Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.  Ecclesiastes 11:1

What does this phrase “cast your bread upon the waters” really mean?  It is basically a call to put your faith in action.  It is a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” kind of challenge.  It bids us to take a risk and relinquish control of something that is precious and essential to our existence in hopes that something even better will return.

There are three common interpretations of this scripture verse.  The most accepted interpretation among many Bible scholars is that it refers to helping the poor.  The verse is viewed as an encouragement to provide bread to those who have none. Proverbs 19:17 says “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will reward him for what he has done.”  (NIV) 

Another interpretation is that this verse was applied to the practice of planting on flooded fields.  In biblical times when the Jordan River would overflow its banks, farmers were known to go out in a boat and actually sow their seed right on the water.  They did this believing that the seed would sink to the bottom and eventually be covered with the fine silt left by the receding flood waters.  That would serve as rich soil in which to grow an abundant harvest.  Of course it took tremendous faith on the farmer’s part to sow in such adverse conditions.  But he took the risk because of the rich return he hoped to gain.

And the third interpretation of this passage referred to trading by sea.  Sending ships to far off places, sometimes through uncharted waters, often on stormy seas and always at the mercy of the winds was a risky venture.  That was complicated by the fact that in those days they thought the world was flat so ships might literally fall off the edge of the world.  It required an entrepreneurial faith-filled spirit but the potential for great financial returns made it worth the risk. 

All three of these interpretations of “casting bread upon the water” share several common denominators.  Each represents a call to take an action based solely on faith and trust in God.  Each involves taking a risk which carries with it the threat of loss and reckoning with the fact that what is cast upon the water may not come back.  But the counterbalancing motivation in each of these actions of faith is the possibility and promise of a rich reward. 

Now the phrase “after many days” gives us an important clue.  Rewards from ventures of faith do not come floating back immediately.  Experience teaches us that quite often it takes “many” days to see and taste the fruit of our labors.  James, in his epistle reminds us “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.”  (James 5:7 NIV)

“Casting our bread upon the water” requires an attitude of faith that is willing to leave the results and the timing to God.  This can be difficult because it means relinquishing control of what we value and cling to so tightly.  But as this verse promises, it is only in risking by letting go and giving away that which is precious, that we can hope to have it, and much more, return to us.

Isn’t it time you took God’s nothing ventured, nothing gained challenge and cast your bread upon the water?   You’ve got to do it if you want that abundant return you’ve been dreaming about.

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