Lessons from the Ant

In Jesus’ teaching He would often use various aspects of God’s physical creation to illustrate the spiritual truths that He wanted to get across to people. Jesus spoke of fruit bearing trees, vines and branches, birds and the lilies of the field, seed and different kinds of soil, sheep and goats, wolves and serpents. I think much of God’s creation was designed not just to have an ecosystem where life is possible and not just for our enjoyment, but I think God also designed some things to give us wisdom.

We’re going to look at a little aspect of God’s creation this morning that has great wisdom for us. Solomon, the wisest man to walk the earth, encouraged people to also go look at this bit of creation and in doing so gain wisdom. Solomon studied plants and animals. He was a horticulturalist and agriculturalist and biologist (I Kg 4:33). And in Proverbs 6:6 Solomon wrote, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise…” That’s what I want us to do this morning. Observe the ways of the ant and be wiser because of it. The following verses in Proverbs 6 reveal to us that Solomon primarily has in mind the ant’s work ethic, self-motivation to prepare for the future. But there’s even much more than that to be learned from them.

When you think of an individual ant, you wouldn’t think that ants would fair very well in this world. They’re near the bottom of the food chain. They’re a staple in the diet of anteaters, armadillos, spiders, frogs, lizards, certain snakes, birds, fish, even bears sometimes. It’s a dangerous world for ants. Many cannot see very well. They cannot out run their predators. And only a tiny fraction of them can reproduce.

And yet these slow, barely seeing, vulnerable little creatures not only survive in this world, but they absolutely flourish. They are arguably the greatest success story in the history of the animal kingdom. It would take over a million of your average size ants to equal just my body weight. But there are so many ants in the world that the total biomass of ants is almost equal to the total biomass of human beings in the world. That means there’s close to a million ants for every human being on the planet. Ants have colonized almost every landmass on earth. The only places where they do not live are places like Antarctica, and Greenland, and Iceland (because they don’t have any little mittens). They’ve probably even invaded your kitchen and bathroom. The largest colony ever discovered stretches 3,700 miles along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. That’s hard to comprehend. And you wouldn’t know it, because it’s underground. And if you’ve ever had ant mounds in your yard you know that they are very difficult to get rid of. They flourish in this world.

When you think about an individual Christian, you wouldn’t think that Christians would fair very well in this world either. It’s a dangerous world we live in for Christians. Our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour,” said Peter (I Pt 5:8). “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” said Paul, “but against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). And on our own we are weak and vulnerable and drawn to many things that can kill us – temptation, distraction, misplaced priorities, discouragement, intimidation, worldly pressure, deception. It’s difficult for most of us on our own to reproduce more disciples like ourselves, to actually go build a relationship with someone and get them open to listening to us and then teach them about the Lord and establish for them the truthfulness of what we’re saying and show them following the Lord and bring them to make those difficult changes in their lives and become a disciple of Jesus. That’s not easy for most of us. And from statistics I’ve heard, most converts don’t make it for the long haul. The larger percentage fall away.

How can we survive and multiply and thrive and fill the earth? We can do it the same way that the ants do it. Every ant is a contributing part of a colony. Ant colonies are often times described as “super organisms,” because they function like a single entity. All the ants work together, each contributing the little bit they can toward the same purpose, the health and advancement of the colony. They’re all like little tiny members of one body with one mind controlling them. It is because they function like a super organism that they thrive in the world and have filled the earth. And the way Christians multiply and thrive is same way. In Jesus’ prayer the night before His arrest in the garden, John 17:20-21, He prayed, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone [meaning not just on behalf of His apostles], but for those also who believe in Me through their word [and that’s all of us, we’ve come to believe in Christ through the word that the apostles spread and wrote down for us. So the Lord asked for us]; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us [He prayed that we may be one, one great super organism. Why? He says], so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” How can we conquer the world for Christ? How can we multiply and fill the earth? By being one, like the ants. Paul said it too. Ephesians 4:16, he said here’s how the body of Christ, the church, grows. He said, “from Christ the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” These individual parts of the body are individual Christians. When Christians are fitted and held together and each doing their little parts like members of a body, like a super organism, the body grows and thrives.

But often the ants are better at it that we are. And we can learn from the ants about how to better function as one body, as the Lord would have us to. Let’s observe 4 ways of the ants that the Lord calls us to imitate.

#1 let’s notice…

The Purpose of Every Ant

I mean what does an ant live for? What is the great goal that an ant gives its time and energy, its life to achieving? It’s evident when you think about what ants do.

When a couple hundred thousand army ants travel across the floor in the Amazon rain forest go make a raid somewhere, along the path there will be little ant-size potholes that make travel more difficult and slower for the ants. So some of the ants will actually use their own bodies to fill the little potholes in the path. If they come upon a hole that’s about their body size, they will plug the hole with their body to smooth out the path for all the rest of the ants, so they can travel easier and quicker. And incredibly they will even match themselves with the holes they fit best. Bigger ants will plug bigger holes. Smaller ants will plug smaller holes. And they will lie there and let the thousands of other ants walk all over them. And then once all the traffic has passed for the day, the down trodden ants will climb out of the potholes and follow the rest back to the nest.

When a foraging ant discovers a large piece of food, rather than just hanging out there and eating his fill, then keeping it his own secret so he can come back later for more, he immediately heads back to the nest leaving a scent trail that other ants can follow to the food source.

And also researchers have noticed that ants seem to have a way of communicating to each other about their own health and nutrition, and if one ant is not as well off as the others, the other ants will feed the weaker one.

Among certain ant species there are ants in the colony called soldier ants. If there gets to be a hole in the nest from the weather or something, if there’s a breach in the ant hill where it’s vulnerable to enemy intruders, these ants will plug the holes in the ant hill with their heads. So if anything comes to steal food or babies they’ve got to get through them first.

What’s an ant’s purpose? An ant’s purpose is simply the good and advancement, not of itself, but of the colony. They give their lives for the colony.

What is your purpose in life, really? What are living for? Why do you go to the job you go to during the week? Why do keep the hours that you keep at the office? It’s to earn money. But why do you earn money? Why do you conduct yourself and interact with people the way you do at work? Why do you do what you do when you come home from work? Why do you spend your money the way you spend it? Why do you hang out with the people you hang out with and interact with them the way you do? Why do you spend your Saturdays the way you spend your Saturdays?

For most people, the purpose behind their career, behind how they spend their money, behind how they interact with people, behind how they spend their time is to gain the most earthly enjoyment and pleasure and happiness that they can for themselves and perhaps also for their kids and their spouse. Their vision of what they’re hoping to attain by what they do is something like an affluent life in a big house with perhaps trophy size elk and deer and bear heads up on the wall and pictures of places they’ve been and things they’ve achieved, and they can have people over who will ask them about those things and they can tell the stories and impress them and be admired. And they can drive in their nice car to go out to eat at nice restaurants whenever they feel like it…. Something like that is what they’re after. It’s their purpose in life. And it’s not uncommon for Christians to be that way as well. Paul said in Philippians 2:20-21, explaining to the church in Philippi why he was specifically sending Timothy to them and not others that he could have sent to them. He said, For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. Apparently there were a number of professing Christians with Paul. But Paul knew they were all really more concerned about their own interests than the interests of Christ, which is the interest of protecting and building His church, His colony in the world. Paul only had Timothy with him who was honestly more concerned about the colony than his own earthly welfare.

This is going to sound radical. It’s going to sound extreme. But I really believe the Lord has called us to be like the ants, to give our lives for the good and advancement, not of ourselves, but of the colony. Let’s earn money for the church, for the furtherance of the church in world. Let’s interact with people at work and everywhere else in a way that is good for the church, that gives the church a good name and perhaps will lead them into the church. Let’s pray for the church. Let’s spend our Saturdays for the church. I’m not saying don’t have any fun. There are lots of fun things that are also good for the church and sometimes it’s good for the church if you refresh and rejuvenate in a little recreation. And I’m not saying neglect your family. We need your family in the church and taken care of. Let’s wake up each morning and live not for ourselves but for the health and growth of the church. I know that may sound radical and extreme.

But listen to these Scriptures. I John 2:16, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” II Corinthians 5:15, “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Let’s be like Jesus. Let’s have as our sole purpose the good, not of self, but of the colony.

Now, let’s look at…

The Work Ethic of Every Ant

Have you ever seen an ant just standing around or just sitting in the shade? I cannot remember ever seeing an idle ant, except the ones that my kids have poked to death. They are always busy. Proverbs 6:6, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise.” There are no sluggards among the ants. And in the next verse Solomon says, “which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest.” Well, they kind of have a chief. They have a queen. But the queen ant doesn’t have to patrol around like a chief or an officer and tell ants to work. She doesn’t have to beg ants to work. She doesn’t have to twists their little arms or bribe or threaten to get them off the couch and working. Every ant is self-motivated. They work without having to even be asked.

Are you an ant for the Lord? There’s more than enough work for each of us to fill our plate every day. And probably nobody is going to come up, tap you on the shoulder and ask you to do any of it. There are people to be visited and encouraged. There are many calls to be made to struggling people. There are many invitations to be given to people that you know. There is much to do to bring up kids in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. There are many prayers that need to be prayed. There are many people to be taught. There is spiritual mentoring to be done. There are many acts of kindness to be done, things to fix, things to improve, meals to serve, relationships to build. There is plenty of work for the colony for everyone.

Maybe that’s not appealing to you, to be busy like an ant in the work of the Lord. But the Lord is teaching me, I’m learning, probably slower than I should be, but I’m learning that you’re never more happy than when you lose sight of yourself and when you’re living for a purpose bigger than yourself. You just feel better when you get your mind off yourself. There’s good feelings that come with blessing the lives of other people and knowing that you’re pleasing the Lord. It boosts your immune system, interestingly, the studies say. Your relationships with people are better. It’s part of why Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

And ants are not just busy in some work for the colony, but they work in the capacity in which they will most benefit to the colony. It may not be the most desirable or glorious job in the colony. It may be plugging a pothole with their body and getting walked on. It may be plugging a nest hole with their head. It may be digging endlessly or foraging endlessly. But if it’s how they can be most helpful, that’s what they do.

You know Timothy was equipped and trained and gifted for the ministry of preaching. That was the job in which he could do the most good for the church. But he got to a point where he didn’t really like the job of preaching anymore. A lot of times people didn’t like what he was preaching and opposed him and persecuted him for it. He got to a point when II Timothy was written where he wanted to do something else like just mow the church lawn or counsel married couples or visit people in the hospital or something other than preach. But Paul wrote to II Timothy 4:5, “Timothy, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” God wants us to not just work in some way for the advancement of the church, but to work in the way in which we can be most helpful. I don’t know what that is for you. It differs from Christian to Christian. Maybe it’s teaching kids, but you don’t really enjoy teaching kids, but you’re just really good at it and it blesses those kids and gets them off to a good start in life and blesses their families and you can do the greatest good in that capacity. Maybe it’s maintaining the buildings and grounds here, but it’s not your favorite thing to do, but you’ve got the time and the know-how and we need you and it’s how you can do the most good.

You know, we’ll have the rest of eternity to look back at what we did with this life, this life that is like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. How awesome to be able to look back on a life used up in the service of the Lord, who created us and died for us, in the capacity where we were most useful.

Let’s look at…

The Perseverance of Every Ant

Can you imagine being an ant and every day of your entire life has been nothing but labor to build this dirt mound where you and all the other ants live? And one day this giant kid comes along and just kicks over your mound, your life’s work. What would you do? Drop whatever you were carrying, throw your little ant arms up in despair, say, “Nooooo! I can’t believe it! That’s it! I’m done. No way am I doing that again. That kid will probably just walk by another day and kick it over again anyway.” But have you ever kicked over an ant hill? What do they do? Not a one of them stands off to the side saying, “I’m not doing that again.” Instead every ant just goes into turbo work mode.  They work harder and faster than ever to rebuild what you destroyed. You cannot discourage ants. You cannot get ants to quit working. You can only get them to work harder.

We’re much more easily discouraged from working. If we don’t see much for results in the people we’re trying to influence or teach, if we never receive any acknowledgment or thanks for what we’re doing, if we’re criticized, if we don’t see God answering our prayers the way we think He should answer them, if we make mistakes and we’re embarrassed about them or feel we’re not very good at what we’re doing, if hardship comes, financial trouble, marriage trouble, health trouble, relationship trouble… For all kinds of reasons discouragement and apathy can set in.

The Lord has made many promises to us to empower us to be like ants who never lose heart. You might feel like a farmer plowing and sowing seed in the sands of a desert, that your labor is just for nothing, that there will be nothing produced from it, no crop, no harvest. But He’s promised us, Galatians 6:9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Guaranteed you persevere in doing good for colony of the Lord and you will reap a harvest. It will be worth every bit of effort you put in. Whether we’re making any difference in the lives of people like we’re trying to or not, our efforts are at least worship to the Lord, like a fragrant aroma to the Lord, and in eternity we will be so glad we honored the Lord the way we did. I Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” It’s a promise. And “the sufferings of this present time,” said Paul, “are not even worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). Let’s trust the promises of the Lord. Let’s let the promises of the Lord empower us to just always be about the work of the Lord no matter what Satan sends our way to discourage us.

One more thing about ants that I thought I’d point out that enables them to thrive so well…

Ants are Thick-Skinned.

They have a hard exoskeleton, like a protective casing around their bodies, which makes them pretty tough. So they can endure the rigors of everyday ant life, they can talk little rocks falling on them and other ants walking on them. When I was a kid we had these big black ants in our yard. And my brother and I had a couple air powered BB guns. One summer day we ran out of BBs and we decided to see what would happen if we put an ant down the barrel of the BB gun and pumped it and shot. They fit just perfectly down the barrel. And we discovered they don’t just explode inside when you shoot. Because they’ve got this hard exoskeleton, they shoot just like BBs. But unlike BBs if you shoot them at a hard surface they don’t bounce off. They splat. And then we discovered you could put 4 or 5 of them down the barrel and have kind of shot gun effect. I know, that wasn’t nice. Shouldn’t do that. But just thought I’d share that with you to emphasize the point – ants are thick-skinned.

Well, if we’re going to multiply and thrive like the ants the Lord says we need to be thick skinned as well to take the rigors of being with other people. How many times have you heard of people quitting church because they were offended at something somebody said, somebody insulted them or offended their kids, or people didn’t invite them out to lunch, or they heard somebody said something about them, and it sort of put them out of operation for the Lord. Colossians 3:12-13, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Notice a couple characteristics there the Lord commands. Patience – that means when you’re hurt or when you’re offended or when you’re disappointed or when you’re frustrated, you don’t blow up in anger, you don’t retaliate, you don’t give up and leave. Patience means to suffer long before reacting negatively. And then bearing with one another, what does that mean? I think that means just plain put up with the stuff that bugs about each other. A little nugget of wisdom that struck me the other day as I was reading. Ecclesiastes 7:21, “Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. 22 For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.” I think when he says “your servant” he means somebody that respects you and serves you that puts your interests over their own, somebody that you should appreciate and love. And if you take literally and seriously everything you hear, you will probably even hear your servant cursing you. Everybody says things about other people sometimes in a moment of anger or frustration or having a bad day or just without thinking that they don’t mean, that they regret later, or everybody says things that can easily be misinterpreted and blown out of proportion. And I hear Solomon saying if we take everything we hear that somebody said literally and seriously we’re going to lose a lot of good friendships that we could have. So you hear that somebody you thought liked you said something negative about you, don’t take it too seriously. Give the person the benefit of the doubt, maybe their having a bad day, maybe they don’t mean it, maybe they’re exaggerating. And even if they really do feel that way about you, they’ll probably change their mind if you react well.

Let’s learn from the ants. Let’s have as our purpose the good of the colony, not our earthly happiness. Let’s discover the joy of serving in the way we can be most useful. Let’s never quit at it no matter what. And let’s be thick skinned as the Lord calls us to be.

– James Williams

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