Every week after the church service, a sweet Nigerian lady in our congregation hands six dum-dum lollipops to my children. I tuck them away for later so no one gets sticky on the walk to Sunday school, but evidenced by the groupings of ants I keep finding around our house, I guess I’ve neglected to pass out the dum-dums.
Ants are fascinating creatures. No wonder King Solomon told us to pay attention to them.
“Go to the ant, O sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise…” (Proverbs 6:6).
Without anyone telling them what to do, ants work hard to gather food. Somehow they can smell sugar through walls, carpet, diaper bags, and purses. They get in through the smallest cracks, grab what they can carry — usually the tiniest morsel — and then go back out the way they came. Ants are diligent, determined, and difficult to exterminate.
What does this have to do with us? I think Solomon was speaking to actual physical laziness in Proverbs 6, when he gives this warning. It’s a passage I recall often when I’m tempted to neglect the work before me. But I think we can also learn a lesson about spiritual laziness by paying attention to the ant’s diligence.
What is diligence?
We tend to equate diligence with productivity, or being industrious. While diligence can include both of these traits, they don’t capture its essence. Diligence is careful and persistent attention to something. This isn’t a quality reserved for those with Type A personalities, or people who delight in checking off items on their to-do list. Diligence is about understanding what needs to be done, doing it, and persevering to the end. A person who displays diligence believes that someone or something will suffer if the work before them isn’t accomplished.
In the case of the ant, the colony suffers if they don’t store up enough food.
In the case of our spiritual growth, we will suffer if we neglect to diligently care for our souls.
“Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life…” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
The Hebrew word used in this passage of Deuteronomy carries with it an idea of forcefulness. In some way we are to be forceful with our souls. To be spiritually diligent is to recognize the urgency and importance of what’s at stake and to do whatever necessary in order to keep our souls wholly devoted to the Lord.
Why is diligence necessary?
When Moses stood on the edge of the Promised Land and gave his final words to the Israelites, he knew the people’s tendency toward idolatry. He remembered the way they carved the golden calf and worshipped it at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:16). He knew their susceptibility to look to creation and worship it, rather than their Creator (Deuteronomy 4:19). Moses was very familiar with their track record of forgetfulness in regard to trusting God and obeying his commands. So he used words like, “Beware,” “Take care,” “Watch yourselves,” and “Be careful,” to grab their attention.
We are just as prone to wander from the Lord, to forget his commands, and to love worthless things.
For the Israelites, their protection, security and blessing in the land were at stake. If they obeyed God’s words, he would bless them (Deuteronomy 28:1-2). If they failed to obey, God would curse them through confusion, disease, destruction, and eventual slavery to another land (Deuteronomy 28:15, 20, 36).
What’s at stake for us?
Our failure to study the truth will result in confusion: we’ll be unable to discern God’s words from cultural norms.
Our unwillingness to follow God — whatever the cost — will result in destruction: we’ll forfeit our very souls (Luke 9:24).
When we believe tending to our souls is holy and sacred and work, we’ll diligently engage in whatever it takes to keep our souls devoted to him.
How do we diligently keep our souls?
There are a number of ways, but at its core, we diligently keep our souls through a relentless study of God’s word.
Moses charged the Israelites to remember all God had done for them. He told them to write God’s law on their doorposts, tie them on their hands, and place them on their foreheads. Knowing God’s words was necessary in order for them to follow him.
When we look into God’s word and study it, we learn about who he is, what he’s done and what he promises he will do. As we become more aware of God through our study of him, we have the truth needed to face trials, and our faith increases. When we grow in our understanding of the truth, we’ll have the discernment necessary in order to guard against the culture’s lies. By keeping our minds and hearts fixed on God’s word, we’re better equipped to fight off the temptation to love the things of this world more than God.
Just as the ant searches out food, finds it and carries back morsel after morsel to his colony, we too must search out and find the spiritual food God provides for us in his word. The gift for us is that it’s readily available. We don’t have to crawl through walls or dig through purses. But we are invited to come, to taste, to see, to trust, and to delight in God’s word. And to do it again, day after day after day.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers…”