‘Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.’ Ecclesiastes 11:4
Our kids spent the first 7 years of their lives at St Bede’s Drummoyne with a brilliant back yard and even larger church grounds out the front of the rectory. They explored every hidden space under bushes, climbed every tree, learned to ride on the long drive and held many parties on the lawn. There was undoubtedly a certain physical security in the fact that the area was well fenced, but they played and explored primarily under the security given by mum and dad. They knew that we were never far away. They knew we would come out to patch them up if they fell, share in their new discoveries—and give them a roasting if they were doing the wrong thing or going where they shouldn’t. They were free to have a go within the safe bounds of our sovereign parenting.
Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 addresses us in the same terms. If we have imbibed the wisdom in the whole book of living ‘under the sun’ with the Son, remembering our Creator and his Lordship over this and all our days, then we have a garden with boundaries in which to live, explore, fail, be forgiven and flourish as best we can in our time. The traditional language of vv 1 and 2 is strange to the modern ear—casting bread and giving portions. It can sound playful, like kids on a beach, throwing bits of bread in to see if some will be eaten or which pieces will float back. A more recent translation gives it adult weight:
‘Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.’
Here is the call to be active in using what is to hand, make preparations for hardship and explore possibilities, without any guarantee of success. It is a call to act, knowing that in a broken world, disasters and hard seasons can come—but we remain under the sovereign hand of a trustworthy Lord who has made everything ‘beautiful’ or ‘fitting in its time’ (3:11).
Verses 3-5 press home the need to be active and humble. Verse 3 just states the basic, immutable principles of rain and gravity—clouds full will bring rain and a fallen tree stays down—yet it follows in v. 4 with another basic principle and challenge:
‘Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at clouds will not reap.’
At some point observation needs to turn into action, for without it, there can be no harvest. Are there parts of your life where you need to act—where you keep putting things off to your detriment and that of others? Are you persistently waiting, watching, worrying….? It might be in matters of the Lord or church—perhaps in your key relationships at home—or matters of work or retirement or money.
At the end of Ecclesiastes, after a poignant and grave reminder to get into life while we have sufficient youth and vigour (11:7-12:8), the author refers to the ‘making of many books’ and ‘much study wearying the body’. (12:12) Here is an implied call to shut the books at some point, get up and live! If I read the journals I wrote as a younger man, I hear a youth frequently bemoaning the lack of a girlfriend or a prospective wife. I might have had one earlier if I’d stopped writing about it and spent more time with actual people! Are you frightened to act because you can’t be sure how it will go? Are we turning in anxious circles, staring at the clouds, watching the wind, because we can’t know or control the future? Kevin de Young, in his brilliant little book, Just Do Something, makes the following observation:
‘Anxiety is living out the future before it arrives. We must renounce our sinful desire to know the future and to be in control. We are not gods. We walk by faith, not by sight. We risk because God does not risk. We walk into the future in God-glorifying confidence, not because the future is known to us but because it is known to him. And that’s all we need to know. Worry about the future is the sin of unbelief, an indication that our hearts are not resting in the promises of God.’
Don’t be paralysed by what we don’t know; be liberated and encouraged by what we do know. In verse 5 the teacher states yet again the necessary limits of our knowledge
‘As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.’
We are not God. Accept the mystery of matters, but rejoice that we have a God who is at work. Remember that your life, this day, the world and history is pregnant with his purposes. He remembers his word, he is fulfilling his promises and all is headed for a birth—a day when he will bring all things in heaven and on earth under one head in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:9,10). Knowing this, let us act in our day and place:
‘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.’ (v. 6)
Here is an echo of that Genesis 1 command to be deliberate, muscular, creative stewards of the garden—to have a go under the sovereign security of God as father. Not everything is going to work, and all of us have no doubt learned a lot from mistakes, but some things will flourish, and much else is a work in progress. Cast your bread upon the waters. Don’t be paralysed by what we don’t know or the fear of failure. Be encouraged into godly action by what we do know of our Lord and Saviour.