In my childhood I once heard a missionary cite the first verse of Ecclesiastes 11 as inspiration for his intrepid mission to some exotic locale. This is how he quoted it: “Cast thy bread upon the waters and it shall return unto thee after many days.”
Truthfully I was flummoxed. Why, even in heaven’s name, would anybody toss their sandwich into the river? It wouldn’t float, so how would it ever come back? And even if that miracle occurred, what would you do with soggy bread? At that point even the dog wouldn’t eat it! And why would God want us to do such a thing?
Enter newer translations that allow the force of the original text to pop into winsome clarity: “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return.”
Now it makes sense: Take a risk! Don’t just hoard your harvest. Your crop may go bad, local markets may dry up, and by shipping some of your crop abroad you may be able to make a tidy profit—or not. The next verse also becomes clear: “Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.” Because we are not God and can’t control nature or the economy, and because we’re never sure what will be successful, we should take risks, but always wisely.
As is his habit, the writer of Ecclesiastes draws practical wisdom from his investigation of the limits God has placed on us mortals. How can we live fruitful, obedient lives within the limits?
That’s good advice as we enter a new year. We have little control over what God, the devil, humanity, or happenstance will send our way in 2013. And still “we see only a reflection as in a mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12). But huddling under the bed or in the past and refusing to venture out isn’t our best option. We need to risk faith’s journeys in so many areas of our lives and do so with our eyes wide open to those scary uncertainties.
There is one certainty we can take to the bank. Immanuel will walk with us come hell or high water. Our destination is sure even if our ways of getting there aren’t.
So take the Teacher’s advice: “Sow your seed in the morning and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well” (Eccles. 11:6).
We have an even greater certainty: Whatever we invest in God’s coming kingdom in 2013, despite many, many failures, is guaranteed to yield a rich harvest. Sowing for any harvest is risky business. Every God-fearing farmer knows that. But there’s still plenty of fertile soil for the gospel out there. Sowing God’s Word will yield a bumper crop, just as it did when Jesus went out to sow (Matt. 13). Regardless of what the new year brings, let’s never neglect to do our kingdom chores and always keep our eye on the harvest.
Have a very blessed and fruitful new year.