Your only experience with ants most likely involves a home infestation and a desperate call to the exterminator! No one wants to see ants hiking along the kitchen counter or building mounds along the back decking.
Have you ever stopped and observed ants for a moment or two? When our children were younger, we purchased a small “ant farm” inside a plexiglass container where we could watch them working. King Solomon didn’t have a plexiglass container, but he did write, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6).
God wants us to learn from these industrious members of His creation. But what lessons could we possibly learn from these tiny, pesky creatures?
During Solomon’s observations of this insect, he would have first been struck by the ant’s unnatural strength. An ant can lift and move objects forty times its own body mass. If humans could do that, we could easily lift our own cars and move them around—making parallel parking a lot less stressful!
Furthermore, the organizational skills of ants are remarkable. Up to four million ants can live in a single colony with a highly intelligent and complex infrastructure, including building projects, food services, home management and exploration.
And that’s only the beginning. Let’s pause long enough to “observe the ant . . . and become wise!”
ANTS WORK WITHOUT EXTERNAL PRESSURE OR INCENTIVE.
The first thing Solomon writes about the ant is that “without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest” (Proverbs 6:7-8).
These words chief, officer, and ruler indicate a legal structural system. Without any judicial system or judges, without any officers or police force, and without any executive authority—like a president or a supervisor—the ant efficiently gets its work done, to benefit both itself and its community.
In practical terms, ants don’t need the boss looking down their neck to get the job done, and they don’t need the praise of any supervisor in order to do their job well.
Do you follow the ant’s example in your own vocation? Do you work just as hard when the boss isn’t looking? Do you sit around after finishing a project, or take the initiative to tackle the next task?
The Christian should provide an example of diligent, internally motivated work in every aspect of life.
ANTS COMMUNICATE AND COOPERATE EFFECTIVELY.
Through meticulous observation, scientists have learned the complex language ants use to communicate—a language composed entirely of complex chemical smells.
These chemicals, for example, when emitted from a forager ant, indicate that the ant is going on a new trail that other ants should follow. But if that ant locates a dead end, or some danger, a different chemical will announce the dead end, and the ants stop following the forager.
An entirely different smell is a call for help. If an ant finds itself in danger or facing an object too big for it to carry alone, this chemical brings other ants to assist.
The Bible describes our Christian fellowship as a body, and no one part of the body can function independently from the rest of the body. Believers are encouraged to communicate and work in cooperation, helping the entire body of Christ function well.
ANTS SERVE ACCORDING TO THEIR DESIGN.
In a single ant colony, there are worker ants, soldier ants, scout ants, and a queen ant, whose job is to reproduce, keeping the colony growing.
There is no career ladder, promotion system or salary raises. Ants don’t try to move to a different job, sabotage another group, or try to promote themselves to the queen.
Likewise, God designed each believer with a spiritual gift. Some are called to lead and teach, others to be hospitable and serve, and others to evangelize and church plant.
Do you ever begrudge your spiritual gift, or find yourself becoming envious of another person’s role in the church? Peter writes that spiritual gifts do not primarily exist to benefit the individual, but the church. Spiritual gifts aren’t meant to be used for personal profit, but for communal cooperation and the benefit of others (1 Peter 4).
In our individualistic world, we can so easily become obsessed with ourselves, can’t we? Scroll through social media sites for more than 10 seconds, and you’ll see enough to prove the point.
ANTS REFUSE TO GIVE IN, GIVE UP, OR GET BY.
The type of person Solomon directs to the ant is a “sluggard.” Webster defines sluggard as “a habitually lazy person,” and provides synonyms like “couch potato, deadbeat, do-nothing.” Maybe a particular name or face popped into your mind while reading that list!
We all know a sluggard, or at least we know the characteristics of a sluggard.
But let’s make it personal: are you ever satisfied with an incomplete project? Do you pursue excellence, or just good enough to get by?
The Christian follows the example of the ant and does everything in life “with all [their] might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
The question we ought to ask ourselves today is: how can we be a little more like those amazing, industrious, ants?