Taxes and “Humble Bragging” – Prayer and God’s Blessings

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Phil 4:6)

By prayer…

Taxes and Facebook Distractions

I’m supposed to be doing my taxes today, which I don’t exactly love. I’ve devoted a non-trivial chunk of my life opposing taxation. But I started on a positive note by adding up our charitable contributions for 2018. I’m thankful that, despite a big pay cut resulting in my lowest-earning year since 2002 (or, adjusted for inflation, 2001), we were still able to give some. I’m looking forward to giving more this year, having just received a big pay increase.

That’s as far as I got before I was distracted by Facebook and stumbled onto a post by my friend and fellow FSP-President-Emeritus Carla Gericke, in which she reviewed more than a year of results from living a much healthier lifestyle. Her remarkable transformation has included stopping drinking, losing a bunch of weight (and keeping it off!), even ending decades-long anxious habits. It has been a powerful inspiration to many people, myself included.

Praying for Others

Carla might not have known it before reading this, but I have prayed for her for many years. As an aside, as far as I know, she’s not a Christian, but I feel like I should share all this anyway, hoping it will encourage her, and you. When I pray for people, I start with the most important stuff: that God would reveal Himself to them, that they’d respond, and that His will be done. Then I move on to specifics like healing, personal growth, family crisis, finances, or whatever else it is going on in that person’s life that prompted me to pray for them in the first place.

In Carla’s case, her transformation over the last couple years includes some things I specifically prayed for years before she embarked on this more-recent journey. Some such prayers are never answered so affirmatively, and some results remain unseen by me, so it’s an extra joy for me to read about her successful improvement. Now when I think to pray for her, I can move these particular things to the thankful column!

“Humble Bragging”

In her post, she encourages, “humble bragging,” I suppose the bragging part is to review the work we do that led to some achievement. It’s obvious that Carla has done her part. Had she not, she wouldn’t be where she is today. Even though she’s not a Christian (as far as I know), her example clearly underscores is an important but often misunderstood Christian principle: work. Christians are quick (and right) to encourage prayer and trust in God, but sometimes (wrongly) reluctant to acknowledge the matter of our active participation. We’re called to work, not just sit around and wait for God to magically make the world a better place. Carla has, indeed, worked with significant visible success.

Where Christians ought to excel (beyond non-Christians) is in humility. Even in the presence of success like Carla has had, we recognize ultimately where everything, even our mere existence, comes from. We can only do our part in any good thing because God created us to do so in the first place, a humbling point I pray we all keep in mind.

Carla closed by asking us (her friends) to share some “humble bragging” of our own in the comments on her post. On that invitation, I’ll start my own story by bragging on the God of the universe for providing wisdom, opportunity, ability, drive, patience, and so many other blessings to me. God is worthy – no humility required there. Yes, I’ve done some right things along the way, but God provided everything from my crisis, to the tools to cope with it, to an even greater outcome than I could have imagined.

Prayer and Career Transformation

We join this story in mid-February, 2012, when World filed for bankruptcy. I spent several weeks in a fog of uncertainty and despair. I remember going to Liberty Forum a week or so later, dazed, wondering what to do next, exploring non-aviation options, but not really thinking clearly about much of anything. I was quite discombobulated for an uncomfortably long time.

Eventually, I snapped out of it, faced reality, and prayed. It’s easy for me to spout off Philippians 4:6 from memory. It was quite difficult to face my source of income being yanked out from under me in slow motion while being the only (outside) income earner for our family of five-gusting-to-six with a not-at-all-poor lifestyle. Anxious? Check. “With thanksgiving?” You’re kidding me, right?

Any pretense of self-reliance was replaced with a healthy dose of humility. I had done my part. Others had destroyed my livelihood. I learned (again) I’m ultimately not in control of everything in this life. In the grandest scheme of things, God is. Whatever the outcome, I committed to doing my best. And I prayed. I prayed with as much thanksgiving and as little anxiousness as I could muster. Not perfectly. At all.

Varrin’s Prayer Tip #1: Thank God for your crisis even though you’re anxious, and you’re definitely not thankful. I haven’t known why I’ve faced every trial I’ve faced, but I have noticed that my opportunity to see the foolishness in my faithlessness is approximately proportionate to the magnitude of my anxiety and ingratitude.

I prayed especially for wisdom and opportunity. And, of course, I prayed for a good outcome. But knowing that the outcome is ultimately up to God can be disconcerting in the absence of faith. Some sick people die. Some wealthy people die broke. These fates befall those who pray and those who don’t. God’s not obligated to enrich me, but I prayed for a good outcome anyway.

Do Your Part

Then I wrote a plan. I didn’t merely conceive it, I wrote it down in detail. It started out 9 pages long, single spaced, plus spreadsheets. There were numerous options, ‘wishes’, contingencies, Plan A, B, C, and more. It was a flight plan on steroids for my career. I got input from Edi and others who I consider to be wise counsel, and I asked people to pray for me along the way, which I rarely do (I should be less shy about that and so should you). I kept refining the plan all along the way. And I kept praying.

Then I worked the plan. I did my best with what God gave me: time, talent, and treasure. For the remainder of 2012, I went back to college, finished strong (3.9 GPA in my last 10 classes, in 9 months, all while working full time), got a 747 type rating and, oh by the way, we had another child. All of this was challenging and more stressful than I care to admit. That required more prayer, perseverance, and a lot of support from family and others.

Plan A didn’t materialize at that time and I needed another job. At just the right time, only weeks before I would have been furloughed at World, God opened the door at NCA, which was a wonderful blessing. It was a very good job and the best Plan B imaginable. I kept working on the Plan A that I originally wrote down, but some of the pressure was off because the the flying at NCA turned out to be excellent, even if other factors were, to borrow a saying from Japan, “almost okay.” The story could have ended there, happily ever after flying at NCA. For a while, that looked probable.

Patience and Persistence

Then, seemingly out of the blue, after more than five years of praying, planning, working, and trying, came an email in October, 2017, to interview at FedEx. Finally, Plan A had come fruition – an opportunity to truly maximize the value of my skills by serving others doing exactly what I love to do.

Varrin’s Prayer Tip #2: pray early, often, and don’t give up praying! Some answers come quickly, some never. And some, well, just don’t ever pray for patience…

But, due to unusual circumstances, I wound up stuck on the 757. Cue record scratching. I had just landed the best job in the world, but domestic night hub turns? I wish I could say I had a perfect attitude about it the whole time. I tried, but I admit I did feel frustrated for a while. Why wait so long to call and then put me in the domestic airplane with all my international experience? Say it with me everyone, “I deserved better!”

Varrin’s Prayer Tip #3: Ask for God’s will to be done, and be ready for anything. It may not be what you expect, likely won’t be easy, and might include blessings you can’t even imagine.

Expect the Unexpected

I don’t think God magically whispered in the ear of a zillion people at FedEx to weirdly conspire for my benefit against my will, but I have no doubt in God’s unseen, supernatural providence through this last year. I’m sure there’s more yet to be revealed, but there are a couple things that I have learned only after being assigned and kept on the 757 for much longer than I wanted.

First, this unexpectged test of my patience revealed a previously-unconscious sense of entitlement. Ironically, I have consciously eschewed entitlement all along. My mind, and even my mouth, had it right, but my heart not so much. I guess intermittent periods of success and frustration can do that. Shame on me.

Second, I apparently needed a reminder that sometimes there are unforeseen benefits when we don’t exactly get our way. When I started at FedEx, nobody knew that my dad would suddenly get sick in October and die in November. I had the opportunity to fly Fresno trips before, during, and after that time only because I was ‘stuck’ on the 757. What I asked for may well have been what I deserved: missing out on that blessing of immeasurable value. Other surprise benefits have come along, too, some of them financial, even just this week. Although I didn’t get ‘my way’, what I got was even better.

Now, ‘my way’ finally appears to be coming , at what I presume must be exactly the right time. I have an April 4th class date on the 777. With a hopefully-better outlook, I’ll keep praying for God’s provision, and doing my best.

Trust God, Do Your Best

These challenges and blessings illustrate my point in this whole message: trust God, and do your best.

It is this second part that Carla wants to hear about, and which inspired me to write all this down at this moment. What improvement have I been working on that I feel good about? Years of career development is now paying huge dividends, and I’m filled with joy as a result! But that pales in comparison to the profound humbling that continues to come at every turn. God revealed Himself in unexpected ways, I responded imperfectly, and His will was done to His glory. And even through my imperfection, I was blessed. Thank God for my tiny trial and His big blessing.

Now, I invite you to embrace the first part: trust God. This means, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Prov 3:6 ESV) That may require patience, challenges, even suffering along the way. But you’ll grow closer to God, and that reward is valuable and eternal.

Now, about those taxes… Pray with me that they’ll shrink like Carla?

 

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