Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days. 2 Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, for you do not know what evil will be on the earth. 3 If the clouds are full of rain, They empty themselves upon the earth; And if a tree falls to the south or the north, In the place where the tree falls, there it shall lie. 4 He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap. 5 As you do not know what is the way of the wind, Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, So you do not know the works of God who makes everything. 6 In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand; For you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good.
Fall is the season when many churches host their annual missionary conferences and so as I write, I have missions on my mind. Actually missions have been on my mind since the early days of my conversion to Christ. At age sixteen I was led to Christ by a missionary appointee heading for the Philippines. He was serving as an intern in my home church, which also had missions on its mind. A year later when I went off to Bible College I joined the Far East Prayer Band, because that is where the Philippines was located and I wanted to pray for the missionary who led me to Christ. My place of academic learning also had missions on its mind. Missionaries were paraded through our Bible conferences, chapel services and even taught several of our classes.
I always wanted to be a missionary. I watched many of my colleagues answer the call to both foreign and home missions and wondered why I never received the call. Over the years I learned that my ministry would be to promote and encourage missions in the local church. Though never receiving the call I have watched several couples and singles go out from the churches where I pastored. I have served on numerous mission boards, visited mission fields and ministered to hundreds of missionaries through family conferences, seminars and missionary modules. Sometimes God directs our lives in ways other than we might have chosen but always according to His purpose. But I have always had missions on my mind. Recently I was convicted about calling or writing letters to aging servants who have had a spiritual impact upon my life and I felt I should let them know. I penned a letter to Dr. Warren Wiersbe thanking him for introducing me to expository preaching, reading and studying the lives of great men of the past, and having a pastor’s heart through his writings and Bible conference messages during my early years in ministry. In a very kind response he said that his wife, Betty, and he had always wanted to be missionaries but God had other plans. Instead he was to write books that are now published in numerous languages around the world. He said, “I guess I was a missionary after all!”
The main thrust of missions is sowing and watching God work. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” Dr. Howard Sugden once chided me for lamenting that I had not seen much fruit in my ministry. He wisely said, “The harvest is not at the end of the service but at the end of the age!” This is why I have chosen the above text from Ecclesiastes 11:1-6. It really is a great missionary text!
Any ministry for God, and especially missions, must exercise great faith, great effort, and great patience.
- Great faith – verses 1 & 5 – here we have both a promise and a reward. If we will cast, in His time, we will find! Faith requires activity. Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible. Casting is sowing. Verse 4 says if we procrastinate in sowing we will not be rewarded with reaping. If we do not cast (sow) we will not find (reward).
- Great effort – verses 1-2 – sowing the seed is work. Jesus often speaks about working and laboring in the Gospels. To cast your “bread” is to sacrifice, sometimes in going, other times in giving. Bread symbolizes that which is necessary. Verse 2 instructs us to give to not only seven, but also to eight. We must go the extra mile in sowing the seed. I don’t know how much real “sacrifice” we see in our churches today in getting our missionaries to the field so they can sow the seed. When God calls do we listen? Abraham was willing to give his son; the widow was willing to give her mite; Moses sacrificed the pleasure of sin for a season; Stephen gave his life by being stoned. Great faith always involves great effort, on our part and on the part of others.
- Great patience – verses 1 & 6 – discouragement is not uncommon among pastors, missionaries and even faithful lay people in the church. Why don’t we see more “bang for our buck?” Why aren’t more responding to the call to missions? Why don’t we see more fruit from our diligent sowing? More souls saved? If Solomon were here today in the common vernacular he would simply say, “Hang in there!” That is what these verses encourage us to do. It may take “many” days before we find or see results. Keep sowing in the morning and in the evening, for we have no idea what will prosper in His time. As someone once said, “Be patient, cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back cake!”
What a wonderful time of the year to have missions on our mind! In fact, every day we should have missions on our mind. To be reminded of the importance of sowing without delay. Why? Because we “do not know” (vs. 2,5,6) what God will do as we faithfully and patiently sow the Word.
Go quickly, for the fading hours with haste are sinking to the west;
Exert with zeal your ransomed powers, nor think it yet the time for rest.
Go quickly, for the sons of time are journeying to a hopeless grave,
And tell to earth’s remotest clime of Him who came to seek and save.
Go quickly to the realms of sin; invite as many as you find;
And welcome all to enter in – the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.
Go quickly with the Living Word sent to the nations from above,
till every heart on earth has heard the tidings of redeeming love.