This morning, for all the rapid, fast-paced items of life, man is by and large lazier today than he was in years past. Due to some of the modern "labour saving" devices, the physical adeptness of society continues to erode faster and faster. It is really no wonder that when civilization became less rural that most people's physical activity declined as they were not working in the sun from dawn to dusk. More importantly for our purposes this morning, the rising level of comfort and bounty in the natural realm has also – sadly – given rise to the increased laziness of a spiritual kind. More than ever before, people have access to Bibles, ease of transport to the house of God, and plenty of time (from all those labour saving devices right?). Yet, the accessible Bibles stay closed, church attendance slowly – or in some places maybe not so slowly – declines, and the "extra" time is filled with running hither and yon chasing worldly pursuits. From this vantage point, the wise man's words of yore ring clearly as ever and still ever new.
Solomon, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, calls man to look at one of the smallest and simplest natural analogies. The ant is proferred as a suitable illustration of the child of God's honourable behaviour in this present world. While there are probably many different aspects of the ant that could be considered as we go to her and mark her ways, this writing will focus on three aspects of the ant in which we as God's children can learn how to live, move, and have our being in Godly conduct.
The first thing Solomon mentions is that the ant has no guide, overseer, or ruler, but even without oversight still does what is required. Now, we understand from nature that there is an ant that is considered the "queen." Generally, she is the "mother" of the colony, but she is not micromanaging every detail of the colony's existence. Rather, she is honoured by the others for giving birth to them, and they bring her food and sustenance. However, when it comes to daily work, the ant does what it is supposed to do without being told. Why does the ant do such? God has naturally given it the instinct to do what is necessary for survival. And, while it is true that God has set up the structure of natural government for man's good, there is a sense in which God's children have been given the instinct to do that which is right without micromanaged oversight.
Paul instructed Timothy in the first chapter of the first epistle that laws (moral) were given not for the righteous but for the ungodly and sinner. Though it is good for all men to have laws, the righteous man should not need them. In other words, when considering the ant, God's regenerate people should see a picture of built-in moral instinct that comes through the new birth. Paul even discusses this principle when considering Gentiles that lived outside of the Mosaic code. (Romans 2:12-15) Why is it that the people of God know what is morally right – even without all the nuances of the law? God has given us a nature that is attuned to righteousness. Whenever we go astray, we know that we have done wrong because the conscience cries out in pain, and the law or moral code only serves to verify that which is already written inside by the finger of God. So, the ant serves to instruct us to the instinct to do that which is right which He has given to us by His Spirit. While He is our overseer, guide, and ruler, He does not have to stand over us and micromanage our every action for us to know what is right and what is wrong.
Secondly, the ant moves to prepare food during times of harvest and summer. Even though it seems that the food is in abundance, the ant understands that more should be gathered to prepare for times when food is not so plenteous. There are a great number of applications that can be drawn from this, but they can all be summed up simply in this: the ant looks to the future of things not seen as yet. Our Lord has instructed us not to look at tomorrows when considering the needs of today (Matthew 6:33-34), but He has also instructed us to walk by faith and not by sight. (II Corinthians 5:7) Though we might see things around us today that seem good, we should understand that times do change. Things do not remain the same. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we should – in a spiritual sense – store up for the future. Not nearly enough can be said about seizing upon the advantages of spiritual blessings today for use during the lean seasons of life. That is one reason why every opportunity to store these things up by attending the house of God and pursuing daily Bible reading and study should never be neglected.
My life has been immeasurably blessed by having a spiritual storehouse to draw from when entering the dark winters of life. By having rich food to draw from and eat on during these seasons, I have been able to weather the storm more honourably than I have when I have failed to prepare and had nothing to draw from when necessary. As the Master instructed us, we should be constantly seeking to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven where the moths, rust, and thieves cannot reach them to steal them away from us. (Mathew 6:19-21) During these recent days of natural plenty, sadly we have seen what happens when people live on the "edge" financially speaking. House foreclosures, credit card meltdown, and general unrest have marked the times of such behaviour. Yet, if people live within their means and look to the future with a sense of preparation, the ills that have plagued the economic world would be greatly reduced. Likewise, if God's people utilize the times of spiritual "plenty" we have today as mentioned above, we shall find the going easier if our religious freedoms, liberties, and opportunities are taken away in the future.
One of the great things about this particular analogy of the ant "looking ahead" is what happens when the ant endures the winter times. With the food stored up to eat on during lean times, the ant knows from the evidence around it that times of springtime and harvest will come again. What happens if the winter hits and there is no food? Not only is survival bleak, but the knowledge and evidence that the winter is one day going to end is not as apparent. When God's children get beat down by the toils of life, it helps to have spiritual food to know that the winter will end either in this life or the next. Our spiritual instinct should be fed from God's bounty to keep the eternal view and picture in mind. Friends, the toil of life is going to end. One way or another, we will get through the winter. However, we should get through the winter(s) of life honourably in the knowledge that He will visit us either again in this life or finally in the call to come home.
This vein of thought leads us to the last perspective of the ant that we wish to investigate. One of the ant's most amazing qualities is what it is able to handle weight-wise. Some ants can lift up to 50 times their body weight. If an ant is lifting 50 times its body weight above its head, that is the equivalent of a 200 pound man lifting 10,000 pounds over his head! Such a sight would no doubt make people stand back in awe and wonder, yet the ant dutifully goes about storing food and carrying large loads at a time. As God's children, God has given us the amazing ability to handle the problems of life that seem so great and insurmountable.
One of the most comforting verses to me in time of trouble is I Corinthians 10:13. The verse specifically states that nothing we encounter is bigger than we can handle. Those things that we cannot handle (like our depravity and eternal destination) have been mercifully taken out of the way by our Elder Brother, but those things that we have to deal with daily are things that we can lift. If we encounter something in life that is literally bigger than we are, like death, God has given us the ability to lift the subject by understanding that death (while bigger right now than our mortal flesh) is not insurmountable. He has conquered death for us so that it cannot vanquish us, but also that knowledge gives us peace and comfort when viewing death in our lives to know that it is not the end. Why is it that God's children can view death with joy and peace? Why can God's children stare at a crumbling world and still have the fortitude to soldier on in the face of trials bigger than they are? How do we bear up under the strain of things that absolutely dwarf us? The simple fact is that God has given us the ability to bear things much greater than we are. (Philippians 4:13)
Friends, I am not going to pretend to know what is happening in your life right now or even pretend to know how it feels as I may have never gone through something like it. However, I am confident from what the word of God teaches that we are able to handle the situations of life. Proof? Consider the ant. God has given us a spiritual ability to do what the ant does naturally. When you consider what we have to deal with daily, it is absolutely frightening from a purely natural sense. Is it any wonder why the toils and problems get so many down to the point of depression and utter helplessness? Yet, God has given us a spiritual eye that can see the ultimate coming of glory in us to know that nothing now is worthy of comparison to it. (Romans 8:18) Such knowledge sustains us to bear up under the varied weights of life.
When considering these three aspects of the ant, is it any wonder why the wisest man – save our Lord – pointed us to her? She provides a pattern of life naturally that we should attempt to mimic spiritually. No matter what comes, we can bear it, and we can always look ahead to brighter seasons of life based on the past occasions with our Lord ultimately culminating in that never-ending season of eternity. Then, having those two points in view, we can work and labour in the fields we know to be right and good, knowing that our ultimate Ruler has instilled in us the necessary knowledge. Friends, when I consider the past seasons of my life, I realize just how much I can learn from the ant, and it makes me want to live more fervently and devotedly to the One that has blessed me so much, and who I am persuaded will bless me unspeakably in the future.