How God Met Me in My Darkest Hour: Bankruptcy

I sat alone in my car on a Tuesday afternoon blankly staring out the window. I couldn’t feel anything at all. My entire body and brain were completely numb. The last four years I had been fighting the biggest battle of my business career  – and there have been plenty – but I felt like this time there was no way for me to win.

Four years earlier, I had been on top of the world. I was twenty-six years old. I had started my first investment company in college when I was twenty-one years old. We invested in distressed real estate assets around the Southeast. After a few years I had quickly made it to the top of my field. I was known in my local community as a young star in the real estate field. It seemed that everyone wanted to be a part of our team’s success.

Then, seemingly overnight, everything changed. The market crashed in 2008, and I went from closing deals and managing a high growth company to simply trying to keep my head above water. All of our banks cut off credit because they didn’t want any more real estate exposure. My investors had all taken huge losses in the stock market crash and everyone was scrambling for liquidity. The real estate portfolio took a sudden drop in value, and I was stuck with assets that I couldn’t sell. I did my best to work out of projects with creditors and investors, but in the end, the market won. I ended up losing everything that I had worked so hard to build.

But that wasn’t the biggest loss. I had lost my confidence and I felt like a failure. Worst of all, I had lost my trust in God. How could God let this all happen to me? I thought that I was doing the best I could to steward well what God had given me. I was a leader in our local church and I gave consistently. How could God let something like this happen to me? I didn’t realize it at the time, but deep down I didn’t really know if I could trust God anymore.

After the crash, I worked for a year trying to manage out of all the problems and provide for my family month to month.  We ended up moving to a new city a year later, and while I saw God at work from time to time, there was still a deep wound in my heart that I carried with me.

Three years later, through a number of events that I will share more about in later posts, I had finally reached my breaking point. I had tried so hard to pay off the debts from my failure in 2008. Finally, I had come to the conclusion that I would either rebuild at some point, or I would go to my grave working to pay people back.

I finally reached the bottom of my self-determination and for the first time in four years, I truly took everything to God. In the middle of complete failure I surrendered to God all of my desires. I didn’t see how He could do anything with my failure, and quite frankly I didn’t know if He even cared.  But I went to him in prayer and told him I couldn’t do it anymore, and finally brought before him the idea of filing bankruptcy. I had never even considered it before, but I had been paying creditors for four years and I didn’t know how I could make another payment.

That night I went home and told Anne that we needed to pray about filing bankruptcy. We started praying together about it over the next week. A few days into our week of prayer, I had a dream.  Most of my dreams are not spiritual in nature, but I immediately knew that this one was when I woke up. In the dream, I experienced many difficult situations: My young son died and Anne and I were mourning his death. I was in prison in a foreign country in very harsh conditions. There were multiple situations like this in the dream, but in each of them I felt the presence of God with me. I knew that God was showing me that everything was going to be alright, despite what I face in this world, because He is with me.

I woke up from the dream, and immediately had a peace about filing bankruptcy. When I talked to Anne the next day, she let me know that she had been feeling a similar peace about it. I figured that I would try one last ditch effort with one of my creditors to avoid the bankruptcy. My attorney filled out all of the bankruptcy filing documents. I sent them to my creditor’s counsel so that they could see my financial situation in detail that I was about to file with the court. Their attorney called me back and said, “Jonathan, I don’t know what to tell you. They have seen all of this, but don’t want to work with you and are demanding the full balance owed right now. Maybe this is God’s way of telling you that you should file bankruptcy.”  (I had never spoken to their attorney about God before. He was the collections attorney who would no longer receive compensation from his client if he stopped collecting payments after I filed the bankruptcy.) I guess the dream wasn’t enough, God needed to add some clarity for me. Sometimes I can be a slow learner…

I had my attorney file the bankruptcy paperwork, and immediately felt a huge sense of relief. A peace came on me that I hadn’t felt in four years. I had been trying so hard for so long that I had forgotten what it felt like to be free from such a burden.

After filing, there were still many fears and scars that would take me years to work through, but God revealed himself clearly in that season. He stripped away all of my pride, which I had operated on for so long. God revealed to me what it really meant to depend on him.  He showed Himself trustworthy, and He started some deep refinement in me personally and spiritually.

Do you know this same God? Jesus desires to lead you through the good, the bad and the ugly each and every day. God is this real, and He leads us by His Spirit in this world. He really cares about what happens to you and to me, in each and every detail of our lives.

In the business world, have you ever struggled to know whether you were following God’s calling for your life? Have you struggled through failures like I have shared about? Have you ever been in the place where you have accomplished your goals and achieved success, but deep down knew that there must be a greater purpose for you in this life?

As I have followed Jesus in the business world, I have seen that even with moments or seasons of doubts, God has always led me back to His goodness. He has reminded me of the reality that He has called me to business.  Not only that, but He has changed my paradigm to understand that my business leadership and my personal story are the platforms that He has given me so that He can be glorified.

I believe that now more than ever God wants to empower his followers in the business world to build the kingdom and see lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe the path to follow God in business is the narrow path that Jesus spoke of, that most Christians will not take. It can be filled with challenges, failures, and obstacles that seem insurmountable – but it also has eternal rewards for those who finish the race well.

Will you join me on this journey?  Are you ready to go all-in with God and see what He wants to do in and through your business and life?  I believe that we need each other to run the race well. We need to sharpen each other as we pursue God and build His Kingdom here on earth.

Subscribe here to this blog to get our regular posts that are filled with stories and tips for following God in the business world.  I look forward to hearing your stories of how God is at work in your life and business. I’m excited to journey together as we seek to follow God with all we’ve got as leaders!

9 thoughts on “How God Met Me in My Darkest Hour: Bankruptcy”

  1. Wow Jonathan, powerful story, and I’m sure one that most of us in business have experienced at some level or another. Thanks for having the courage to share it, and the great message of avoiding pride in your journey up the ladder of success. Really looking forward to your future insights on this important subject.

  2. You are as sick as your secrets. Great account of an amazing journey. The best is yet to come, brother!

  3. what an excellent story of faith and the Lord’s goodness in the toughest of times. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe”.

  4. It seems like the times of deepest despair are where God meets us. Moses on the backside of the desert has his burning bush experience. David after his affair with Bathsheba and losing his child in her subsequent pregnancy is brought to the brink of breakdown. John the Baptist in prison having faithfully prepared the way for his Lord, and wondering if he was about to loose his life is filled with doubt. But in all of these God was working all things together for good. Thank you for sharing your journey. Felicity and I were within one month of needing to file for bankruptcy in 2001, when the Lord began to graciously reverse our fortunes. Thank you for your honest account of your time in this position.

    1. Yes, Tony! It seems a lot more people were in this position than we knew at the time. But He is always working for good! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Real estate crash in 2008, struggling to get back up, wondering if God is truly in control of things, seeing Him pursue me relentlessly through all the ups and downs… I can relate! Thanks for being a light in our world my friend!

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