FIRST-PERSON: Putting first things first
BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)--Shortly before Christmas one year, I was fired from my job as a heating and air conditioning repairman. My boss simply said, "Son, you're just not any good at this." And he was right. I hated my job and wasn't good at it, but it was what I had been trained to do. At the time I was 18, and my lifelong goal was to make $20 an hour. But that year I didn't even have enough money for Christmas presents.
I managed to land a job as an electrical apprentice, which eventually led to a position in management. Then, several years later a company I worked for was acquired. I was fascinated by the idea of one company buying another, and at the suggestion of a coworker began reading The Wall Street Journal to learn how mergers and acquisitions worked.
After nearly a decade of dabbling in a few small businesses, and with The Wall Street Journal as my "mentor," I was brimming with confidence and ready to make my first major acquisition. With the help of a few partners, I put together financing to purchase a dilapidated tool & die shop. I quickly got in over my head, and about a year later I lost the company as well as my family's house and our savings.
Weeks before the bitter end and for the first time since I was baptized, I prayed for help. As a young boy I had accepted Jesus as my personal Savior, but as I got older, my ambition and preoccupation with the things of this world crowded God out of my life.
But now I was desperate. I had exhausted all other options to save the company and nothing worked. At night, I lay awake with both hands covering my face, knowing I was about to lose everything.
I finally reached the point where I was willing to get down on my knees, with my face to the floor, and cry out to God. In my office, with tears flowing, I begged Jesus to save my company. I knew He had done many miracles while on earth; perhaps He would do another one and bail me out of this mess.
My prayers were to no avail -- at least from a human perspective -- and the heartbreaking day came when I turned the company over to a new owner. In my haste to reach my career destination, I had ignored my relationship with Jesus and foolishly entered into a deal with what the Bible calls "zeal without knowledge."
As I hit rock bottom I told a friend, "My life is over."
While this experience left me broke and unemployed, I soon learned that my life was far from over. I also gained some things of real value: experience and a commitment to turn my life over to Jesus, no matter where He might lead me.
God graciously gave me a second chance and set me on a path to career success beyond my wildest dreams. Today I run a private investment firm that turns around struggling manufacturing companies throughout the world.
One business publication referred to me as the "billion-dollar repairman," a title I would have found incomprehensible during the days I crawled under houses to fix faulty oil furnaces. A great life lesson I've learned is that God can do more with our lives than we could ever imagine if we are willing to yield to Him.
My personal and professional journey was fraught with mistakes along the way, and it took awhile before what I believed about God was fully integrated into my business practices. Yet, He was always faithful to me in the good times and bad.
As I look back on my life, I can see how many seemingly unrelated experiences were woven together in God's perfect design and timing, and how He used my experiences to prepare me in ways I could not have begun to understand.
While the Lord did not always answer my prayers in the way I hoped, He always did what was best for me, which is a message I believe many discouraged people need to hear in these challenging times.
One of my "Patton Principles" is that God won't let you have your way until you let Him have His. I firmly believe that life's greatest success comes from walking faithfully with our Creator. He wants us to put first things first -- that means Him. Nothing else matters by comparison.
James P. "Jim" Patton is founder and senior managing partner of KPAC Solutions and author of a new book called "Life in the Turn Lane." He and his wife, Theresa, are members of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn. For more information about him and his book, visit www.jamesppatton.com