Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed man. – Proverbs 6:6-11
The first day on my first real job, I was assigned a very menial task. For nearly four hours, I moved large pieces of electrical conduit from one bin to another about 15 feet away. Each pipe was 10 feet long and has six inches in diameter. I don’t want to know how heavy each one was.
The point of that little exercise was for my new employer to see if I could work hard. Would I perform the task assigned to me without complaining? Even though moving the pipe from one bin to another made no sense, would I still do what I was told? To my new employers this directive to their new young teenage hire was a substantial test. They were asking the question, “What kind of work ethic does he have?”
As our culture has changed over the past 30 years, our ideas of “work” have too. Many of those changes have been good, but there also have been some things that haven’t been to our benefit in the long run. Bluntly, it seems that hard work isn’t something we find of value. Starting at the bottom of any corporate structure seems beneath many of us.
We tend to like things done for us. We like to be served. Working hard for that promotion? No, we prefer it to be handed to us or rather we think it should be given to us because it’s owed us.
Verses 6-11 of Proverbs 6 tells us there is great value in hard work and especially being self-motivated. Even the lowliest creature, the ant, works hard without a “boss” looking over their shoulder. The summer months she prepares for the rest of the year, in particular the cold harsh winters. The Proverbs writer compares the ant to the “sluggard” who lays around sleeping.
Now there is nothing wrong with sleep, but living in an atmosphere of expecting someone else to do all the hard work for us is, as the writer says, “unwise.” It’s the attitude that things aren’t just handed to be or provide to me by being served by others.
While this passage seems to be aimed primarily at physical work, I think there also is a spiritual dimension to these verses. While salvation is free, it’s a work of grace the LORD did, we still need to work at our relationship with the LORD. No, we don’t “work” to be saved and we don’t earn our way to Heaven, but if I want to know more about Him, if I want to know more about His Word, if I want to live a successful Christian life fully enjoying the fruits of walking with Him, it requires a degree of effort on my part.
Like the ant, we need to push ourselves, both in our work environment and our spiritual walk.
By the way, that was the only time I ever moved those 10 foot pieces of 6 inch conduit. But over the next few years I saw many new hires perform the same task as I had done. That one little test proved how much effort potential employees would put into their jobs. The lesson I see from these verses of Proverbs 6? Be self motivated and work hard – in everything you do.