HIS WAS A HARD LUCK CASE. Forced to abandon his military career in disgrace, he subsequently experienced seven years of abject failure in the numerous businesses he attempted. As a farmer, real estate investor, rent collector, entertainment promoter, and entrepreneur, he grew repeatedly and intimately acquainted with bankruptcy. His applications to numerous local businesses were routinely declined. He was finally forced to sell his pocket watch, his only remaining valuable, to provide Christmas gifts for his impoverished family.

Reduced to peddling firewood on street corners, his ragged, unkempt appearance evoked pity from those who had known him in better days. When someone asked him why he was selling firewood in such humble circumstances, he replied, “I am solving the problem of poverty.”

Finally, in desperation, he took a job as a clerk working for his two younger brothers in a tannery. When war broke out, his application to join the army was rejected. Several futile attempts to enlist in the army prompted this lament: “I must live, my family must live. Perhaps I could serve the army by providing bread for them.”

It was an unlikely beginning for someone who would ultimately lead the Union armies to victory during the American Civil War and who, at age forty-six, would become the youngest man to be elected president of the United States. Yet such was the early life of Ulysses S. Grant.

The Bible tells of another man whose early life bore no hint of the great man he would become. Joshua’s forefathers were slaves. Spanning four centuries, Joshua’s ancestors had lived in Egypt, much of that time in bondage. Born with no possibility of freedom, education, or military training, the thought of a stellar military career would have seemed ludicrous to Joshua.

Henry Blackaby, Called to Be God’s Leader: How God Prepares His Servants for Spiritual Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).

I have recently written a 6-week study of Called to Be God’s Leader–a Study of the life of Joshua


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