- Proverbs 4:5 “Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
- Wisdom is not automatic or hereditary – it is something we learn, practice and grow into…
- The 9 is about living out 9 key practices that let us live wisely and well.
As I mention each week, framework for this series is from Henry Cloud’s book, 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life.
We have so far looked at the first 4 wise ways of living
- Dig it Up – Go inside and invest in our dreams, gifts and talents
- Pull the Tooth – Deal with the negative and hurtful actions and attitudes
- Play the Movie – Make decisions based on their effects.
- Do Something – Move from passivity to proactivity. Improve the situation whether you whether or not it’s your responsibility.
Our fifth wise way of living is this:
Act like an Ant
I am sure if ants were reflective like we humans they might question what does my moving this one little grain do… but it was precisely that each act moved his grain of sand did a colony build the incredible structure…because they moved one grain of sand at a time, one step at a time.
In your outline…our key verse says –
“Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise!” (Proverbs 6:6, NLT)
Scripture speaks of how we can learn from ants. Especially when we are stuck in inactivity…where we do not want to face the pain of tackling tasks that seem daunting, overwhelming and just plain painful to accomplish the task.
Good goals and great hopes often feel overwhelming
When we think about the goals/dreams that God has placed on our hearts…a ministry, a new initiative, a great business idea, deeper faith, greater discipline, a healthier lifestyle both emotionally and physically, a happier marriage, a principled dating life…most of the things that matter to us most require great effort over time.
When we think about the big important goals we can simply become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task in front of us…and we get paralyzed, inactive, even thinking about it gives pain, taking the path of least pain…rationalizing to ourselves with the siren phrase – “someday I will get to it”
Illustration: I saw a video describing the regrets of aging people in the last days of their life. The biggest regret was not taking the risk of the dreams they had in their hearts – for dreams to become reality, we have to turn them into goals and that often makes us feel overwhelmed.
But the lesson from the ant speaks to us if we are willing watch and observe…
Achieve your Goals by taking small Steps over Time
Ants show us that it is more important to judge your success not by the size of your goal but by the valuing little steps over time. You and I judge our success whether or not we are doing the small things. Wise people know that
- 100 dollars isn’t a retirement savings, but it is a step
- That one pound lost is the not the healthiest you, it is a step
- One course is not the degree but it is a step
- One conversation is not a friendship but it is a step
- 15 minutes of cleaning is not a tidy home but it is a step
- One verse memorized may not change your mind, but it is step
- One act of forgiveness may not get rid of all relational pain but it is a step
- One step of faith does not create a healthy spiritual life, but it is a step.
It was Henry Ford said:
“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” –
As we consider living out our faith in God – taking little steps over time is an essential idea for growth in the Christian life
It is tempting to want all the attributes, qualities and blessings of the Christian faith – all of it right now!
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23a)
THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS TO MATURITY. It takes years for us from children to adults and it takes a full season for fruit to mature and ripen. There was a time when the food industry only wanted to speed things up but the results were disastrous. Now restaurants advertise “no hormone” meat. Organic vegetables. These markets continue to grow. Countries have created legislation to curb the chemical shortcuts. If you want a quality product, it is going to take some time.
This same idea is true for spiritual things. It takes time to develop Christian character. It is not a big decision we make and voila — we have impeccable character. Character is what we see in a person who, like an ant, has broken a large goal into many small actions of integrity over their lives.
When the Old Testament Habakkuk became depressed because he didn’t think God was acting quickly enough, God had this to say:
“This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” (Habakkuk 2:3, NLT)
Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates 2Cor 3:18 like this:
“Our lives gradually [become] brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him”
(2 Corinthians 3:18b MSG).
Little by little is God’s plan for growing us as his people. Is it impossible for the one who spoke into the void and created matter and life to speak into us and change us in an instant? Of course not. But this is God’s plan. And if God’s plan for the most important project in the universe is gradual and over time – step by step — why would we think that the quick fix or the shortcut or the magic bullet solution would be the way to go in other areas of our lives?
Doesn’t it make sense that the pattern God has established for his goals in us would also be a good pattern for us reaching our goals?
Paul reminded the Philippians that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)
While we worry about how fast we grow, God is concerned about how the quality of our growth — that it is deeply established in us.
My brother used to work in the lumber industry and he said that the US wants our Canadian lumber because the growing season slows every winter for us and so the wood is becomes stronger. The rings in a Canadian tree which indicate the long winter sleep in the growth cycle creates stronger fibres. Slower growth equals stronger product.
Our struggle tends to be that we want it all right now
This attitude resides deep in our thinking in many areas of life. Jesus was offered a shortcut during his lifetime. “Bow down and worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth” Satan said to him. Don’t take the way of the cross, don’t suffer, don’t deal with rejection — this is the easy way” he was saying. There is always a shortcut, a quick fix, an easier path — but it will never create solid, strong character for which Jesus can say “well done good and faithful servant.”
But our desire to want it all and now causes us to think that not having it all, right now, is well, nothing. All or nothing. And many of us get stuck in “nothing” because there is not quick, easy path to “All”.
Henry Cloud says the wise person does not think about whether or not they have reached the end goal, instead they think about faithfully doing the small actions today that lead to that end goal. They believe in cause and effect to such an extent that they know that doing the small things each day make the end goal inevitable.
This is what I mean when I say: Act like an ant. The ant is not worried about the other ants. The ant is not worried that their load is quite small compared to the overall task.
When I worked with my uncle doing carpentry work we had goals each day which fed our weekly goals which fed the end goal of completing a house. For my uncle Jim, as long as we were on top of things daily the weekly goals would be met and the monthly goals and timetable stayed on track. Of course there were problems, there were times the daily goals did not get met, adjustments had to be made — sometimes we had to work longer or do smaller jobs while waiting for a subcontractor to finish their tasks – but we lost sight of our daily accomplishments. From a hole in the ground, to footings, to basement, to joist and floors and walls and trusses and roofs and insulation, windows, doors, gyprock, trim and cabinets to a completed house. Each steps leads to the next. If you never pour your footings, there will not be a basement wall or a floor joist, walls roof, or cabinets. Each piece feeds into the next.
In our lives we spend a lot of time dreaming about the completed house when we should be asking ourselves how we are doing with footing. We get discouraged we have no cabinets when we have not even built our foundation.
Remember when you first learned to drive? How you would need to focus on when to press on the brake and when turn on the blinker. You would sit at a stop sign and recite the rules of right of way. You would carefully steer the car and oversteer the car. Your brain was almost exploding with activity because you had to think about everything. 10 years later, 20 years later. You don’t think, I have to turn on my blinker now, or consciously think how hard I need to press on the brake pedal. You probably do not even think after sitting down: “now I must put on my seatbelt”. No, you sit down, hook yourself in, turn on your vehicle put it in gear and off you go. You don’t think about it, you just do it. But you can never get to the place where you just do something, where you just think a certain way, where you have a certain level of fitness, or know things in a field of study — it all starts by having to think about everything. Having to methodically go through the steps. You have to act like an ant.
Embrace the small,simple and good steps
My vision for the church is that we love as Jesus loves. But that is an end goal. We won’t get there by focusing on that. That is our focal point off in the distance. Our focus must be on the small things every day that we incorporate into our lives so that as we gather as a community of faith that is our pulse, that is our logic, that is our ultimate boundary statement.
Are we there yet. I would say we are on our way but we have more to do. We started serving meals at St. George’s so we could help care for people in our city. Others have sacrificed hours of their time helping people with various needs. Others have done work for reduced rates or free to help people in need. All of these things are not the goal but they are steps that lead us to that goal. Do we need fresh steps — yes, always. What was right five years ago may not fit us now — we need to constantly be evaluating what will get us to the goal. But our goal is fixed. Jesus did that for us when he told his disciples that the most important thing to accomplish in life was to love our neighbour as God loves them. Our quest and our goal is to attain full maturity in love. But that translates into daily, weekly, even monthly tasks that lead us to that goal. Perhaps we will not reach it fully — but we can be better than where we are today — of this we can be sure. Paul wrote the Galatians:
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV)
When you look up the Greek word used for ‘weary’ in the passage, you will read this:
to lose one’s motivation in continuing a desirable pattern of conduct or activity, lose enthusiasm, be discouraged (BAGD, s.v., ἐγκακέω / p. 272.)
Discouragement was a problem in churches in the 1st century as much as it is in our century. Discouragement is a human problem. Sometimes it comes from not having good mental connections between where we are and and where we want to be.
The daily tasks of faithfulness are the ant’s load. Sometimes they are heavy, sometimes they are light — but they are always just a piece of what our overall project is. The small pieces turn into a masterful product over time. Paul gave Timothy of list of things he needed to do and then said to him:
“Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15, NRSV)
One verse later he gives Timothy his ultimate goal:
“…continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16, NRSV)
His goal was to save himself and his hearers. But a goal like that can quickly become devastating because how can you know if you accomplished it? How do you know you arrived? Paul says do the little things faithfully with consistency and you will move forward to your goal.
What do you need to look at in your life.
- What do we need to build into our marriages — those small consistent steps over time that lead to deeper love and communication.
- What about our professional development?
- What about education?
The path to a life that is whole will include many parts but the most important will always be our relationship with God. Like Paul and Timothy, we must have a goal of overwhelming greatness that is then broken down into small measurable actions that we incorporate into our daily lives — we must not grow discouraged by the overwhelming greatness of the ultimate goal. Instead, we must find joy and contentment in faithfully engaging the small pieces over time. This is how we flourish in our body and in our soul — we act like an ant.