also promotes innovation coupled with resourcefulness. “…if any of you lacks wisdom, he should pray to God, who will give it to him; because God gives generously to all.” James 1:5 (TEV).
In modern America, where God is all but outlawed in the workplace, our day-to-day troubles and the ups and downs of fast-paced business tend to blur our perspective. The truth is, God loves us. The truth is, trying times make us stronger. The truth is, when this recession is over, we will be better for it. As the Archbishop of York said last year, “All of life is religious and there is a desperate need to reconnect the sacred and the secular. There is no more urgent time than now to break down the compartmentalized thinking that separates trust in God from the world of work.”