The Necessity of Obstacles, Part 1

In August of 2000, I received a big break in my career. However, as is so often the case, it came disguised as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

a girl keeping a huge rock from rolling down on top of her

I had just become the publisher of Nelson Books, one of the two trade book imprints at Thomas Nelson at that time. I had inherited a division with a lot of financial problems. Based on almost every metric available, we were dead last compared to the company’s thirteen other publishing groups.However, I was determined to turn the division around. I had worked hard to formulate a vision and enroll my colleagues. With fresh enthusiasm, we were off to a good start. I anticipated smooth sailing ahead.

Signs of Trouble

However, one Sunday morning at our church’s coffee hour, a friend mentioned to me that one of our biggest authors was teaching something out-of-step with main-stream, historical Christianity. (Thomas Nelson is a Christian publishing company, which is why this incident was important and relevant.) Initially, I dismissed it, but, over the next few days, I heard similar reports from others.

I finally visited the author’s web site where I was able to confirm the facts for myself. I enlisted the help of a few theologians I respected to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding her teachings. They quickly corroborated my worst fears. “Yes, this is a very serious problem,” they both assured me.

This wouldn’t have been so bad, except that we had paid an enormous sum of money for the author’s next book. We had just sent it to the printer and expected it to be our biggest book of the year. Frankly, given our division’s financial condition, we needed the book to succeed in a big way. I was counting on it to give us the lift we needed.

A Personal Confrontation

I decided to discuss the issue with the author, naively thinking that her teachings stemmed from the fact that she was not a trained theologian and that her errors were unintentional. So I met with her in person, hoping to persuade her to change her view-point.

Suffice it to say, she stood her ground and wouldn’t budge. In the course of a two-hour meeting, she preached to me non-stop, indignant that I had challenged her and adamant that everyone else, including virtually every Christian since the First Ecumenical Council in 325 A.D., was wrong.

Fortunately, my boss had been with me. He had heard every word himself. Clearly, we had a problem. If we published the book, we would be in deep trouble with the vast majority of our market. Worse, it would violate our corporate integrity and my own conscience. However, if we didn’t publish the book, we would lose the anticipated revenue from what was sure to be a bestseller. We would also take an enormous write-off from the royalty advance we had paid but likely would not recover.

When we got back to the office, my boss asked me for my recommendation. I told him that I thought we should stop the presses (literally) and cancel the book. Knowing the implications of that, he pushed back. “But there’s nothing in the book itself that is objectionable. Why can’t we just print it and not publish anything more from her in the future.”

“I wish it were that easy,” I replied. “The problem is that she is teaching this stuff publicly. If we publish the book, we are aligning ourselves with her and indirectly promoting her message. We become party to her error.” He shook his head in disagreement and told me to think about it overnight.

A Momentous Decision

I went home and told Gail that I thought my career as the publisher of Nelson Books—a job which I had held for less than six weeks—was over. I was discouraged and, frankly, disillusioned. This was not what I had envisioned. However, Gail was wonderfully supportive. “You can’t violate your conscience,” she reminded me. “Trust God, do what is right, and I will support you—regardless of the consequences.”

The next morning, I again met with my boss. “Look, I am not trying to grand-stand here, but I can’t publish this book. I understand the financial consequences—and I truly hate the thought of the negative impact this will have on us—but we’ll just have to take our lumps. If you insist on publishing the book, I’ll have to resign. It’s a matter of conscience.”

He didn’t take that well. He dismissed me from his office, told me he would think about it, and then get back to me. I went back to my office, convinced that I would soon be unemployed. Mentally, I was already packing my office.

About 30 minutes later my phone rang. It was Sam Moore, the CEO of Thomas Nelson. He was on the road and had just gotten off the phone with my boss, who reported directly to him. He got straight to the point, “Tell me your side of the story.”

I explained what had happened, including my recommendation that we cancel the book. He asked how much that would cost. Wincing, I gave him the exact number. Without hesitating for a moment, he said, “Mike, I agree with you. Cancel the book. It’s the right thing to do.”

A Lesson Learned

I was stunned but relieved. I learned a huge lesson that day: Whenever God gives you a vision, He places obstacles in your path. Why? So that you can become all that He created you to be. God doesn’t place these obstacles in your path to destroy you but to develop you. His greatest desire is to work out what he has built in.

As a postscript, not only did we achieve our budget that year, we surpassed it. We hit some other obstacles along the way, of course, but I am convinced that this one big obstacle was, in fact, the opportunity that tested our resolve and catapulted our division to the next level.

The real issue is how we will treat these obstacles when we encounter them. Will we resent them as intruders or welcome them as friends? Humanly speaking, our success hinges on how we answer that question.

In my next post, I will address why obstacles are not only inevitable in the pursuit of our vision but necessary and how we can embrace them.

Question: What has been the biggest obstacle you have faced in your life so far?
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  • Marysol

    This came at the right time in my ministry. I forwarded this to my boss, such an encouragment to get today! Thank you.

  • Kena

    Hello Michael,

    Excellent post! I guess for me, the economic situation I am now. Struggling some times to be able to have food in the fridge is really frustrating, but it has never been missing and we have health which is the most important thing. Tough times will go for sure and I know this challenge is making the relationship with my husband stronger, so between the bad, the good!

    Have a nice day!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Honestly, I think I have learned more about God and faith via money—or the lack thereof—than anything else. I have gone through some very hard things, but I wouldn't trade what I have learned.

  • Lucille Zimmerman

    What courage that must have taken. I'm so glad you stood firm — integrity and authenticity are two of my favorite qualities in people. The toughest thing I have faced has been the book I'm working on. I am represented (MacGregor), but my message is edgy, so I've spent 20 months learning the industry, bettering my craft, and honing in on my message. Sometimes if feels like an uphill climb — but I know the message is important and that has something to offer. That's what helps me persist.

  • Dennis

    Thank you for this post. My biggest obstacle stems from a battle within myself as I learn the difference between the lies of my co-dependent childhood and the truth. I am at a stage in life where I really needed this post.

  • Christian_Man

    My biggest obstacle has been me.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I completely understand. When I drill down, it is usually me. The good news is that that is the one thing you have the most control of!

  • Dave

    Maybe Zondervan should read this.

  • Cathy Bryant

    Amen! I recently counseled my son (who is having issues at his place of employment) not to be too quick to jump out of the fire. No matter how painful, God sometimes puts us in difficult circumstances to test our mettle and character. God is honored when we stand up to our obstacles and take a stand for Him. Thanks for this excellent post!

  • Andrew

    An outstanding article. Thanks for encouraging us to stick to our guns on matters of conscience.

  • Mary E. DeMuth

    It's the King of Heaven we must bow the knee to, even if it means jeopardizing our career.

    I thought moving to France would hurt my writing ministry, and it was a very hard thing to lay that down for the sake of the calling on my life. And oddly, like you, my career continued. Not only that, but my writing deepened and my heart was broken in the process.

    Today my obstacle is trusting God for finances and trying to understand how to make a living as a writer without running after every opportunity.

    • Michael Hyatt

      For me, I rarely have the chance to apply the same lesson to the same situation. Every new situation is a new challenge to grow and stretch.

  • Felicia K. Fredlund

    I wanted to thank you for this post. It is truelly shows that sticking to what you believe is important. When you are at a crossroad this is a post to read. In the end you'll always feel better for having taken the road of conscience, or whichever road is the one you believe in.
    Thank you.

  • De Wet

    Thanks for the encouragement, I needed it.

  • Craig Frasa


    I rank this as one of your best posts yet. Whatever your conscience or convictions, this story is still relevant and timeless.

    This will be one of your classics!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Wow. Thanks!

  • LynnRush

    Wow, what an inspiring post. God is good.

    The biggest obstacle I've faced….well, within the first 6 months of my marriage (we're going to celebreate 13 years this summer)…I had a migraine that had stroke-like symptoms, one of which was inability to speak and no feeling down my left side.

    Turns out it was a reaction to prescribed migraine medication. Newly married and in grad school, my hubby thought he'd have to take care of his new wife the rest of his life….BUT, I survived and from that experience, our marriage strengthened more than we could have imagined. He stepped into the roll of household leader and has been doing a stellar job taking care of me since then.

    So, rest in God with all things. He does not promise an easy road, but He does promise He will be with us always.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Amen. God doesn't waste a thing!

  • Forrest

    Michael, I respect the courage of your convictions in this. With all the junk that's being published today under the umbrella of evangelical Christianity, there must be alot of hard choices for publishers. As a published author, I often wince when I look through some of the questionable Christian books in stores while I struggle in the long process to get published.

  • jeffcrab

    I certainly agree that God places obsticles in our path – but I believe He does so for a different reason. When Jesus said that we had to come to him as infants, I believe that means that we had to come to Him as desperate and incapable of doing anything on our own as that infant is. Why? Because He wants us to be 100% dependant on Him – not 50/50 or even 1/99. God's greatest desire is not our development, but our dependancy on Him. Obsticles are there not to make us anything – but to make Him everything. To strip us of our self reliance – build our self reliance. What was wrong with the Parisee in Luke 18:9-14? He believed that he had become what God had created him to be. The Tax collector was justified before God because he knew he had become nothing.

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  • Jeff

    Great story, Michael. I am continually impressed and encouraged by your tidbits of wisdom and life experience. I faced a similar, but not as serious, decision just the other day.

    A business client had refused to pay for my company's services (they were a small church and could no longer afford it), despite the fact that they had agreed to do so some months before. They canceled the service midway and offered to pay me to finish the job.

    It may not sound like too difficult of a decision to make, but it certainly was hard at the time. Given the personal relationship with the church that I had and the fact that I was legally within my rights to help them (we don't have a policy against this), I really wrestled with it. But I prayed, talked to my wife, and decided against it. I've felt peace ever since.

    Thanks again for your story; it's another confirmation that I did the right thing.

  • Byron

    Michael, I’ve been reading your blog regularly since October, 2008. It’s one of my pleasures and on several occasions I’ve felt inclined to post a comment. This message couldn’t have posted at a better time for me. I began a new position at a prominent research university just a few months ago. It has been a tough go as my primary responsibility is to make the best of a struggling project that may have negative repercussions for the future of my colleagues, and possibly my own career. I’ve been the bearer of bad news in almost all of our meetings and I find my signature optimism eroding. I’ve been in many tough situations before, but not many where I needed to be the guy that communicates our difficult “current reality” and be the guy who fixes it at the same time– ala Creating a Life Plan and the Quarterly Review. Would you mind considering a post that provides some advice on how to bring the spirits of a team up during difficult times? More specifically, do you have wisdom on how to maintain realistic optimism during crucial conversations? I define realistic optimism as having a deep understanding of one’s “current reality” while having clarity with the direction you’re headed.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Here are a couple of places to start:

      Let me know if these don't answer your question. Thanks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Here are a couple of places to start:

      Let me know if these don't answer your question. Thanks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Here are a couple of places to start:

      Let me know if these don't answer your question. Thanks.

      • Byron

        I’m very pleased to see your reply, Michael. I’ve actually read each of the post you referenced and reviewed your archive under the leadership tab before I posted my first reply. I think this is just one of those things that I need to authentically experience through trial and error. Words are just words until you really experience the message through life. Plus, if I would have been present enough to catch the last bit of your post – “Tomorrow, I will address why obstacles are not only inevitable in the pursuit of our vision but necessary and how we can embrace them” – I would have realized that the mentoring I sought may be forthcoming. Between my last post and this reply, I took a power nap, gave Matthew 6:25-7:14 a read, and decided we needed a SWOT analysis to remind us of our strengths and a strategic plan to leverage them. I just went through this process for a non-profit that I’m a part of and I think it has given us new life during a difficult time for organizations that rely on grants and donations. I just need to convince our center’s leader of the virtues of this process. Thank-you.

  • Joe

    Michael-yours is the only blog I read regularly, posts like this are the reason why. Thanks for your candor and sharing this early career threatening quandry. I feel like I've had a charmed life until this year. In the course of getting ready to celebrate our 30th year anniversary, the woman I still deeply love asked me for a divorce–completely out of the blue. That was January. This June, I had a heart attack, a week after after getting off meds for blood pressure and cholesterol due to mid-life health changes that have taken my weight down significantly and lowered my blood pressure to it's lowest in years. In between, I had a job change within the company that I work for–brought about by the uncertain economic times. 2009 has been a year of obstacles–but as you write–opportunities come to us as obstacles. Each day I ask the Lord to help me remember I'm not in control. He leads, I follow.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Now THAT is a story—all of which God will use in the lives of others. Just watch.

      • Daniel L. Mc Nab

        Michael, I praise God for men of integrity like yourself. It is heartening to know that there are Godly men like you especially when we contemplate the times in which we live. I have just had my first publication through your company’s subsidiary, and I am truly encouraged. I praise God that you fearlessly stood for right even if the heavens should.
        Daniel L. McNab Th.D.

  • A.W. Noble

    Michael, I love reading your blog and gaining the experience of your wisdom on a regular basis. This particular story of going in the knowledge and confidence of the Lord's involvement to a decision point (my paraphrase) is universally useful. I have a different perspective on the way God works, though, given his sovereignty in this world. I believe that God allows obstacles to occur but he is not the one who puts them there. He absolutely uses them for his purposes, but our freewill and Satan's work in the world are encompassed in the obstacles–rather than God doing the obstacle-building. It may be semantics, but I think God is not in the business of thwarting us (his handiwork) by placing obstacles in our way, but in reminding the enemy that he (the enemy) is the vanquished oppressor whose reign has ended. Thanks again for your insight–keep them coming!

    • patriciazell

      I agree with you. As long as we believe God is the force behind the bad things that lead to our destruction, death, and loss, we are hindered in our ability to overcome them. Jesus came so we might have the life that is more abundant than the bad things in our lives. On the cross, Christ demolished the wall Satan built between God and the human race when he (Satan) conned Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Now, nothing stands between God and the human race, and anyone can access God's absolute love through Christ. Anyone can receive the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom he /she needs to overcome any and all obstacles thrown in his/her path.

  • Chrystie Cole

    Really great post! I love that you held to your convictions!

  • lizaroonie

    Mike, you and I met when you were with Regnery and we were both helping to prepare others to coalesce and prepare for potential disasters (whatever they might be) that impacted entire communities. Clearly, you have honed your skills throughout your career. It is most inspiring to watch the acceleration since the turn of the century, of your career. Through your books and leadership, now played out at Thomas Nelson, I believe I admire most, your attention to lovingly father five adoring daughters, and your abiding affection and deep respect and admiration for Gail. Of course, it is unlikely that any of your “success” would be achieved without God’s grace applied to your life and His continual “watching over” you and your sphere of influence. Yet, even in that recognition, we who find ourselves dipping into your well, also concede that it is your suppleness and surrender to Him that marks your path. You may well have assumed Sam Moore’s spot at Thomas Nelson, but his ballast “is” the mainstay of the company he began so long ago, and upon whose shoulders you stand. What a great tribute to his integrity and yours that you are able to wonderfully and authentically disarm us with this crossroad in your life. Every day we are called upon to make decisions that involve character and walking uprightly. We serve a great God who has given us everything we need for life and godliness – to make Godly choices to honor Him and not succumb to the evil that lay waiting in our path. As I “tweeted” early to my Facebook status, “despite color, creed, or conviction; regardless if you're captivating, competent, or cultivated; if you lack character it's calamitous.” I give you “props” for making a decision that a decade later, you can blog about to bring encouragement to many.

  • patriciazell

    Over the years, I have faced numerous obstacles ranging from my husband almost dying twice to poverty to marital discord to an upheaval in my personal identity. God has been faithful to lead me through those land mines (and others) without any lasting harm to me and my family. His love is absolute–perfect, complete, and real.

    I do have another comment. I don't understand why we rely on things that were written centuries ago in order to understand the Bible. (Many of the early understandings of the Bible came while people believed the sun and moon revolved around the earth.) Why do we look backwards for what we believe? The Bible has been translated into more modern terminology so we can understand it. We know the Bible, like most other written works, is full of figurative language. Also, let's face it, the traditional "interpretations" have not led to any semblance of peace on earth, good will toward man. I believe God is in the process of helping us update our understandings of the Bible. The power of His absolute love expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will enable us to overcome and put down the evil that pervades our world.

  • Derek

    This is a great post. I needed that. Thanks for blessing us with your vast experience

  • Daniel Decker

    That is powerful. I true testament to a defining moment. I think life is a series of tests. If we pass, we move forward. If we don’t then we unfortunately have to repeat the lesson until we can pass the test. And every now and then God tosses in a pop quiz just to keep us on our toes to make sure we haven’t forgot what we were supposed to already know. :)

    So easy, in situations like yours above, to justify. To find tiny fragments to hold onto versus doing the right thing. Money / commerce often taints that decision making and adds fuel to the justification fire. Would have been so easy for you guys to find ways to justify printing it, bowing to the pressure of $ over what is right. Kudos for taking a stand and passing the test.

  • Kyle L. Olund

    Mike, I remember that day well! You had the complete support of the whole team, and we were convinced that God would honor your decision. That's why so many people continue to follow you confidently, knowing that God and His Word trumps everything.

  • Noel Pentony

    Thank you Mike. I sure needed this. May God Bless you and use you to teach from your close walk with Him. May we also learn to walk just as close.

  • Anne Lang Bundy

    Mike! You've shared some pretty powerful stuff before. I can't think of what else you've written that might top this. Now I'm sorry this sat in my inbox for a day.

    Only because you're asking readers to do so, I'll share that I was also once in a situation to confront bad theology—bad enough to directly affront the blood with which we are saved. I waited for people in more authority than me to confront the speaker and they remained silent. As my zeal for God's holiness grew, the Holy Spirit compelled me to confront the speaker, right there, where the message would be disputed. [I can feel the fear I had then as I write this.] But the Lord provided the words as well as the courage. I expected and immediately received repercussions. Much later, I was fully vindicated by faithful Christians.

    I learned that day that if God compels us to speak, He'll provide the words, the boldness, and, in time, a worthy reward.

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  • KarlaAkins

    My greatest obstacle has been autism's challenges. But the rewards have been immense.

  • JMKelley

    Excellent post. (I am very curious now who this author was and what doctrine was so unorthodox!) I am wondering, and hoping you will address in another post, the controversy over The American Patriot's Bible. From reading this post, I assume you find the theology represented in that product to be acceptable and not heretical in any way. Do you approve for publication books with which you may not personally agree, so long as they are not overtly counter to traditional church doctrine?

    • Michael Hyatt

      We publish 700 new books a year. We have internal content standards that we follow. And, yes, I believe the American Patriot's Bible falls safely under this umbrella.

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  • Jody T Fransch

    Thanks for writing this and including your personal experience…just goes to show that as Christians it is possible to keep our heads and stick to principle while everyone around us are losing theirs.

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  • Danna

    Michael, I know of this book and it’s cancellation. I was greatly impressed by the integrity at Nelson when I heard how this was handled. It’s removal from the market is one of the reasons that I ended up writing my first book on a very similar subject. My pastor pulled the program associated with this book from our church when he learned of the author’s theology. He knew I’d been teaching on this subject for years with biblical integrity and encouraged me to fill the gap. The “success” of the author you mention was an important lesson for me. All works that hit the bestseller list are not necessarily blessed by God. AND…those that don’t are not failures.

  • Matt

    “Suffice it to say, she stood her ground and wouldn’t budge. In the
    course of a two-hour meeting, she preached to me non-stop, indignant
    that I had challenged her and adamant that everyone else, including
    virtually every Christian since the First Ecumenical Council in 325 A.D., was wrong.”

    So, did anyone check the facts that she had written?

    Or was everyone involved so attached to the *story* of the bible that it has to be right and anyone who challenges it is, by virtue of that fact, wrong and must be silenced?

    Sounds like your company is a propaganda company rather than a company concerned with getting the truth out to the world.

    “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” But you silenced this lady from speaking her truth, even though you had given her a contract to do so.

    Come on, the bible is over 2000 years old and is full of contradictions. Is it not time we put aside our beliefs because of what we’ve been told throughout our entire lives and instead start searching for the real truth? Even if it challenges all of our beliefs?

    Or are we going to continue believing what are simply stories, metaphors similes?