I was recently asked to give a talk at the WayFM Christian Business Leaders’ Breakfast on how my faith and career intersect. Afterwards some people asked for a copy of my notes and I thought I would write a narrative to make it easier to follow:
As you all know, my name is Larry Johnston and I run All Phase Painting. When Jennie first asked me to speak to you I told her I would be honored. I also said that I didn’t want to spend ten minutes boring you with all sorts of technical stuff about painting, but that I would rather talk about my job than the way I make a living. You see, I pay my bills by painting houses and offices, but my job is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to everyone I meet.
In order to tell you how my faith intersects with my career I have to take you back almost ten years. At that time I had a pretty good job – I worked as a telemarketing manager about 30 hours per week and was making about $35,000 per year. The only real drawback was I had to work nights until about 8:00 and missed spending time with my school-age children. My wife worked as a shift manager for a car rental company making about $38,000 and from the outside we looked like a happy family. In private, though, there was a lot of fighting. I went to church regularly and my boys were very active in Sunday school. I participated in bible studies and helped out wherever needed. Because of her schedule, my wife was rarely able to attend and this became one of the cracks in the façade of our marriage – she resented my deepening faith and relationship with God as well as the time away at the church. Even though I looked pretty together on the outside, I always was aware that something was missing in my life: I KNEW I needed to be home more with the kids; I KNEW my marriage was falling apart; I KNEW that, though I spent time at the church, I was never really known. I had a tendency to stay in the background because I didn’t feel like I fit in.
I asked God to help me make sense of my life, but I wanted Him to do it on my terms: I asked Him to fix my marriage; I asked Him to bless my career; I asked for guidance in raising my kids; I asked Him to make me feel like I belonged somewhere. He and I had this conversation for about two years before I finally relented and told God He could have control of it all. That’s when God’s wrecking ball leveled everything I valued in my life.
My oldest son suffered emotional trauma from the stress of my failing marriage and I took advantage of the Family Leave Act to stay home and care for him. While staying home, I came to realize my marriage was unfixable in its current state as long as I lived in the same house with my wife. I decided to end the toxicity of our relationship by moving out in the hopes of some distance helping to fix things. I had to move with a few boxes in my car and my clothes into a friend’s basement. With nowhere to set up house, I had to leave my kids behind. I went back to work to try and rebuild my life, but within a few weeks was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on my back and had to have a surgical biopsy done. During recovery I had an abscess that caused me to miss more work and I was let go. In less than ninety days I lost my house, my marriage, my kids, my job and my health. The only thing I had left was my relationship with God and I dove into that for all I was worth.
It was at this point God started to rebuild my life. I found a reduced-rent apartment through Colorado Homeless Families. Their organization not only allowed me to move into my own place with almost no money, they gave me furniture to furnish the place – some of which I still have today – and they allowed me to get food from their food pantry while I got back on my feet financially. I applied for and received unemployment, and since this happened around the time of 9-11 I also qualified for extended benefits. This was good because I seemed to work only sporadically over the next couple years as I tried to discern God’s will for my life and through His grace my bills always somehow got paid. It was during this time that I realized how much I enjoyed painting while working as a handyman. And I began to study God’s word daily. I dove into daily devotions and spent two years reading the entire Bible (at least most of it) with a class from church.
I also became involved in men’s ministry. I started with Promise Keepers, where I learned I had something more to offer my family than a paycheck. Promise Keepers created in me a strong desire to be a better man. The truth was I didn’t look what that looked like, so I continued to look to the Bible for examples. What I found was that every man God chose to use – Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Solomon, – all of them failed a LOT. This knowledge gave me hope that, though I had fallen, God could still use me in some way.
I then went on an experiential retreat created by my pastor and another man called Men of Faith in Mission which taught me that even before I was born, God had placed in me certain gifts (which I call my gold) that he wanted to me to use on Earth to further His Kingdom. I learned how the world in which I lived and my own shame and fear had caused me to bury my gold a long time ago. And I realized how a part of me still resisted God’s will for my life (see Romans 7:14-23). But I also saw how God could use the experiences of my broken life and the gold He had given me to glorify Him and His Kingdom on Earth. From these lessons I developed my mission statement, which I’d like to share with you:
I am Larry D. Johnston. I am a bold, caring, strong man. I have been called to use my empathy, my compassion and my strength to help create a world that fosters hope in one another, faith in God, and serenity for those around me.
I contemplated how to fulfill this mission and decided the best way would be to show other men what I had learned and help them become better husbands, better fathers and better workers and to show boys that being a man of God could be both rewarding and fun. So I started teaching other men (both young and old) these lessons in variety of ways: I became a leader for the same retreat that began my mission; I became a volunteer with our church’s high school ministry, and I try to lead by example by serving as a deacon and elder of our church.
Shortly after my first Men of Faith retreat I came up with the vision for All Phase Painting. My main motivation for opening a business had less to do with money as it did with the ability to set my own schedule – I wanted to have enough flexibility to be available for my middle-school-aged boys. As I began the process of starting the company, I realized early the company really isn’t mine, but belongs to God and I am just the steward of His gift. Every day I look for ways to glorify His Kingdom through the company, and ways are always coming up: from sending 75 gallons of paint to an orphanage in Mexico to painting a church office for the cost of materials, to painting a recently-retired pastor’s new home free with extra paint I had collected – I see all of these as a service that glorifies our Heavenly Father. There are other ways as well: praying with a customer preparing for surgery; taking time to tell a prospective client how God is changing me through missional work in Jamaica; sharing with people like you all the things He has done for me every opportunity I get; offering free painting certificates for fundraising at different charity events; and providing a positive, Godly environment for my employees.
I also feel very honored to be an Impact Partner with WayFM. Music was very important to me growing up (and still is). There were many years when I gave up listening to the radio because of the negative message and I wasn’t aware of stations that had an encouraging word. Knowing of a station like WayFM would have been an excellent outlet for filling that need had they been around then. It speaks to my heart to be able to help provide a positive message for today’s youth.
The last way I try to honor God through All Phase Painting is by sharing a simple message on how to live a good life. It comes from I Thessalonians 5: 16-18:
“Be joyful always” – No matter how good your circumstances, there are bad things as well;
and no matter how bad your circumstances, there’s also good things. No matter how bleak
your situation, there is always something to be joyful about. If you need an example, look at
how children live.
“Pray continuously” – When you have a best friend, you make the time to talk to them, no
matter what else is going on in your life. That’s how you become best friends. God wants to
be your best friend. Get to know Him better the only way you – by talking to Him through
“Give thanks in all circumstances” – When things are going your way it’s easy to be thankful,
but it’s not during the good times we do most of our growing. We learn and grow and
become stronger during the difficult times in our lives. It’s also when things are tough that
we are given more chances to let God carry part of the load for us. We need to be thankful
for these things too.
“This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” – If we can live out these three things, we will be
living a fulfilled, joyous life, and that is all God wants for us.
Finally, I’d like to share a couple of the lessons I’ve learned over the last seven or eight years as I took this walk with God:
1. Never ask God to fix your life unless you really mean it – you never know what that
2. Realize that sometimes, in order to build the palace God has planned for you to live in He
has to first tear down the shanty in which you currently reside.
3. God NEVER promises that, just because you choose to follow Him your life will be easy.
In fact He promises quite the opposite – He promises that you will be reviled and hated
for His name. But He also promises that He will always be with you to see you through.
4. No matter who we are, where we’ve been, or what we’ve done, we all have something
to offer for the glory of God’s Kingdom – In fact sometimes it’s those very pasts that hold
the key to our contribution.
5. When Jesus needed people to start His church, He didn’t look to professional priests or
rabbis or Levites trained in the Torah. He chose common everyday people – laborers,
shop keepers, small business owners – people like you and me. He even chose a reviled
tax collector to help form His church. Perhaps he knew common people with common
problems would be better suited to carry the Good News to other common people with
common (and uncommon) problems and tell of the plans He has for us all.