Finding My Way Home: Wisdom and Money

John HoustonBy John Houston8 Minutes

Excerpt from Finding My Way Home: A Journey to Discover Hope and a Life of Purpose by John Houston

Wisdom and Money

You can’t build a house without money, and we didn’t have any. A homebuilder also needs to know more than just how to saw a board and hammer a nail. I had done some framing and plumbing, so I knew my way around a job site—but I needed to learn more. Before I went to the bank, I called on three homebuilders to ask their advice. Two of them were successful, and one had gone out of business.

All three of them talked about the finances first. “Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul,” they said. “You have to stay on top of cash flow because if you start missing payments to subcontractors, word gets out fast. Don’t overextend. Don’t grow faster than you’re able to.”

The man who had been successful for the longest was more concerned about relationships than money, though. “Never get to the point where you don’t like people,” he said. “Buyers will naturally gripe and complain. They want everything to be perfect. You’re going to make mistakes. But if you’re not careful, you’ll forget why you’re in business and get to the point that you don’t like people. If you ever get to that place, you need to get out of the business.”

That stuck with me so much that now, years later, I still constantly remind our staff that, if we ever get to the place where we don’t like people, we’ve missed the whole point. Especially as a believer, my philosophy is that God uses us to reach people and show them how much He loves them. I should value people because God does. Today we have six companies, but we know we are not in the homebuilding or the mortgage business. We are in the people business, and God just uses these other businesses to reach them. All the companies God has given us to steward are just vehicles for reaching people for Christ through relationships and giving profits to the kingdom.

The Banker Laughed at Me

Before I could build that kind of business, though, I had to build my first house. That meant getting a bank loan. I explained to the banker that we wanted to build houses so we could reach people for Christ and give to the kingdom. I went on to explain that Tracy was a few months into a new job, we had two young children, I had never built a house before, and I didn’t have a customer for the first house I planned to build.

The loan officer laughed at me. He sat behind his desk and literally laughed at me for asking the bank to lend me $120,000 to build a spec house. It reminded me of all those years ago when the banker laughed at us when we went to get a loan to build our first home. Sometimes the enemy attacks us in the middle of the miracle God is doing as we step out in faith. The enemy tried to get my temper and pride to rise and respond to their laughing, but God reminded me He was my source and I could trust Him.

The next day, I went to another bank. The loan officer there didn’t laugh, but he did ask a valid question, “Why would we lend you any money?” I walked out feeling like the Israelites after they left Egypt only to find themselves out in the desert. Had God brought me here to fail?

That night Tracy and I spent a long time praying. I said, “God, we’re trying to be faithful and obedient, but You’re going to have to show up. We can’t do this without You.”

The next morning, I had an appointment with another bank vice president named Pam. I waited in her office and when she walked in—and you sort of have to be from Texas to understand this—she was a cowgirl. A red-haired cowgirl. I thought, Oh, stink. This woman’s going to be tough.

We talked for a few minutes, and I explained that we wanted a loan to build spec houses so we could reach people for Christ and give to the kingdom.

“Oh, we don’t do loans for spec houses,” she said.

As she was talking, I felt the Holy Spirit saying, “Ask her what a spec house is.”

Well, I couldn’t do that. She was a banker. She obviously knew what a spec house was. But I asked her anyway.

“A spec house is one that you are building but you haven’t sold,” she said.

Then I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to say, “Hypothetically, if you did spec loans, would you require me to personally guarantee it?”

I asked her, and she said, “Well, of course we would.”

“Technically, then,” I said, “it would be a sold job, because you’d have a guaranteed buyer: me.”

“You know,” she said, “I’ve never thought of it that way.”

I was thinking, Me neither! but I didn’t say it out loud.

We kept talking until she said, “You know what? We’re going to do this loan.” Yes!

We were in business. Sort of.

The bank required us to put $40,000 down, and draining my entire Annuity Board retirement account only got us halfway there. We needed another $20,000. Another huge roadblock.

By that time, Tracy and I had joined a small group at church. During our group prayer time the following week, I asked them to pray for a solution for us. One of the guys, an ophthalmologist, said, “Why don’t I just lend you the money?”

“Really?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “Just pay me back when you can.”

God had answered the prayer right then and there. With that, we were ready to start.

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