I really like the first six verses of Ecclesiastes 11. They are among the most positive in a very pessimistic book. The advice these verses contain is timeless; it is applicable to all people and all ages. I hope you find it as rewarding as me to meditate upon the sound counsel of the Teacher in this short passage.

(B) It is worth taking risks in Christian service. v1: Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.

The merchants in the days of Solomon took huge risks. They invested in a cargo of wheat and sent it out across the waters to a foreign port in the hope of trading the grain for precious stones, spices and almug wood. If the ship returned with such a cargo it could be sold off making a huge profit for the merchants. At the beginning of the 17th century English traders were sending small sailing ships on the hazardous journey to the East Indies to exchange broad cloth and trinkets for nutmeg. The few ships that returned laden with nutmeg realised huge fortunes for the merchants who made the initial investment.

It was not easy for a merchant to risk all on an overseas trading mission. The ship sailed out of his control. He relied upon the expertise of others - particularly the captain of the ship. The cargo was at the mercy of the weather. His capital was locked up for many, many, months and there was no knowing when the enterprise would yield a profit - if it ever would. Yet merchants took the risk believing that nothing ventured nothing gained.

If we follow the example of Jesus we shall take risks with people. He invested a huge amount of time and energy teaching his twelve disciples. They did not seem very promising material! Yet Jesus left the work of spreading the gospel to them. He left no tangible memorial to his ministry - no book, no letters, no monuments or great works of art. Jesus just left a handful of men and women who believed in him. The last words he spoke to them are recorded in Acts1v8: "But you will recieve power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

I read, quite a long time ago now, about Mr Flowers. He was crippled and confined to a wheelchair. This did not stop him qualifying as a teacher. After 40 interviews he still did not have a job. No headmaster was prepared to risk employing him. In the end Alan Bullock employed him. Finally a headmaster took the risk and was willing to wave any regulation that got in Mr Flower's way.

We also have to invest our time and talents in the Lord's work in the hope that eventually we will see a return on our investment. I have spent many hours writing about the Christian faith in the hope that it will do some good. Every Christmas, I write a long letter and circulate it to all my friends and acquaintances. It has often involved much labour at a very busy and tiring time of year for a teacher. I try in my letter to bear some witness to the faith in the hope that non- Christian readers will at least pause for thought. I have written many items for the village newsletter in the same spirit. Finally I have worked on this website with the same hope. I have to say that so far the investment has yielded few dividends. I have to remind myself that the promised blessing will be realised only after many days

It is very discouraging for the merchant to have nothing to show for his outlay. Many Grace Baptist churches in Suffolk, including my own, have put a lot of time and energy into children's work with little to show for it in terms of conversions and church growth. It is hard to keep going in those circumstances. There does come a time when the merchant runs out of capital. How he longs for a ship to sail over the horizon and enter port to justify his investment.

(C) Live Generously. v2: Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disasters may come upon the land.

This scripture probably refers to the ancient practice whereby the host at a feast distributed succulent portions of meat to his guests. The Teacher is saying - do this while you can - before some unforeseen disaster strikes.

Many people have vain regrets because they did not give whilst they could. I used to visit an old man in Whepstead - a retired chicken farmer. We would discuss Dickens' novels which we both loved. He would quote with enormous relish some of his favourite passages. He would also play me tunes on his flute. That old man's chief regret, and he would mention it at nearly every visit, was that he did not show his wife more appreciation before she died.

I would sometimes take my mother and father out for a ride in the summer. We would pass farm shops and little stalls by the road side. My mother was always keen to stop. I drove straight on. If I had my time over again I would stop and give my mother that little pleasure. It is too late now!

Some people get a lot of love and appreciation in their lifetime. I have just returned from visiting a lady dying of cancer in hospital. She was surrounded by her loving family who were making a tremendous fuss of her. She deserved it. Sadly some people do not get the love that they need and deserve. I put my father to bed for four years. Almost at the end of that time he said, "Kiss me, John." I wish I had kissed him every night before turning off the light. When the light is turned off for the last time the opportunity for showing love is gone.

(D) Don't dwell on what cannot be changed.v3: If clouds are full of water, they pour rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie.

This strange statement of the Teacher seems to say: there are things that happen, they cannot be changed by any amount of wishful thinking and just have to be accepted.

One afternoon I made a grave error of judgment. I set out with my form to do a little survey in the village of Debenham where I taught. The clouds were billowing up and I paused to reconsider my decision. The children, of course, did not wish to return to the classroom. They urged me to continue. For once I bowed to pressure. Perhaps, I didn't want to return to the classroom either. We walked on about another 300 metres when the heavens opened. By the time I returned to school we were all drenched. I regretted my decision. I wished I had never left school. No amount of wishful thinking was going to change the situation. It was no good dwelling on what had happened. The clouds were full of water and they poured rain upon the earth - and my exultant class. I had to get on and minimise the discomfit of the wet children and the likely fall out from irate parents!

We have to accept that there are things that cannot be changed. Once the tree has fallen it has fallen and it will lie where it has fallen - until it is chopped up and removed. There is no point brooding about what has happened in the past. Indeed it is possible for vain regrets to hinder decisive action in the present. The past is past and cannot be changed and it is futile to dwell upon it. What is done cannot be undone although lessons can be learned for future reference. It would be a long time before I ventured out with a group of children with the threat of rain in the air.

I think we can learn a lot from the example of David as recorded in 2Sam12v15to23. The son of David and Bathsheeba became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. After seven days the child died. David's servant were frightened to tell David that his son was dead. They said, "He may do something desperate." The servants were amazed at David's reaction. He got up from the ground, washed, dressed, worshipped in the tabernacle and then sat down to a good meal. David explained his behaviour to his puzzled servants: "While the child was alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

There many situations that we cannot bring back. I would like to return to the days we had a young pastor and some youthful members. I regret they all left us. I prayed that they would not. However, they did leave and no amount of wishful thinking is going to bring them back. I have to go on and play the hand I have been dealt to the best of my ability and with God's help. I have to play till the game is over.

(E) Don't make excuses.v4: Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

The farmer could always find an excuse for putting off work. The weather wasn't promising. The wind was getting up and that wasn't good for sowing. There was a hint of rain in the air and so reaping had better be postponed. The trouble with this approach is that little sowing or reaping ever gets done. It is foolish to wait for the ideal time to work.

One of the reasons I ventured forth on that fateful day when the skies opened in Debenham and nearly drowned my class and myself was that no Geography fieldwork would ever be done if the teacher was always worrying about the weather. I operated on the principle: if in doubt about the weather - go ahead. This served me very well, except on a few exceptional occasions, for 40 years. In Britain it is folly cancelling anything in anticipation of bad weather. This year a church meeting was planned at Brockley for a Tuesday afternoon. A dreadful storm blew up with thunder and lightening, strong winds and hail. I got one or two frantic phone calls asking if the meeting was called off. "No," I replied, "It is only a storm - it will blow over - and we are unlikely to have another one like it today." My remarks were greeted with scepticism - but I was right!

It is very easy to be put of Christian work by anticipating the worst. I suggested a few years ago that we hold our evening service on the village green. It would remind people in the village, if nothing else, of our continued existence. My two fellow church officers were very lukewarm about this initiative and sowed the seeds of doubt in my mind. Perhaps, no one would turn up. Perhaps, I had better cancel the service. However, I went ahead partly in memory of my father who had been an enthusiastic and able open-air preacher. To my surprise more people turned out on a cool windy evening than usually attended the service when it was held in the chapel. One old man was there with his invalid wife - well wrapped up in a blanket - whom I least expected to make the effort. He said to me after the service, "It took me back, John, over 60 years to when my sister in law used to speak in the open air in Soho." The service was a witness but it was also a sort of memorial to my father and my friend's wife's sister.

We often look for excuses for inactivity in Christian service. It has been tried before - with no success. We lack the personnel for a major initiative. Nothing seems to work. People are not ready for the gospel. Whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

(F) There are some things we shall never understand. v5: 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.

It is not easy for a trained meteorologist to understand the vagaries of the wind - particularly variations from year to year. No two years are alike. There are endless variations in wind strength and direction. It is still not fully understood how a single cell in the mother's womb with its DNA intact develops into a baby. The working of the human brain remains largely a mystery. Our lack of knowledge does not prevent us making use of the wind or having babies or applying our minds.

Many of God's ways are past finding out. We cannot understand why one individual suffers and another doesn't, why tragedies strike one community rather than another, why one church grows and another declines or why the Spirit moves to convert thousands at one time rather than another. Our own lives may be a mystery to us. I cannot understand why God has overlooked my abilities as a teacher and called me to church administration and the care of the elderly. We have to accept, by faith, that God knows best.

One of my favourite Old Testament stories is God's encounter with Moses at the burning bush. Moses thought he was unfit for the task God called him to do. God wanted Moses to be his spokesman and said to him "Now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt." Moses objected, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past or since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." This cut no ice with God who told his reluctant servant, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

Moses questioned God's decision to send him to be the deliverer of Israel. He did not think it was a very good idea. He questioned God's wisdom! God made the right choice. For 80 years God had been preparing Moses for just this task. Moses did lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

            Oh, the depth of the riches of
            the wisdom and
            knowledge of God!
            How unsearchable his
            and his paths beyond
            tracing out!
            "Who has known the mind of
            the Lord?
            Or who has been his
            "Who has ever given to God,
            that God should repay
            For from him and through him
            and to him are all
            To him be the glory for ever!
            Amen. Romans11v33to36.

Be optimistic and full of faith. v6: Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.

This is a gleam of light in a gloomy book. The farmer's of Palestine cultivated very rocky soils - the yield from which was very unpredictable. They sowed in the morning knowing that their effort could be in vain. They continued to sow in the evening because it was possible the seed falling on land of a slightly different character might do better. So long as the farmer had seed to sow and land to sow it on he kept sowing. He wasn't sure which seed would yield well but he hoped that some would. Of one thing the farmer was certain - if he didn't sow, there would be no harvest.

Some of us have been sowing for a long time. If we are honest there has not been much of a harvest. We must keep sowing. All is not lost. We have good seed and a great and wonderful God. Sowing, watering and weeding is our responsibility. It is God who gives the increase.

Moses spent 40 ineffectual years in Egypt. He did look upon himself then as the Hebrew's champion. There followed another 40 years in the desert of Midian - keeping sheep. He gradually lost his passion for the welfare of his people. Even after God called him to the leadership of Israel Moses had to contend with the intransigence of Pharaoh. Finally a mixed multitude was led out of Egypt towards the Promised Land. There followed 40 difficult and frustrating wilderness years before the Israelites stood ready to enter the land of promise. What a chequered career Moses had. However, he was God's instrument and through him God achieved his purpose.

God will achieve his purposes through us if we remain faithful and continue diligently in his service.