the shape of leadership

Seeing Past the Setback

God is still at work, and your story isn’t over

Kent Ingle on February 4, 2019

A friend confided in that every part of his business seemed to be falling apart. What once had been a thriving endeavor had seemingly turned into a dead end. His client base was drying up, the leads were almost non-existent, and he wasn’t even sure he had it in him to continue to press on down the same path.

Those are always hard conversations. I never really know what to say. I want to help, but it’s difficult for people facing trials to make sense of anything in the midst of the chaos. When what once brought you a lot of joy becomes the source of your pain, it can be a struggle to figure out what went wrong. I’ve been there. There are no easy answers.

We talked for a bit. I did my best to encourage him and offer some ideas. I even made a few phone calls later in the day, trying to connect my friend with people I thought might benefit from his services, but nothing came of the effort.

A few months later, I received a text message from my friend saying he wanted to talk. The tone seemed urgent. I had a few minutes before catching a flight, so I immediately called him back. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was hoping he had some good news to share.

My friend explained that he had hit rock bottom right after our meeting. He was sitting at home wondering what his next move would be when the phone rang. It was a prospect he had been working for months. He had a random conversation with a connection in a different industry who was looking for someone to do the kind of work they had discussed.

Over the next few months, my friend picked up new client after new client. He discovered there was a whole new client base who needed his services. It never occurred to him to consider this other business space before. In fact, business was so good my friend was in a position to start hiring back some of the people he had to let go just a few months earlier.

When you lose your grasp on predictability, cling to God’s promises and presence.

I couldn’t have been happier for my friend. We agreed to meet again. And this time, he promised to pick up the tab.

As I got on the plane, I realized what had just happened. My friend only saw the setback at first. What he didn’t realize at the time was that this setback wasn’t the end of the story. Something bigger and better was just ahead.

Often in life and ministry, what you think is going to bring you down for good is helping you refine your motivation and intentions and gain clarity for the journey ahead. Of course, that doesn’t make it easier when you’re going through it.

The fact is, change can be tough — and frightening. For that reason, most people strive for predictability. Yet when things are shifting at a rapid pace, predictability is the first thing to topple. What we need in that moment is a reminder that this is not the end of our story, that God is still working in and through our circumstances.

Romans 8:28 assures us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And Philippians 1:6 says, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

When you are wondering what your next step should be, James 1:5-6 provides this guidance: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

You don’t have to know what tomorrow will bring when you know the One who is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). When you lose your grasp on predictability, cling to God’s promises and presence. They will be your anchor in the storm and keep you from drifting on the sea of uncertainty.

If you’re facing a setback, don’t just look at your circumstances; look for God to do something big. He has not abandoned you. Jesus said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

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