Wisdom and Productivity

Solomon, in wanting his son to pursue and know wisdom, instructs him to “consider the ant” (Proverbs 6:6). The command is to observe and learn the ways of this small but impressive creature. What impressive wisdom does the ant teach us? Diligent. Hard. work. In short, the ant is productive. And this is one essential feature to wise living. “Go to the ant, O Sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). In considering and watching the work-ethic of the ant, the man who is a sluggard can learn and grow in wisdom; he has a model on which to follow. This is natural theology at its best!

As John Kitchen writes in his excellent commentary on Proverbs, “such reflection will yield a new work ethic which prioritizes self-motivation, industry, diligence and planning. Embracing such a work will cause one to ‘be wise.’ Wisdom is not some esoteric, other-worldly rhetoric. Wisdom is practical success in the real world. Hard work lies in its path.”[1]

What wisdom can we learn from the ant on being diligent and productive? Well first, the ant is self-motivated. She does not need a manager or boss or task-master to get her to work, she is able to do the work of her own accord. As verse 7 and 8 tells us, “without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer.” Here is a creature who gets to the work without being told to; the ant is disciplined and self-controlled.

Ryan McGraw, in his helpful little booklet How Should I Manage Time writes, “We can redeem the time only if we enjoy the work that God has given us to do each day. Ecclesiastes 3:22 says, ‘Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own work; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?’ Enjoying our work is a gift from God… We must learn to enjoy our work even when our work is not enjoyable”[2] There is wisdom in learning to enjoy our work. Perhaps that begins with asking God to help you do that and fervently praying to make you more like the ant in being self-motivated. Ask God to help you work hard. Is this not something of what Moses requested when he prayed to “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17)?

The second thing we learn from the ant is that she is cognizant of her time and gives care to time-management. Again, verse 8: “she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” She knows that there is a time when the clock will stop and results will be needed. Therefore, in order for “harvest” time to be fruitful there will need to be hard work given in the summer. One necessarily comes before the other. There is no produce without productivity! The lesson here is essential for those of us given to procrastination.

The Puritan William Jenkin, in a sermon preached on Ephesians 5:15-16 where Paul commands that Christians “make the best use of the time”, Jenkin comments that “Are you idle while time  hurries you to the grave? Time has wings, your hourglass needs no shaking, there is no stopping the stream of time, and the sun is going down. Lazy Christians, if the sun must not go down upon your anger, surely it must not go down upon your loitering! You do not see your time going, but shortly you will see it gone…. It is bad to say ‘It is too soon’, but it is worse to say, ‘it is too late’.”[3]  The foolishness of procrastination is not just poor time-management, it is also an affront to God, assuming upon his providence that tomorrow will be just like today. “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

What the ant teaches us is that diligence and productivity are fit for a wise and flourishing life. Man was made to work and to work hard. Adam, even before his fall, was created and called by God to work, to tend to and “keep the Garden” (Genesis 2:15). This is our glory – to reflect as image bearers the creativity and productivity of our Creator. To rule and have dominion over the earth and to do so through hard work. Just as God labored for six days and then rested on the seventh (Exodus 20:9-11), so too shall we.

Yes, this side of the fall our work is filled with blood, sweat, and tears. It is tiring and often unenjoyable. But for the Christian there is the grace of working unto the Lord and turning all our work into a God glorifying endeavor. Whether we’re peeling potatoes, organizing spread-sheets, folding laundry, fixing broken pipes, driving trucks, trading stocks, teaching students, making dinner, mowing the grass, whatever our work – we are called to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And insofar as we do work heartily unto the Lord we can surely expect that “the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4).

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

[1] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (Mentor Imprint, Christian Focus Publications, 2006), p. 138

[2] Ryan M. McGraw, How Should I Manage Time (Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), p. 17

[3] William Jenkin, Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, 1:675-683; I found this quote in Voices From The Past: Puritan Devotional Readings, vol. 2, edited by Richard Rushing (Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), p. 197


Stephen Unthank