“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” ().
A figure is used in this text, the figure of a farmer scattering seed upon the receding flood waters. The seed floats on the waters and slowly sinks into the muddy soil left behind. The seed is apparently lost! But not so, for our text promises that you shall find it after many days.
This figure of sowing seed is used often in the Bible for the spiritual sowing of the seed of the gospel. The soil is the hearts and lives of individuals and nations. The seed is the Word of God. And the Sower is Christ through His church. Now, it is especially the work of missions that I want to emphasize in this article, but this text is also applicable to many different callings. It could be parents teaching their covenant children, teachers in our good Christian schools, pastors and elders in catechism instruction, professors in the seminary, pastors and missionaries preaching and teaching, and the individual witness for which we as Christians have daily opportunity.
What is important to note in this text is that we have a command. It is not a mere suggestion or encouragement to be engaged in this activity. It is a command: “Cast thy bread upon the waters….” It may be difficult and we even might pull back from the command. Think of Jonah, who was commanded by God to preach to Nineveh, that wicked and enemy nation. Or think of the command to Jeremiah to preach to apostate Judah. It would land him in the bottom of a muddy cistern. But we neglect this command to our peril: it is a great sin against God who commands us and uses means for the salvation of others.
This command demands patience. The farmer must wait for the seed to sprout, wait weeks and months for the grain to grow and mature, and finally produce fruit that can be harvested. Similar to the farmer, the casting of spiritual bread takes patience, only much more. Notice what the Spirit says in verse 11: “thou shalt find it after many days.” What is demanded is diligence. We read in, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand.” It is so easy for us to postpone our activity, thinking that there will be a better time (v. 4). Rather, we must grasp the opportunities as the Lord gives them.
It is so easy for us to become discouraged because we do not see the spiritual fruit right away. In many occupations one is able to see the result of his or her labor quickly, whether that be a carpenter, housewife with daily chores, or a painter putting a clean coat of paint on drab, dirty walls. But parents sometimes do not see any fruit on their instruction with a son or daughter. A pastor might not see the fruit of his preaching. The missionary might not see much growth in a Bible study or mission field. “…After many days” requires much patience, diligence, and holy wrestling in prayerful dependence upon God. It is many days…for an unconverted son or daughter, in a difficult pastorate, or on a mission field that does not seem to grow. It might be finally in eternity that a child or parishioner or a neighbor comes to you and says, “Thanks for your testimony;” “Thanks for your labor;” “Thanks for your prayers.”
Why would a sovereign God cause “many days” for us to find fruit upon our labors? First, He is sovereign, free to do as He pleases, determining what the fruit is and when the fruit manifests itself. God is not bound by time. Second, He does all things for His glory. The man in John 9 was blind all his life so that when Jesus Christ came in His public ministry, He received glory in making the blind to see! There is a possible third reason. In waiting to give us fruit, God teaches us to walk in faith, not sight. “Lift your eyes to ME!” God says. We need faith in God’s promises, faith in the midst of difficulties. We need faith that God will give the field to labor in and that He will give the increase. We are to cast our bread upon the waters. We are humbled in our entire dependence upon the Lord. We read in, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
But God adds to the command a promise. And what a promise it is! We need to claim that promise. The promise gives life to the command and strength for the laborer. “Thou shalt find it.” We will find the abundant seed, the awesome fruit. It is the immutable covenant God who cannot lie that promises. None who have trusted in the Lord have done so in vain. None who have followed God’s promises have been disappointed. God fulfills His own Word in His own way and in His own time. Christ Jesus the Incarnate Word was planted in the earth. He died and rose again and with Him brings a great harvest of men, women, and children, those who know and love and believe in Him.
So the Lord is saying to us as churches, “Trust me. My command will do its work. I will bless My own Word. My powerful, efficacious, saving Word is a power unto salvation to all who believe. Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.”
The above text is one of many texts that I have preached on in our churches to stir up zeal for our labors as a denomination. How do we cast our bread upon the waters? We do it by preaching, teaching, and making and following up on contacts that our churches have. I have had the privilege to preach in many of our churches in Classis East. Several of our churches have been conducting community Bible studies and several more churches are contemplating doing so. It is a joy to conduct or help our churches in this labor. The Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) has for thirteen months given pulpit supply to the Franklin Reformed Fellowship in Pennsylvania. Those who have gone there would try to make and meet more contacts in the area. The DMC and Byron Center PRC Council have recently received a request from the TULIP Fellowship in Florida to assist them with preaching and teaching. This is a small group in St. Petersburg, Florida. Their pastor has been diagnosed with cancer and will be undergoing chemotherapy. The Byron Center Council approved my going for three Sundays to preach and teach and to evaluate the possibility of further work in that area. I also received approval from my Council to look for mission possibilities in the inner cities of Grand Rapids and Holland. Therefore, I toured the Holland Rescue Mission and conducted a chapel service for the men.
Thank you to all the churches that have asked me to fill their pulpits. And I again express my willingness to work with any evangelism committee to set up Bible studies. As we obey God’s command to “cast thy bread upon the waters,” we are encouraged by His promise: “for thou shalt find it after many days.” In obeying this command, encouraged by His promise, in diligence and prayer we patiently wait upon the Lord to continue to open doors for us.
In Christ’s labors,
Missionary-pastor Audred Spriensma