Learning Lessons from the Ant
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. – Proverbs 6:6-11
by Barry C. Black, Chaplain, United States Senate
When I was working, between my high school graduation and freshman year in college, I sold books from house to house in Columbus, Ohio. A kind Christian gentleman had opened his home to me, teaching me how to sell religious literature in various neighborhoods. During his demonstrations of how success in this endeavor should happen, I was astonished by his expertise. It seemed he sold books at every home we canvassed.
His great success created in me a false expectation. I assumed that selling was easy and would go as swimmingly for me as it had for him. It did not. When I attempted to replicate his efforts and success, I did not sell a single book. That fact was made more painful when people would not even respond to my knocking on their door or ringing their door bell.
I would eventually learn a valuable lesson about the power of perseverance-it’s a lesson that’s emphasized in Galatians 6:9 which says: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Perseverance pays dividends.
As I relaxed waiting for the law of averages to eventually triumph, I focused on seeing the people. Eventually, as the sales trickled in, I learned not to allow rejection to slow me down. I continued to do the work. And I soon discovered that instead of knocking on doors, if I sold near a supermarket or a bank then my sales would almost quadruple.
Regrettably, there was a downside to the pay-off of my perseverance. My mentor expected me to sell 20 books each day. I discovered that I could sell 20 books in one hour instead of eight or nine. But rather than using my new-found talent for sales wisely, I took it as an opportunity to be lazy. As soon as I got my expected daily quota of 20 books, I’d head to a swimming pool or a football field and spend the rest of my day with friends.
Judgement day came unexpectedly. One day (unbeknownst to me) my mentor followed, witnessing firsthand my indolence. I was startled by his response to my immaturity. “Barry,” he said, “I had intended to match whatever money you made this summer for your Christian education tuition. Because of your laziness, however, you are on your own.” His indictment hit me with a force that I still remember like yesterday. You see, I had not learned lessons from the ant. Those perceptive words in Proverbs 6 remind us of the value and the wisdom of prudent and diligent labor by stating the following: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” What lessons did I learn from the ant?
Learning the value of diligence
First, I learned from the ant the value of diligence. Ecclesiastes 9:10 seems to be encouraging this diligence when it states: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Obviously, in my literature evangelism work, I was not laboring with all of my might. I was taking advantage of the fact that I had some salesmanship talent and chose not to maximize my possibilities. I missed a matching scholarship by failing to go the extra mile.
You do recall what Jesus of Nazareth said about going the extra mile, don’t you? In Matthew 5:41, he gave us this admonition: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him or her two miles.” I regret just doing the minimum, not going that extra mile. In the long run, I would have saved time and money by laboring diligently. The dictionary is one of the few places where success comes before work. Proverbs 14:23 tell us, “In all labor there is profit.” I had to learn this the hard way.
Learning the importance of self-starting
Second, I learned from the ant the lesson of being a self-starter. Proverbs 6 reminds us that the ant has no supervisor or boss to command it to work. It has to learn to motivate itself. We see an example of this self-starting motivation in 1 Samuel 17:26. David, a Jewish shepherd, had gone to the Valley of Elah when Israel was confronted with the giant Goliath. David heard this giant speaking degrading words about Israel’s God. Goliath’s shameful rhetoric prompted David to ask, “What will be done for the man who kills this giant and takes away the reproach of Israel?” David was a self-starter.
Like David, Isaiah was also a self-starter. In Isaiah 6, he saw a vision of God after the charismatic King Uzziah had died. In the presence of the transcendent, Isaiah felt reverential awe and cried out these words, “Woe is me, for I am undone and am a man of unclean lips.”
Eventually, Isaiah would hear God ask this question: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” Isaiah responded to this celestial question, “Here am I, Lord, send me.” Isaiah did not have to wait for God to tell him to come and work as an instrument for heaven’s glory. Without a nod or a nudge from anyone, Isaiah made himself available. Like the ant, this great Jewish prophet did not need a boss to tell him.
Learning to prepare for the coming winter
Third, the ant taught me the importance of preparing for tomorrow’s challenges. It stores sustenance in the summer in preparation for the chill of the seasons to come.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul had learned a similar lesson from the ant in 2 Timothy 4:9-13. Paul wrote these words to Timothy: “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.”
How is it with your life? Are you preparing for winter? The Jewish prophet Jeremiah once said (8:20), “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.”
Learning to labor without procrastination
Finally, the ant taught me the lesson of laboring without procrastination. How often we fail to achieve laudable goals because we procrastinate. The Proverbs 6 passage states, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty pounces upon us.” Procrastination can be so injurious that we are challenged in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
Let’s learn from the ant and not let the seconds we fritter turn to minutes, the minutes to hours, the hours to days. May we not say with Jeremiah, “The harvest is passed and we are not saved.”
During this season when we speak of peace on earth toward all humanity, what would happen to our nation and world if each of us decided to go beyond the minimum in his or her labors, working diligently for God’s glory? What would happen if we prepared for the coming winter, counting the cost of indolence, and committing ourselves to excellence? What would happen if we would incarcerate procrastination, deciding that any job worth doing is worth doing poorly if that rough draft leads to a product that will bring praise and honor to God? What would happen if we practiced an “ant” religion?