(With a special shout out to my newly acquired friends, SB and DH.)
In the midst of a recent conversation, Isaiah 40:31 – “Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” – seemed suddenly clear as a model for Christian entrepreneurship and business life-cycling.
Having been a three-peat entrepreneur, I understand perfectly the energy and excitement of launching a new enterprise. Since any new undertaking is battling inertia – trying to get something rolling where no action has previously occurred – the energy level that entrepreneurs bring to the table is one of the four most critical components to early growth and sustainability (the others being location, capital, and marketing plan, at least to my thinking).
The energy required is drawn from the zeal of our belief that the undertaking itself is not only a good idea but borders on destiny or fate or calling, or whatever other terms (or combinations thereof) might seem most appropriate. That that energy is present is critical in that the specific challenges of a start-up are unique to that phase of business development. It is good, then, that in that phase we should soar or mount up with wings like eagles. First, our vision must be acute. While embedded in the diverse hat-wearing, often filling many roles in a single day within the organization, the entrepreneur must ever keep eyes wide open to see the broader landscape and be prepared to adjust their flight direction, speed, and trajectory to hit specific targets in real time. The combination of eagle-like vision and the altitude of its flight in search of prey lend themselves analogously to the entrepreneur’s readiness and ability to strike quickly when opportunity presents itself.
The second phase of the business life cycle is an interim phase after the launch has gained some footing but is not yet classified as a mature endeavor. This transitional phase will find the business leader often still wearing many different hats, despite having already fitted suitable matches to several key positions within the enterprise. In this phase, the leader may still be clarifying vision, for investors and key personnel alike, dealing with many unexpected developments on a daily, or at least weekly, basis, and nuancing the company’s product or service offerings within the greater context of its targeted markets or their industry at-large. Running without tiring requires clinging to that initial energy brought by the sense of destiny as the company begins its transition toward maturity. It is still a very formative time in many ways and may require significant shifts that need thought through, explaining, multiple revision, and long hours of diligence to bring a level of consistency and durability to the enterprise.
This phase of the business requires a special endurance, like running or cycling, that can be bone-wearying but compelled to keep putting one foot in front of the other or turning the pedals at a heightened but disciplined pace. The business leader will be challenged by turns and rises where off-loading tasks and building trust in others will be necessary for them to sustain themselves and the enterprise for a longer term than the initial, sprint-like race of the start-up phase. Anyone who has trained in endurance sports will recognize there is a level of pain and suffering that must not only be tolerated but embraced to reach the goals necessary. Sometimes it is as simple as picking a particular point on the horizon as the next achievable goal while the finish line is still far off and nowhere in sight.
The final phase of an enterprise (and one can easily equate this sequence of mount up – run – walk with the phases of spiritual maturity) is one of settled trust and continued diligence, not just in effort but of oversight. Once an enterprise has achieved an enduring level of sustainable profitability, there are yet dangers along the road. It is not a time for laxity or sitting down. Rather, as any through-hiker on the Appalachian Trail will attest, some days the temptation to simply “stay put” must be resisted. There is an adage in business that unless you are moving forward, you are falling behind. The marketplace has always been and shall always be an evolving environment. Companies must introduce new products and services, or innovate on old ones, to keep pace with customer demands and the offerings of competitors. It is no time to rest on one’s laurels but the pace is one that can more carefully take in the details of the surrounding landscape and adapt with greater precision than when rushing headlong, like the downward strike flight of the eagle, or seeing with the often blurry vision of a runner.
In this phase, the ultimate endurance is required because there truly is no end in sight to the journey. It is a journey, to draw on a spiritual parallel, into perpetuity. The business leader must have arrived at a level of trust in the operation and the personnel in which only minor adjustments to either become the norm. But those minor adjustments represent the final path to overt excellence just as a master builder hones his craft, increasing both the aesthetic and material quality of their work over time. In the end, the master is sought out, their work more highly valued than the surrounding players in their market, commanding greater value in their work and their profitability. The subtle nuances, over time, will ensure the long term livelihood of the company, its employees, vendors, and community.
But the wisdom key to Isaiah 40:31 is in its opening phrasing: “Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength.” Any entrepreneur, and especially those who have started and operated their business over an extended period, can tell you that running a business is an arduous, often draining, endeavor. There are two components in this opening phrase of critical importance to the marketplace life of a Christian: waiting on the Lord and gaining new strength.
The Hebrew term most typically translated here as wait, is qavah, which means to “wait for with hope and expectation.” We see the damage done when Israel went up against Ai despite the Lord’s warning (Joshua 7). Or when Saul acted presumptuously by seeking the counsel of the medium at Endor (1 Samuel 28) rather than seeking the Lord for direction. Or when Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered “strange fire” before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1).
I often find myself mentally equating the exhortation to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) to waiting on the Lord and being still and knowing God (Psalm 46:10). There is, obviously, throughout Scripture the idea that God’s wisdom is far above our own and that by finding and following the counsel of God, we shall prosper. The human spirit, will, and intellect are enormously gifted in developing discipline, creativity, and reasoning. There are many solutions that we can create – such as finding a need in the marketplace and filling it – of our own volition and inventiveness. But we are fairly warned by the infamous (and when appropriate, omninous) opening words of Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it.”
God provides the impetus and sustainability for creation. As the beginning and end of all reality, it is only by God’s design that creation truly prospers. As we seek and align ourselves with the will and ways of God, we shall find the energy, the strength, to endure all the phases of our entrepreneurial endeavors. Only then will our efforts be perfectly sustainable, life-inducing, and productive as it was in the Garden of Eden. Where the Lord leads (builds a house), he gives the wisdom, gifts, opportunities, and energy to succeed to those who are willing to wait, listen, and obey, and we shall not grow tired or become weary but shall soar where the whole world can see what the Lord has done to his glory.