I have called this Garden Ant Theology because the ants I know live in the garden, and they come into the kitchen right up on to the counter. They collect tiny crumbs of what we have left, and they take it back twenty or thirty feet to their nest. On the way they stop and greet every ant they meet. Perhaps they exchange information about the food location they have found.
What has this tiny creature got to do with theology? We are told to consider its ways. "Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. . . . It prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest" (Proverbs 6:6)
What is to be considered in this 3000 year old piece of advice to make us wise? Ants foresee the future and prepare themselves for it. The lazy person puts off what needs to be done till it is too late. "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber" (Proverbs 6:11). "The appetite of the lazy craves, and gets nothing, while the appetite of the diligent is richly supplied" (Proverbs 14:4).
But who wants to work feverishly all day like an ant? And didn’t Jesus say "Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘what will we drink?’ Or ‘What will we wear.’" As in all aspects of theology, we must compare Scripture with Scripture to get a balanced picture of the truth.
In the matter of work, we should begin with the fourth of the ten commandments given by Moses. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock" (Exodus 20:8-10). It is interesting that in this text animals are included in God’s pattern of work and relaxation. We don’t know if ants take a day off every week, but they sleep at night, and they certainly get a good long vacation during the winter.
Jesus does not give the impression of being a workaholic. On the Sabbath day of rest he went out for a walk through the fields with the disciples. His meals seemed to be important and leisurely. He had time for people, and he loved children. In the middle of facing terrible persecution, Paul obviously thinks the arts are important. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).
Laziness is not measured by how much time one puts into the job, but how well one does the work that needs to be done. And when an executive has worked under high pressure for several weeks, we do not call him lazy if he takes a vacation with his wife and children.
The advice about considering the ants is not to make us joyless. The one aim is to remind us that work is not just for the day’s needs but to provide for the winter that follows the summer.