Casting bread

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days”.
(Ecclesiastes 11:1 KJV)

Have you tried throwing bread into a river or lake?  Did it come back?  I doubt it!  It’s more likely that a duck snapped it up[1] or that it drifted away and out of sight.  So, what are we to take away from this odd (but often quoted) Bible text?  Different translators have attempted to make it clearer, for instance:
“Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return.”
New International Version)

“Invest your money in foreign trade, and one of these days you will make a profit.”
(Good News Bible)

“Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns.”
(The Message)

Not one of them talks about bread or water!  But is this text really about making profits from international trading? Or is it about contributing to charity?  Considering the verse that follows it (Eccl. 11.2) I think the charity suggestion may be nearer the mark, but the phrase that draws my attention is, “after many days”.

How do you get on with prayer?  Be honest.  There are times when prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling and we wonder if we’re really doing anything useful. And what about your giving? Or your acts of service?  Doesn’t it sometimes feel as if we’re throwing our goodness to the winds?  There are times when we give of our best and nothing seems to come of it.  Nobody notices and nothing changes.  If we see any results at all, they come after very many days, or months, or years.

Most businesses aim for quick returns, even when trading overseas. Modern western society is geared to achieving on-time deliveries and instant gratification.  Democratic governments run on short-term goals, focusing mainly on the next election.  Even Christian charities feel the need to encourage donations by issuing Prayer Letters to make the donors feel that their contribution made a difference.  But we need to be thinking about the longer term.

This is about keeping going, even when it seems pointless and we feel discouraged.  In God’s service we are investing for the long term to achieve results that we may never see in this life.  The good things we do will be noticed, though maybe not in our lifetime. Even our prayers will be saved up as an offering in the final judgement:
“And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” [2]

And the good work that we have done will be noted when we stand before the judgement seat of Christ:
“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” [3]

Yes, it can be discouraging at times. We may sometimes wish that we could see the outcome of the things we do. But don’t give up when the going seems hard.  Don’t lose heart when there seems to be nothing to show for your spiritual commitment and your loving acts of service.
 “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” [4]

The things we do quietly and unobserved, and the efforts we make that seem to pass unnoticed and unrecognised, are all valuable.  Let’s keep investing our goodness for the long term. The bread will return.


[1] NB Experts recommend that we DON’T use bread to feed ducks and swans, as it’s not good for their digestion. Appropriate seeds are preferable, or cooked rice.
[2] Revelation 8:3 (KJV)
[3] 1 Corinthians 3:12-13 (KJV)
[4] Galatians 6:9 (KJV)

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