Long ago my sister gave me The Way Things Work, by her former professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. It is just the kind of book for a person like me who thought as a child that Frank Sinatra really lived inside my mother's radio box. The book tells inquiring minds how all kinds of everyday objects, contraptions, and natural elements work: levers, gears, wheels and axles, electricity, telecommunications, and nuclear power.
God, in His book, also tells us a lot about "the way things work." The Bible is my go-to book for understanding "what causes quarrels and what causes fights among" us (James 4:1). I prefer God's analysis of these dynamics to the secular psychologist's. The Bible, not the shrink, is my manual for understanding how to repair a broken relationship: If I am at fault, I need to "first be reconciled to [my] brother," even before I go worship at church (Matthew 5:23-24). If my brother is at fault, I need to "go tell him his fault, between him and [me] alone" (Matthew 18:15).
And many other such insights are given by God's Word into "the way things work" on a spiritual plane. But there are some things, God says, that we do not know and cannot know the workings of.
Because there are visible and invisible dimensions of life, and because the larger part is invisible, God gives instructions and extra encouragement to help us be about the business of His kingdom and wise living. He says:
"Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days" (Ecclesiastes 11:1).
He knows that if we look only at the short-term or apparent results of an effort, we will be discouraged and may give up trying. Sometimes it seems as if we prayed for nothing, or shared the gospel for nothing. Or worse, sometimes we don't even bother sharing the gospel because we have "cased" that person and already decided he or she is not open to hearing it.
"He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap" (Ecclesiastes 11:4).
But the fact is we just don't know how our efforts will pan out, and we don't ever know exhaustively the circumstances in a situation. We don't know what's going on in another person's heart and whether the Lord has been preparing that heart secretly, and how our slightest and feeblest word of truth spoken into that prepared ground may be the very piece that was missing to birth salvation.
So God assures us that there is a long-term result, around the bend of our field of vision, that will make our efforts worthwhile, if we will only believe and not "grow weary in doing good" (Galatians 6:9):
"As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything" (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
The moral of the story:
"In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good" (Ecclesiastes 11:6).