6th January 2024
"Little Life Lessons
The ant and having the right perspective"
One of the disturbing features of our time is how, aided by the awesome power of 'the media' and the Internet, our view of things has been distorted.
Reality has become overshadowed by a few events such as wars, demonstrations and disasters, and dominated by a few 'big names': politicians, actors and other celebrities.
From such a viewpoint, ordinary life and ordinary people are overlooked. In particular, there is a marginalisation or even total dismissal of the faith.
Look for references to Christ, Christianity or even the church in any source of news today and you will find little, if anything.
Indeed, if there is any treatment of Christianity in the media it is often negative: we read more of scandals than successes, aggrievements than achievement.
The result is that in the eyes of the world - and perhaps even our own - we believers have become insignificant and sidelined. We are 'little people'.
Pondering this I came across a fascinating, if curious, passage in the Old Testament that I found remarkably relevant.
It's to be found towards the end of the book of Proverbs where an otherwise unknown Agur comments in 30:24-28 that 'four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise' (NIV) and then, listing four animals, draws the important lesson that big is not always better and that by showing various forms of 'wisdom', insignificant things can be important.
It's a vital lesson for God's people in every age, particularly in ours, and in this blog and three successive ones I want to pick up four of the themes that Agur sees in the natural world.
Agur begins by noting that 'ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer' (Proverbs 30:25 NIV).
If you'll excuse me a brief David Attenborough moment, can I tell you that ants are amazing?
There are an estimated 22,000 species of ant, they can lift 20 to 50 times their body weight, they live in large complex societies of up to a million individuals and they have sophisticated means of communication.
In fact, although we know an awful lot more about ants than Agur, there is still a sense of mystery and marvel about them.
But what Agur notes about ants in particular, is their ceaseless activity as they search for food, not to eat but to store. Ants never stay still and by seemingly looking ahead and building up reserves for the future, illustrate the virtues of preparation and, ultimately, having the right perspective on existence.
This focus of preparing for the future is a valuable lesson.
We live at a time of a social tunnel vision: people are so focused on what is physical and immediate that they neither look up to God nor look forward to the future.
Instead, without any thought for either the eternal or the inevitable, people simply plod on thoughtlessly, seeking only to maximise pleasure and minimise pain.
In a way, this short-term view is understandable.
In a gloomy culture that tells us God is dead and there can be no long-term hope, there's little encouragement to look either up or ahead.
The result is a widespread endorsement of the old 'eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die' perspective rejected throughout the Bible (see Ecclesiastes 8:15, Isaiah 22:13, Luke 12:19, 1 Corinthians 15:32).
The biblical alternative to this hopeless view is to have an 'ant-like' perspective, diligently and energetically preparing for a future that cannot be avoided.
In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus gives an example of this attitude in praising the wise bridesmaids who, preparing for a long wait, bring flasks of oil with them.
Having a life governed by a focus on God and the future was (and in some places still is) so distinctive of believers whose lives are guided by the Bible that the habits of hard work and saving before spending are seen as a key part of the so-called 'Protestant work ethic'.
Of course, preparing for the future comes with no guarantees: ant colonies can be trampled on and even the most wisely-prepared lives can be overthrown by crises of health or wealth.
God remains God and he, not us, governs the future.
The fact that we Christians have a very different perspective on life and prepare for the future with an awareness of God's care for us, is something that gives us an enormous advantage.
Little people having God's perspective for the future will always be in better shape than the 'big people' who merely live for the moment.
In fact, a reluctance to have any sort of long-term perspective is a common failing of our age. Doctors, social workers and pastors have observed that many people are now reaching retirement and old age without any serious thought on how they're going to manage with failing health and finance.
Now I quite understand that in our present difficult economy many people cannot prepare adequately for tomorrow because they are struggling to survive today.
If that describes you, then you have my sympathies.
Nevertheless, as much as we can, we need to look to the future and prepare for it as a priority. Wishful thinking is not wisdom but foolishness.
Yet the best sort of perspective on the future goes beyond work, finance and pensions.
We all need to lift our gaze up above our concerns for this present world, to the next.
As Hebrews 9:27 reminds us we are all 'destined to die once, and after that to face judgment' (NIV).
The wisest foresight, planning and preparation that any of us can do is to put our trust in Christ and do it now. Without Christ we have a hopeless end, but with Christ we have an endless hope.
Are you preparing well for eternity?
is an Evangelist, minister, speaker, broadcaster and writer.
He has been in ministry for four decades. He has spoken in towns, cities and universities in 69 countries.
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