Being self-employed has its advantages. This particular week in April isn’t one of them. The due date for filing tax returns and paying unpaid taxes from the former year has always been one of those days which I approach with apprehension and disdain. Oh, I know for most of you reading this, that statement makes no sense. You’ve worked another year; your employer withheld the amount of taxes you requested, and you probably already received a refund from your wealthy Uncle Sam. I’ll try to go easy on this point, but the reason he has all that money is that you gave him an interest free loan for the past 12 months. That said, I have dreamed about receiving a refund from the Treasury some April, but it will probably never happen. At least, it is to be hoped not. As a businessman, it’s not to my advantage to allow any capital to leave my control except for investment in merchandise which will net a profit. If I’m giving interest-free loans to my Uncle in Washington, I can’t be buying guitars in my hometown.
There was one April, twenty-five years ago, when I wished I had given the IRS a fair amount more money, because when the time came to pay up for the year, all the capital was tied up in assets. They didn’t appear to be liquid assets either. I was devastated to learn the week before the fifteenth of the month, that we owed almost $4000 dollars in taxes on the previous year’s income. I argued with the accountant, to no avail. “The numbers don’t lie, Paul,” he explained as he showed me the facts in black and white. We had purchased too much inventory and the government was treating that increased stock as profit. Cash or no cash, we needed four thousand dollars within the next week or the penalties and interest would begin to stack up.
It was a little ironic. Just the year before, when the accountant handed me the packet of forms to mail in, he asked delicately, “Paul, do you need anything? We’re about the same size. I’d be happy to give you some clothes…” I thanked him, but gently brushed aside his offer. We didn’t know we were financially embarrassed. Our two children had nice clothes, we were making our payments on our house and business, and the old cars were paid for and running (most of the time). The Lovely Lady and I giggled about someone thinking we needed to be helped and then kept plugging away at the business we had just acquired and were struggling to keep afloat. Now, barely a year later, we owed almost twenty percent of a year’s profit in taxes because of poor planning on our part!
Where were we going to get that kind of money in a week? We didn’t believe in borrowing money to pay taxes; it just didn’t make any sense. But, we never had that kind of cash come in in such a short period of time, at least not funds that weren’t already designated for rent and other overhead, or inventory purchases. I nearly panicked. What to do? Aha! I had it! I would call my Dad. Obviously, I wouldn’t ask for a loan, but after hearing our predicament, he couldn’t do anything but offer to help, right? I made the call that night. After making small talk for awhile, I mentioned my problem. He listened and then offered advice. Not money, advice! Evidently, he hadn’t gotten the memo that when his son, who never asked for money, called talking about money problems, it meant that he was expected to pony up. That’s what Dads do, isn’t it? Well not my Dad, at least not this time.
“Hmmm. You know, the disciples in the Bible had a similar problem. What did Jesus tell them to do?” Well I knew the answer from Sunday School days, just as most of you do. I was disgusted with him, but I responded anyway, “He told them to go fishing and they caught a fish, with the money for their taxes in its mouth.” I couldn’t resist a little jab though, “How does that help me?” His laconic reply came, “I really don’t know. I was just remembering that’s what He told them to do.” With nothing else to be said, we ended the conversation.
“Great!” I groused at the Lovely Lady. “No help at all, just some stupid line about what the disciples did in the Bible.” I still had no plan, no visible means to take care of my obligation. I went to bed, only to toss and turn as I lay there. “What does it mean? What does it mean?” Sleepless, I got up and went downstairs to sit and read the passage in the Bible. No help there. I knew what they had done. They went fishing. They were fishermen, and they went fishing. The light in my head came on with a brilliant flare! They went fishing! They did their jobs; nothing more, nothing less. Their profession was catching fish from the sea, so that’s what they did. I still wasn’t completely sure what it meant to me, nor how the money would come, but for now, all I was sure of was that I needed to go to work and do what I was trained to do, what I had been gifted at. And, that’s just what we did.
For the next week, we opened the music store at the regular time in the morning and then, at the regular time in the afternoon, we closed it and went home. In between, we did a bunch of praying. I kept expecting some moneybags buyer to walk in and purchase half of our stock, paying cash for it, but it never happened. We rang up sales on the cash register, day after day; some were significant amounts, some were small, but there was no spectacular, miraculous event. We paid our rent and our electric bill, as well as the invoices for merchandise which we received during that time. And, on April fifteenth, we placed our tax forms in the stamped envelope, along with a check for nearly four thousand dollars, completely covered by cash in the bank! There was no hoopla, no extraordinarily large sale, no borrowing; we just did our jobs. I will affirm that we never had that much extra in a week’s time before or after, without a large sale. I still cannot explain it. We paid our bills, did our regular tasks, and were provided for.
“How anticlimactic!” I hear you say. “No huge miracle? No wealthy benefactor? No mysterious check in the mailbox? Just, go to work?” That’s it. And, you know…my years on this earth tell me that this is how most miracles happen. No genies, no lamp to rub, no magic wand; just simply doing what we were made to do. God rewards faithfulness. In the quiet, plain paths, His miracles are inconspicuously bestowed. Not with the commotion of a dog-and-pony show, not in the glare of the spot-lights and television cameras, but in factories, and shops, and homes, He cares for His own.
“Going fishing!” That’s how I answered the question from my young children about how we were going to take care of our need, that April so long ago. I’ve thought of it often at other times too, but without fail, the events of that week in early spring twenty-five years ago are called to mind every time April rolls around again. I’m still amazed today.
“…go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
(Matthew 17:27~New Living Translation)
“When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.”
(Helen Keller~blind and deaf American author and educator~1880-1968)