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 (Manna 62: The Miracles of Jesus)
Becoming One's Own Boss: A Christian's Journey
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Shawn Chou—San Jose, California, USA

January 31, 1998, is one of the most memorable days of my life that I will never forget. Every time I get a chance to share my story, I’m reminded of the amazing grace God bestowed on me and my family.

THE DECISION

One day, out of the blue, my boss asked me if I had ever thought about starting my own business. I had nine years of marketing experience that would serve me well if I chose to do that. I had never thought about becoming my own boss because I didn’t believe I would ever be successful. There is a Chinese saying that goes, “No trickery, no business.” I just do not have the personality or mindset to be a businessman.

Moreover, I had personally witnessed a few friends start their own business only to end up losing their savings and putting their families in dire situations. So I questioned myself over and over if I could survive on this path before finally making a decision on what I should do.

I had toyed with a few ideas of what I wanted to do with my career for the rest of my life, and these considerations became more serious after my boss’s suggestion. I wanted to spend more time with my elderly parents, who lived in San Jose, so I would have to find a job there. My wife suggested I study for a computer science degree so that I could change industries. But I felt too old to be a student and to start something new all over again.

I really struggled for quite some time with the idea of starting my own business. It was a major decision and I really prayed to the Lord and asked for His guidance. After a period of prayers, I felt great peace in my heart and confidence to give it a try. I believed God would give me signs if He did not want me to continue down this path.

It was a major turning point in my life. I felt like I had lost my career after I quit a successful job that I enjoyed over nine years. My wife had also given up her dream to be a licensed pharmacist in New Jersey. But we had faith that somehow, the Lord would provide.

On January 31, 1998, I moved from New Jersey to California to start my own business.

A BOSS IN FAVOR WITH GOD: TRUST AND OBEY

Starting up a business takes a lot of hard work. I still remember walking into my office at 6 am. It felt even harder to do this on dark winter mornings, when most people were still asleep. Early mornings were prime business time for me because most of the suppliers I bought from and the customers I sold to were in earlier time zones.

I thank God for sustaining a sense of determination in me, which is crucial when a business is only in its initial stages. However, I had other worries, too. How do I go about marketing my company? How do I earn the trust of suppliers and clients? Since English is not my native language, will people even consider doing business with me?

I had my worries, but trusting in God was all that I could do. If it was His will, I trusted that He would give me His blessings.

Another challenge I faced was greed.

            For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Tim 6:10)

In the first year of my company, I had a chance to gain more profit by concealing reduced prices from suppliers. If I didn’t share this information with my clients, I could earn more money because my agreement was to share the profit margin with my clients. But if I didn’t tell them, they would not know or find out.

But I told myself that I needed to be an honest businessman because I was one of the chosen people of God. I could make a little more money by not disclosing some information, but doing that would provoke the wrath of God. So I told my clients that my supplier reduced his selling price. I knew this would sound foolish to many people, but I believed God would guide me and bless me if I kept His words.

Left on its own, human desire knows no satisfaction. Owning one’s business brings with it opportunities to commit different degrees of fraud so as to maximize profits. A Christian is not spared from such temptations.

For example, I could deceivingly increase the weight of the products I shipped to my customers and charge them more money. I knew how it could be done if I was greedy and wanted to earn more money. But I always swept such thoughts out of my mind as quickly as they appeared. We need to train our minds not to let evil thoughts linger.

Money can divert our hearts away from God’s words. To overcome such temptations, we need to cultivate our spiritual life daily and constantly meditate upon God’s words in our mind and prayers.

BUMPS ALONG THE WAY—TRUSTING HIM STILL

Owning a business involves a lot of risk. I have been cheated a few times by either my suppliers or customers since I started my business.

I started out being too naïve and trusting. In my company’s first year, I agreed to the terms of open payment with a customer in Bolivia because I thought he was a very trustworthy person. I continued to ship new products to him even before he paid me for previous shipments. 

It turned out that the payments were uncollectible. By the time I found out that he was a fraud and had closed his US bank account, I had lost $110,000. That was all of the savings I had.

This happened about the same time my beloved mother passed away in a car accident. I loved my mother very much. I moved my family to California just to be close to her. With this double blow, I felt like I had fallen into the bottom of the abyss.

But I had to stand back up. Instead of regretting the decision to move to California and beating myself up for losing so much money, I turned to the memories of the precious seven months my family had with my mother in her final days. I recalled the joy on her face whenever she was with my children.

It was a difficult period but God guided me through it. In spite of encountering such difficulties, my mind was still very peaceful. I did not feel any panic or lose confidence. I could even see many positive aspects of my decision amid the setbacks.

I found that I had more time to help with church work because I had better flexibility and control over my time as my own boss. I used to have to work overtime and even on Sabbath days as an employee. Being my own boss meant more time to nourish my spiritual life. This realization gave me much courage not to let the major financial loss get me down.

I had not planned to serve the Lord more than I previously did. But I could feel the Spirit compelling me and giving me more opportunities to serve Him during this time.

I also gradually realized that it was not God’s will for me to expand my company but to serve Him more instead. Once in a while, I would have some ambitious ideas and even the opportunities to expand my company by putting in more time and money. But, thank God, those ideas faded away after studying the words of God in my daily spiritual cultivation.

A BOSS IN FAVOR WITH MEN

As Christians, we should always strive to be in favor with both God and men (Lk 2:52) in all our ways. In my business dealings, I tell myself to adhere to this same principle.

Having your own business means having employees who work for you. It is important to treat employees with love and care. This includes showing sincere concern for their well-being and acknowledging their efforts.

I had an employee who worked for me for almost four years. I really thank God for giving me such good help. I liked him because he was a sincere and honest person, not to mention responsible and hardworking.

In 2005, business was really slow and sales were at an all-time low for six months. I told this employee that I had to let him go in one month’s time and that he should start looking for another job. He pleaded with me to reconsider my decision because he had a mortgage to pay and needed to support his poor family.

I realized how badly he needed the job and how much of an impact it would have on many people if I let him go. Even though I was in a tight financial situation myself, I decided that he could continue to work for me until a good job offer came his way, and he stayed for two more years.

My relationship with this employee developed into true friendship. Currently, he works for a large Internet company, and we still go out to lunch once in a while. He still has keys to my office and is free to visit anytime he wants. When I have problems with my computers, he’s the one who fixes them.

The Bible gives us good guidelines on how to be a good boss. “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col 4:1). Pay and benefits are not the only ways to keep good employees. Beyond reasonable pay and benefits, I believe there are other areas in which we need to be right and fair to our employees, including our attitude and the way we treat them.

WANT TO BECOME YOUR OWN BOSS?

We can make plans but we can’t force our plans to happen, because everything is under the will of God, who holds our future. If you have ideas of starting your own business, a period of praying is necessary, perhaps even fasting, so you understand His will.

            Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”(Jas 4:13-15)

If your intention to become your own boss is due to greediness or some other wrong motive, then you may not receive blessing from our Lord. It doesn’t mean you will fail in your business, but you may end up losing your faith.

Money and power should not be our priorities because these things do not give us true peace or help us in our spiritual journey. Whatever career path we are considering, we should evaluate how certain factors would impact our faith. At no point in time should we ever imagine we are strong enough to engage in battle with worldly distractions, and we should not think that we will never fall.

If we constantly seek God while being our own boss, we will have the opportunity to improve our relationship with Him and be blessed by Him in our work.

 

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