Casting Your Bread before the Waters

Brad Horton

person holding pastry

“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Ecc 11:1). I think we can all agree this is not literal. The question, then, before us is “what does it mean?” Admittedly, it is a hard text to understand. There have been different interpretations given over the years. One is that it’s related to giving. Casting your bread is sharing what you have to those who are in need, and in many days, you will receive something back. Second, perhaps it pertains to industry. Some believe it’s casting seed in a flood plain, and after many days grain comes. Third, it may pertain to business by sending your bread out to sea to have a return when ships come in. The idea is to receive a reward after the risk of sending out your goods on a ship. Many believe this interception is the most likely. Some would say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” 

Certainly the idea of risk in business in plausible here. If I may, I will offer this principal for our spiritual business as Christians today. Whatever the risk we take to invest into the kingdom of God will not come back empty-handed. We invest time, talent, and treasure, and it’s never wasted. 

We see in vs. 2 that we are “to divide our portion to seven or eight.” The context here is giving in different areas. In the area of business or industry, it’s called diversifying. Spreading an investment out over several different areas to keep from putting “all your eggs in one basket.” One area is lacking, maybe the other is outperforming. The main reason for this is “for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.”

What does this have to do with the spiritual business of God? There are ways to apply this sound financial advice to God’s spiritual business. Instead of holding on to what we have and hoarding for ourselves, we are to be prepared for uncertainty. We are to be spiritual venture capitalists for God—taking risks, and this isn’t exclusively or even primarily about money; it’s about doing different things to spread the gospel. 

Some of the things we attempt may fail. Planting a church, starting a ministry or bible study, or developing a missional work. Some flourish, some don’t, but we should never make the mistake to stop investing in the kingdom work of God. 

“If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap” (Ecc 11:3–4). Some Christians are so risk weary they end up waiting for the right time and never do anything. I must admit, the Lord has helped me to see this over the years, essentially to not waste my life on things I can’t control. I have come to know Ecclesiastes 3:2: “A time to plant, a time to pluck up what is planted.” There is a time for everything. But the meaning here seems to be the farmer doesn’t know what time it is. 

He keeps watching the clouds and the wind. A tree falls and there it lies; both of these events are out of his control. If we wait for the perfect time, where we know it’s right, we may wait forever. There is one thing he can control, the casting of the seed. The application for us is we can cast our bread out before the waters, not knowing what may come. Waiting on the perfect time—perfect moment—we tend to wait forever. 

The fact is we will never know until we sow. Spiritually speaking, we won’t know this either. If there’s a desire to start a men’s discipleship group but you wait for the right number to show interest, you’re looking at the clouds and the wind. You have seed to sow, but you are paralyzed by things you cannot control. Instead of doing things we ought to be doing, we keep putting them off. We wait and wait and wait for the right time. “Things will be better tomorrow,” we say. 

There are no guarantees in this life under the sun, “for time and chance overtake them all” (Ecc 9:11). Rather than watching the wind, rain, and the clouds, sew what you have. Pursue what you feel the Lord leading you to do. Visit a friend, start a bible study, help with ministries at your church, help on the mission field, and lead your neighbor to Christ. Don’t let fear hold you back; walk by faith, not by sight. 

I must admit, I have let the fear of the uncertainties of life hinder me. It’s a growing process I think we all undertake. Recently I considered stopping a Bible study due to lack of interest. I almost did. But then I started sowing instead of looking. 

In vs. 5–6 we see the concluding synopsis and it is helpful and convicting: “Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.”

In these verses is a good sermon to preach. We don’t know how a baby is formed, and we don’t know the activity of God in all the ways of our life. But he isn’t silent nor still. We do trust him as we seek and follow him. We may go in one direction and he providentially moves us towards another path. Not because we are out of God’s will, but because he directs our paths as we make plans. Whether it’s morning or evening, clouds or sun, windy or not, sow the seed.

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