"What the heck is going on in' my life?" Does that express your life? If so, read this chapter from my book Upside the Adversity.Visit www.upsideofadverdity.com for more.eigh in on the discussion.
Chapter 1 – Upside of Adversity, by Os Hillman
You Have a Joseph Calling
So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit.
Genesis 37:23-24, NASB
A man in a dark suit ushered me into the luxurious sitting room of the penthouse suite. The windows of the room afforded a panoramic view of the buildings and monuments of Washington, D.C. “He’ll be with you in a few moments,” the man told me. Then he left me alone with my thoughts.
“Lord,” I prayed silently, “I’ve come more than 600 miles from Atlanta to spend just a few minutes with the man I’m about to meet. I hardly know anything about him. I made this appointment on the basis of hearing an audiotape of a speech he gave. But Lord, I know You placed that tape in my hands for a purpose. Whatever you want me to learn from this man, please open my ears and enable me to hear it.”
A few minutes later, two men entered. One was tall and stately, with an accent that seemed neither American nor purely European. The other man was somewhat heavy-set and spoke with a Swedish accent. His smile was warm and genuine. He put out his hand to take mine. “Hello,” he said, “I’m Gunnar Olson.”
I recognized his voice from the tape. J. Gunnar Olson—founder and president of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC)—was a busy man. He was making final preparations for an international conference of the ICCC that very night. Even so, his manner was relaxed and unhurried. He introduced the other man, James Lockett, a member of the ICCC board.
The three of us sat down. It was late afternoon, and through the windows of the suite I could see that the skies over Washington were deepening toward evening.
“Tell me about yourself, Os,” Gunnar said.
I briefly sketched in my story. For 20 years, I had been a highly successful advertising executive. My list of clients read like a Who’s Who of the corporate world: American Express, Steinway Pianos, Parisian Department Stores, ADP Payroll Services, Peachtree Software, and on and on. I was active in my church, and I led a men’s Bible study. People thought I was the model Christian businessman.
But something had happened to change all of that. Two years earlier, beginning in the spring of 1994, I had experienced a series of catastrophic personal and business setbacks that destroyed my marriage and left me financially ruined. The past two years had left me feeling defeated as a Christian.
“To be candid, Mr. Olson,” I concluded, “I’m not even sure why the Lord has led me here today. I don’t know how you can help me. I only know that I feel like a complete failure. I’ve failed as a businessman, as a husband, as a father, and as a Christian. I know this sounds terrible to say, but it’s true: I feel that God has abandoned me.” With that, I fell silent.
Gunnar Olson and James Lockett looked at each other—and laughed!
I was prepared for just about any reaction to my story, but this response took me completely off guard. I had poured out all the pain of my shattered life before them—and they found it amusing?
My shock must have shown on my face, because Gunnar quickly turned to me and said, “Os, please don’t be offended. We’re not laughing at your pain but at the amazing way God works. James and I are simply astounded that the Lord keeps bringing people to us who have stories like yours! I tell you, Os, it’s uncanny!”
“You mean, you know of other people who have gone through an experience like mine?” I said. “I’ve been feeling as if I were the only one!”
“Oh, you’re hardly alone, my friend,” Gunnar said. “In fact, your story fits a pattern so common that I have a name for it: the Joseph Calling. Os, you’re not a failure. God has placed a Joseph Calling upon your life.”
“What’s a Joseph Calling?”
“Put simply, this is what it means: Like Joseph, God calls some leaders to experience extraordinary levels of adversity in order to accomplish extraordinary things through them. Why? Because He knows that adversity builds character and produces wisdom in the life of a leader. God will use this adversity for good in your life and in the lives of others. That’s the principle of the Joseph Calling.”
Gunnar then reminded me of the Old Testament story of Joseph, an innocent man who suffered misfortune and mistreatment, betrayal and false imprisonment. Yet it was those very experiences of adversity that prepared him to become one of the greatest leaders of the ancient world. I knew the story well—but it had never occurred to me to apply the lessons of Joseph’s life to my own trials.
The moment I saw my adversity through the lens of the Joseph Calling, my perspective changed completely. I stopped seeing myself as a failure, abandoned by God. I realized that God had been dealing with me the same way he had dealt with Joseph. My losses, setbacks and trials had all been allowed—and even orchestrated—by a wise and loving God. Yes, Satan was also to blame for a failed marriage because God is never behind a marriage failure. Even so, God was preparing me for a larger role in leadership than I could ever imagine.
My first encounter with Gunnar Olson and the Joseph Calling took place in July 1996. Since then, I have discovered that everything Gunnar told me was true: There are thousands of Christians today who have the Joseph Calling upon their lives. They are entering, enduring or emerging from a time of terrible adversity—and God is preparing them to for the challenge of godly leadership.
Why We Are Called to Adversity
When Gunnar Olson first explained the Joseph Calling to me, it was as if the scales fell from my eyes. I saw my life from a completely different perspective. I no longer viewed myself as a failure, rejected by God. I realized that God was still at work in my life, just as he was at work in Joseph’s life throughout his trials. Once I realized that God had placed a Joseph Calling upon my life, all of my trials and losses began to make sense.
Adversity builds strength. Consider the butterfly. It begins life as a caterpillar, a wormlike larva that spins a cocoon for itself. For weeks, the larva remains hidden within the cocoon as it undergoes metamorphosis. When it’s time for the butterfly to emerge, it must struggle and fight its way out of the cocoon. Watching this struggle, we might be tempted to help by tearing open the cocoon—but that’s the worst thing we could do. A butterfly that is not allowed to struggle will emerge in a weakened state, unable to fly. Butterflies need adversity to become what God intended them to be. So do we.
The Book of Job is probably the oldest book of the Bible, written even before Genesis. It’s the story of a wealthy and successful community leader named Job. He was the Bill Gates or Donald Trump of his day—a fabulously successful businessman with huge holdings of livestock and real estate. He was also a deeply righteous and devoted follower of God.
Job 1 tells us that one day Satan came before God and God asked him, “Where have you come from?” Satan replied, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” In other words, Satan had been wandering the earth, trying to stir up trouble, misery and sin among human beings.
God said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Notice that God pointed Job out to Satan! God practically painted a bull’s-eye on Job’s chest!
Satan said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
And the Lord replied, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
So Satan went out and proceeded to put poor Job through a trial of adversity. Job’s herds were stolen, his servants were murdered, and all of Job’s children were killed by a sudden tornado. On hearing the news, Job tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on his face before God, saying:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised (Job 1:21).
God didn’t directly cause Job’s losses. God didn’t personally destroy Job’s herds or kill Job’s children. But God did point Job out to Satan, and He did give Satan permission to bring these losses into Job’s life. In the process, Job undergoes a kind of Joseph Calling experience. Through his trial of adversity, he grows in strength, wisdom and faith. His entire perspective on God is transformed by his suffering.
We must get beyond the immature notion that God is only interested in making us healthy, wealthy and happy. God wants so much more for us than that. He wants us to be wise, mature, obedient, bold and committed. He wants us to be like Christ. And the road to becoming like Christ often leads through the wilderness of adversity.
My Own Joseph Journey
I founded my own advertising agency in 1984. The next 10 years were boom years for my company, and I became nearly financially independent by the age of 42. Throughout these years of success, my Christian faith was important to me. I operated my company as a Christian witness, and I maintained a high standard of integrity. Our company was named The Aslan Group, after the lion Aslan, the Christlike-figure in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
At the same time, I was experiencing deep problems in my marriage. Although my then-wife and I told few people about our problems, we were in counseling throughout our married life. We visited a number of counselors, seeking a solution to our problems. Finally, in March 1994, my wife decided that it was time to separate. After three and a half years of separation, the marriage ended in divorce. My only daughter was now a teenager.
We had just bought a thirteen-acre estate and were drawing up plans for our dream home. It was an idyllic setting, complete with a peaceful, meandering stream and a pasture for our horses. The house would sit on a hilltop. Just down the hill from the site of the house, we constructed a four-horse barn with an apartment upstairs. We planned to live in that apartment while the house was being built.
It was just after the barn and apartment were completed that my then-wife gave me the news that she wanted a separation—and that she and my daughter were moving into the apartment in the barn. I was devastated. I knew that we had serious problems, but I figured we’d eventually have a breakthrough in counseling and everything would be okay. Being a strong Christian, the word “divorce” was not in my vocabulary. Somehow, I reasoned, I’d find a way to change her mind.
Soon after the separation, I faced a series of ruinous crises in my business and financial life. First, our biggest client—one that represented 70 percent of our billings—decided to end our seven-year business relationship and fire us. To make matters worse, the client disputed a major campaign that we had just completed and refused to pay the bill—a little matter of $140,000!
Second, less than a month later, I noticed that I had stopped receiving financial reports from an investment company in which I had about $100,000 invested, both personal and business funds. It turned out that the company had gone out of business amid a flurry of lawsuits. Our money was gone—embezzled by one of the principals.
Third, a few weeks later, another investment company went under. This time, I lost about $200,000 of my own money plus a sizable sum that my widowed mother had invested on my advice. The guilt I felt over the loss she suffered was unbearable.
The fourth business calamity I suffered was especially painful because it involved a trusted Christian brother. He was the vice president of my advertising company, the man who managed our second-largest account. I had confided in him and prayed with him during tough times. Then one day, he came to me and said, “Os, I’m leaving to form my own advertising company.” It was a shock—but an even greater shock awaited me. A few days later, I learned that he had taken our second-largest account with him in violation of the non-compete agreement he had signed with me.
All of these personal and business calamities had befallen me within a space of a few months. Only a short time earlier, I had dreams, goals and forward momentum in my life. Now my dreams and my self-image lay shattered at my feet. I wondered why God had forsaken me. I couldn’t go a single day without breaking down and crying. Sometimes, while talking to a friend, I would choke up in mid-sentence and start to weep.
During the first year following the breakup of my marriage, I felt as if I were paddling a rowboat with ten holes while trying bail out the water. As I tried to keep my company from bleeding to death, I struggled to maintain a relationship with my 12-year-old daughter, who was hurting even worse than I was. There was a period of about three weeks where I seemed to lose my relationship with her completely, because her view of me was tainted by the influence of my estranged wife. For a while, I wondered if my relationship with my daughter would ever be restored.
My pain was so great that I questioned the existence of God. Paradoxically, I was also angry with this God whose existence I doubted. The more that went wrong with my life, the angrier I became. I blamed my wife, the investment companies, and my former business partner for these calamities and tragedies. I also blamed God.
I have learned that I have the kind of personality that demands to be in control. A controlling personality is usually driven by two forces: fear and pride. I lived with the fear that if I didn’t control every situation, I would lose control of my life. I hesitated to delegate important tasks and decisions to others because I feared that other people wouldn’t do things as well as I did. Most of all, I feared allowing God to have full control of my life. I realize now that my fear-based addiction to control was corrosive to my marriage.
I also had a problem with pride-based control. I had to maintain a good public image—the image of a successful, competent businessman with a strong Christian family. I couldn’t let anyone know that I was flawed or that I lacked competence in any area. I couldn’t bear the thought of people knowing that my marriage was failing, and my business was failing.
I tried desperately to reconcile with my wife, but she wouldn’t budge. I tried desperately to recover my lost investments, but that was a lost cause. I tried desperately to save my advertising agency from ruin—I cut the agency staff from 10 people down to one (me), but I still lost money. My life was tumbling out of control. For a control addict, there is no worse fate than that!
I had lost everything that meant anything to me—my marriage, my relationship with my daughter, my business, my wealth, my self-esteem, my dreams and my faith in God. What did I have left to live for? I even considered having a car accident so that my family could collect on my $500,000 life insurance policy.
My trial of adversity, which I call my “Joseph Pit” experience, began in March 1994 and lasted until March of 2001—exactly seven years, just like the seven years of famine in Egypt. During my trial, God sent a number of people to walk alongside me and help me understand what God was doing my life. At the end of those seven years, God restored me in all aspects of my life—and He gave me a whole new reason for living.
Your Own Joseph Journey
I’m writing this book because there are thousands of people going through a journey like mine. I’m writing this book because I know how it feels to suffer adversity and feel abandoned by God. You may be in the Pit right now, but realize that God is at work in your life, using your adversity to prepare you for an amazing future.
Over the years, I’ve found that very few people understand the Joseph Calling. Pastors don’t. Business leaders don’t. Well-meaning family members don’t. I didn’t begin to understand it myself until I walked into that Washington, D.C., penthouse and Gunnar explained it to me.
Now I take this message wherever I go. I share these truths through my speaking and workshops. Every time I talk about the Joseph Calling, people come to me and say, “I’ve never heard this before! I’ve felt completely alone with my pain! I thought God had turned His back on me!”
God used Gunnar Olson as a lifeline when I needed one. Now I’m privileged to see God using me as a lifeline of hope to others. I could never have had this ministry if I had not gone through the Pit of adversity. Today, I’m grateful for what I’ve learned through that experience of pain and loss. What looked like a Pit of despair at the time has become a launching pad for the ministry I have today.
What does your Pit look like? How deep is it? How wide? How dark? How painful? No two Joseph Pit experiences are alike. Yours may entail the loss of a career, financial setbacks, a crisis in your marriage, the loss of loved ones, the loss of your health, or any of a thousand other trials or calamities.
But one thing is consistent in every Joseph Pit experience: Your life is interrupted. You’ve lost control over your circumstances. You are cast upon a sea of uncertainty with a raft but no oars. For the first time in your life, you are forced to depend entirely upon God and others.
If that is how you feel right now—I want to give you hope for your future. God has selected you to embark on the journey of a lifetime. He has chosen you to join the select company of people like Job and Joseph, Daniel and Paul—people who have undergone adversity and have emerged as people of refined character and enlarged leadership ability. I want to give you the same message that God imparted to me through Gunnar Olson: You have a Joseph Calling upon your life. In this time of adversity, God is preparing you. He’s getting ready to use you in a mighty way. And He will turn your Valley of Achor (trouble) into a door of hope.
Questions for Reflection
1. How do you normally respond when you find yourself in a crisis of adversity? How would you like to respond?
2. What parallels do you see between the journey of Joseph and your own journey in life? What lessons or encouragement can you draw from those parallels?
3. What are your feelings as you reflect on the adversity that you are experiencing right now? Are you angry about the situation that you are in? With whom are you angry? God? Yourself? Your spouse? Other family members? People in your church? People in your business circles? Others?
4. What is the prayer of your heart right now? How would you like other people to be praying for you? Have you asked a trusted Christian friend to be your partner in praying for that need in your life?
Excerpted provided by permission. Upside of Adversity, Regal Books, copyright Os Hillman, 2006. Reproduction without permission prohibited.
Hi Penny and all others,
For your comments... On Sunday I went to church, the sermon about 'ask, seek, and knock', emphasizing God does answer prayer, and yet He wants us to perservere in 'asking', 'seeking', 'knocking', not just once.
I mainly want to share what I believe is a word from the Lord, a 'rhema' I believe it's called. On the handout for the sermon was a poem by a Confederate soldier. I read it of course, as I sharply focused on the sermon for guidance in my quest for God's will and yet grace to get through this desert of pain.
So what are the odds of the Confederate poem appearing to me somewhere else within a day of last reading it? I just opened the latest newsletter from Os, and guess what? See below, but I'll share in advance this must be confirmation that God is...
1) Telling me once again He knows what I'm dealing with and is watching over me.
2) I'm on track and in His will (though I constantly struggle with emotional doubt).
3) It reflects to an extent how my prayers for strength have been answered by adversity, requests for hope with renewed pressing down to dependence upon God and perserverence in faith for daily living.
4) He still loves me despite my sins of anger, impatience, lack of emotional self-control, despair, etc.
5) It gives me hope once again that I may see some joy in this life, BUT also the fear that I will have to keep suffering to somehow gain that freedom! But he did restore Job, Joseph, and David, each to a better life in THIS life. He worked it out for good here and now.
6) I was just reading Psalm about 'darkness' a not-too-common text. I have truly hated, strived, and suffered because of the long-term ups/downs in all major areas of my life. How I wish I could see God's calling and purpose for me... this is the test of hope and faith, being convinced it is a fact and will happen. I just hope He'll grant grace so I learn what He wants, and it will happen in this life. I know this is a healthy human desire.
I hope this uplifts another person. I have truly been asking, seeking, and knocking for years, for guidance and direction from God in terms of wanting yet another job and better, more normal life (in the long term), yet I clearly understand the goals God has for suffering 'loss of all things' and I cannot deny my desire for all He has for me.
It is just so painful, I get so weary of the discipline, striving so hard to change and be changed. My main problem is my human nature... continually resisting, suffering emotional confusion, and wishing it could be acocmplished another way, ie. God's Spirit radically changing you and eliminating your ongoing, life-long propensity for independence and control.
Lastly, note I read II Timothy today, Paul's final letter before death. There are two key verses to share. Bold marks the key points for me. Today I read this with strong interest, realizing Paul knew he would die soon. Paul wrote short, to-the-point text in some places. This was very, very good for me because I need logic, concrete clear explanation. This gives me both understanding, and with it, a sense of control (knowing why, what, etc.).
2 Timothy 1, verse 8-9: So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life— not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
2 Timoth 1, verse 11 - 12: And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am.
From Adversity to Destiny
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 2 by Os Hillman
Tuesday, July 13 2010
"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position" (James 1:9).
Most of us avoid pain. We keep our medicine cabinets loaded with pain relievers. We couldn't imagine major surgery without an anesthetic. We are so averse to pain that we think God must desire that we will experience pain-free lives. After all, a loving God surely wouldn't want us to suffer pain, would He?
Although God takes no pleasure in our pain, we have to acknowledge that He sometimes allows painful circumstances to occur in our lives in order to shape us and make us more like Christ. Sometimes our times of despair turn out to be a much needed light into our soul.
I once came across the following poem written by an anonymous Confederate soldier, a devout young man who fought in the American Civil War. The lines of this poem express the soul of a man who has learned to view his times of adversity from a different perspective:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.*
Do we trust God to lead us even though we can't see the pathway in front of us? Do we trust Him to be all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful? Do we believe He does all things well? As Paul wrote, "Everything that does not come from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). That's why God leads us through the dark places. Only in the darkness do we learn to walk by faith.
Hi Penny, well this discussion has become my blog and journal! Today is Thursday. I visited a recruiter yesterday about a great paying position in IT and a university setting. I also received a call last night about a perfect IT role also reasonably close to me.
My problem? I've had so much disappointment, have had trouble with interviewing skills, and got and lost jobs. I also fight internally about 'idolizing' a job as 'security' versus full dependence upon God. It gets weird after years of troubles, you'd think it would get easier.
So while I want a job really bad, it's more about meaning and purpose, and I KNOW a job is not my identity. However, I also want a better life, a more normal life, and I know God wants me to work, that's HOW He provides 'usually' (because He has provided for me through savings and unemployment for about two years or so, maybe longer overall).
In summary, I worry that God will 'know' I'll somehow get lazy, etc., if I get a well-paying job, so He won't give it to me. But in my last job, I tithed every check, kept up devotions, prayer daily, even a mid-week men's study... and still the company folded! So I just keep calling out to God for pure, absolute unmerited favor and mercy for blessing. I simply cannot keep up the striving and discipline in my own strength, God Himself knows I want His will... but I truly hope and pray I don't have to keep living in such 'extreme' faith, it's just too hard for me, I hate to say.
PS: I just got off the phone with the IT Manager company. Will interview via webcam Friday at 9 am. Sound like an excellent opportunity, growing company, need a hands-on enterprise leader like me! Any readers... Please ask God to grant me the role, and if not, the grace to simply let it go.
Os, this is brilliant!
This is a divine confirmation that God has a great destiny for me as I have a similar situation going on in my life.
Many thanks and God bless!
Having gone through a rough relationship which ended in separation, one business closure, through a national financial recession, which ended up with me moving the family across the country to get work. Then, in the next decade, I suffered two major not at fault motor vehicle accidents, which meant long rehabilitation periods, career changes and operating life in survival mode to feed and school the children.
Finally the children are adult and I should be starting to think of how my wife and I are going to enjoy our later years, (not retirement) and I've just had a multiple coronary artery bypass operation which has knocked me down for three months. With next to no warning and not properly prepared, once again I'm asset stripped.
Sitting where I am at present, at 59 years old, studying for qualifications to change careers again, I can only wonder what part of the Job or Joseph story I'm at. When you are in a 'pit', like Joseph or laid like Job, it's a struggle to maintain faith that all will be restored, or become something worthy in society.
At the end of it all I guess the Ecclesiast has it right - at least I hope and pray he has. Amen?
We have a website set up for this book. at www.upsideofadversity.com