Mrs. Laning is a wife and mother in Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
My five-year old daughter presented me with her drawing: a stick figure topped with curly hair standing next to a long dotted line. I guessed the person was her, but the dotted line had me stumped. “Guess what that is,” she said smiling. “Rocks?” I fumbled. She shook her head. “A jump rope?” I tried. Her eyebrows furrowed. “They’re ants!” she declared. “They always do that. You know, follow each other.”
My daughter was learning wisdom from the tiniest of teachers. Unknowingly, she was bringing to my attention something for me to take to heart. Proverbs 30:24 says, “There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer.” I admit, when wise teachers come to mind, the ant is not one I tend to think of. For one, they are not strong (compared to human physical strength) and are only about one millionth the size of man. Yet, to my shame, ants have great strength.
The secret to their strength lies within that speckled procession sketched by my child’s hands. Togetherness is their strength. One miniscule ant, independent from the colony, can accomplish very little and will soon die. But God did not create the ant (or us) to be solitary. God created them to be wise instructors and models for how to live as a people. These social, hard working insects have something pinned down, something virtually perfected, that we struggle with. For the key to the ants’ success is, very simply, the harmonious way they live and work together.
They are completely selfless, willing to give their life for the sake of the colony. They are extremely diligent, working unceasingly every waking hour. They are very well organized, having a variety of specific tasks for each ant to perform. And they are ruthless in combat, with soldiers so skilled that even the U.S. Department of Defense has studied them.
Yet, ants would not be able to work together if they could not communicate. We and our children can learn from this, too. One would think that, with all of our high tech means of communication, we would be advanced in how we converse. The truth, however, is that we have much to learn. The ants teach us that communication is a give and take. We tend to be quick to give advice and to teach, but not so fast to receive. We are quick to point out faults in others, but slow to do so with ourselves. Not listening to one another leads to misunderstanding and disunity. And one thing is for sure, two monologues just don’t make for good dialogue.
Ants communicate for the benefit of the body, but, sadly, much communication among believers serves to break down the body. Many times we hear our children using their tongues to tear down the peace and unity. Some of our children are bullies. They seek to exalt themselves by picking on those they view to be weaker. Some of our children are quiet mockers. Although they do not make fun of people to their face, they delight in putting down others in their little circle of friends. Some of our children use filthy language, etc., etc. All such wicked speech is not actually communication, for there is no communing involved in this communication. Rather, it is selfish, sluggardly, non-productive behavior.
We are commanded by God to work together. When we do anything to inhibit that work, we are not truly working at all, but rather exhibiting characteristics of a sluggard. Communication is hard work, and yet we must not give up (though that is very easy to do). We must constantly strive to improve. I certainly feel convicted when I read Proverbs 6:6-8, which says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” When it gets right down to it, we cannot accomplish any work together—at home, in the church, or anywhere we go—if we do not first go to the ant.
Ants constantly give and receive information out of concern for the welfare of their colony. They communicate mainly through chemical substances that they pass back and forth, smell, and taste. The colony functions efficiently with about twenty different chemical signals. Scientists say this chemical is so strong, that if we were to extract a mere milligram of it, it could be used to lead a column of ants three times around the earth. With these chemical signals ants get across to one another the subjects that matter most to them—food and danger.
How striking it is to ponder that ants spend most of their time making known where they have found food and warning one another of danger. There is something for us to learn in this. Food and danger are two subjects that we ought to be discussing with our children very frequently. Of all the things to talk about, these are some of the most worthwhile.
The soldier ant is a sentinel par excellence. When any danger arises, communication is sent out and the army works as a finely tuned war machine. They bite and sting and will attack together in great numbers. This fearless creature will stop at nothing to defend her people. They are utterly selfless, and will fight to the death. As mothers in the home we tend to warn our children about many dangers. We tell them not to talk with strangers, not to walk alone at night, and to watch for cars while riding their bikes. We also spend some time talking about certain kinds of spiritual dangers. We warn about temptation and about not hanging around people who are disobedient. We caution them and keep tabs on whom they communicate with on the Internet.
These are not, however, the only dangers to be discussed. Doctrinal deception is lethal, threatening our homes and churches. We need to be like the soldier ant who makes known to the colony imminent danger. It is good to bring out to our children the fact that many people claim to hold to truths that they actually deny. For example, there are plenty who say they believe salvation by God’s grace alone, but who then deny this by teaching that man’s act of believing is a condition he must fulfill to enter Christ’s kingdom. They may confess total depravity, and then turn around and deny it by teaching that an unregenerate person has the ability to repent and believe. We and our children are surrounded by deception, and we must imitate the ant to warn the coming generation.
With all of the time ants put into warning the colony about dangers, somehow they find time to show up at virtually every picnic. This uninvited forager guest then follows her scented trail back home well satisfied with bounty to be shared. Hungry ants may stroke her or tap her with their antennae to ask for food. The ant regurgitates the meal to feed the adults and the babies, called larvae. The larvae have different nutritional needs than the adult ant. They communicate their need, and the worker obliges. The proper digestible balance of proteins and sugars is first extracted from the food before feeding; the rest then is turned to waste pellets. Here the colony functions like a collective mouth and gut of sorts by sharing the tasks of foraging and digestion.
We imitate the ant by bringing our children spiritual food and teaching it in a manner that enables them to understand and digest it. Like the ant, we work together at this in the home, church, and Christian schools, extracting for them what they are capable of digesting. Not only do we read the Bible to our children, but we “give the sense,” as Nehemiah 8:8 teaches. What a privilege we have to talk with our children about God’s spiritual food, not only during devotions but throughout the whole day.
Ants not only bring food to their young, but some types of ants teach their young how to find the food. This process is called tandem running—a two-way communication between a teacher and a pupil. At the start of a tandem run, the leader finds an ant who does not know the route and is willing to follow and receive information. Tandem runs are rather slow because the follower frequently pauses to look around for landmarks to learn the route. Only when the follower has done this does she tap with her antennae on the hind legs and abdomen of the leader to let it know the run can proceed. Even though the leader can reach food about four times faster without the student following, the process ends up being a time saver. Tandem followers learn their lessons so well that they often become tandem leaders themselves, communicating the information to others in the colony.
This brings in another important aspect of feeding our children, and that is teaching them how to find the spiritual food themselves. Like the tandem leader ant, we should pass on how we found the food. It is good to have our children read the Scriptures on their own, in addition to the reading that takes place during family devotions. Nothing can replace their regular reading and becoming familiar with the word. But they also need help in learning how to find the food in what they are reading. So we need to show them how to look for what is emphasized in a passage, seeking repeated ideas and summary statements. We need to show them how to look up parallel passages, searching for Scripture’s own definitions of terms and phrases. In this way they will grow to see the word as a whole, and not as a bunch of disjointed stories. They will grow to know by experience that the principle “Scripture interprets Scripture” is the road to follow to find food.
Of course, this is quite a challenge for us adults, too. In order to be effective teachers, we must first be good receivers and students ourselves. With all the duties we have (or think we have) as wives and as mothers, we often struggle to find time to study the word. I have talked with other women who have shared the same struggles that I have. Yet, we also know that if we see our profound need, and if we truly desire to spend more opportunities studying God’s word, our heavenly Father will answer our prayer and provide us with the time we need. Although we may have to give up other activities to fit it in, the benefit of studying the Scriptures is priceless. There is a saying, “you teach best what you most need to learn.” The best teacher is also a diligent student. May we continue to pray together for God’s grace to go to the ant, that we may use our mouths wisely to perform worthwhile work. May it be our heartfelt desire to protect and promote the communion of the saints in our churches, in our homes, and in our schools. Like the ant, we have so much work to do. May we use our tongues rightly for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, communicating that precious food, the bread of life, which is ours and our children’s in Jesus Christ.