My dad is the hardest working man I know. He’s 66 years old, but he can work men half his age under the table. Like the Energizer Bunny, he keeps going and going and going from dawn till dusk. Some people work hard, others work smart; my dad does both. I get tired just watching him.
I’ve never asked dad why he’s so hard working, but I think it has to do with his childhood. My grandparents were godly people. They labored hard in the fields of the Lord as missionaries and pastors of small churches. But they never rose above a lower-middle-class income status. From an early age, my dad had to work. He put himself through college, graduate school, and law school to boot. He had to; there was no alternative.
In the biblical world, there was no alternative to hard work either, unless you were rich, which most people weren’t. People eked out their living from the land. If they worked hard and smart, they might produce enough grain and produce for the coming year, together with enough seeds for the next planting season. If they slacked off, however, they would be sure to suffer deprivation through the winter, if they survived it at all.
This is the real-life background to Proverbs 6:6-11:
Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
According to the Proverbist, ants are model workers for two reasons: First, they are self-motivated. They don’t need leaders and managers (or moms and dads) to motivate them to work. They are self-led. They do what they do because of an internal commitment to excellence, rather than an external conformity to pressure.
Second, ants are model workers because they make provision for the future. Some people work hard and spend harder. They throw all their earnings away on immediate gratifications. Ants, by contrast, store summer harvests for winter meals.
If ants model how we should work, sluggards model how we shouldn’t. While ants are self-motivated providers, sluggards are unmotivated nappers.
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest —
and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man.
Those last two lines let us know why hard work is so necessary: If you don’t work hard, you will be poor, and your resources will be scarce. This is true even in modern welfare states. Government relief programs dull the hard edge of poverty, but they don’t eliminate it entirely. And do you really want your financial well-being to be determined by politicians?
Growing up, my dad knew poverty. (So did my mom, who is another hard worker). My sister and I never did, however. Our parents worked hard to fill our house with things and our home with love. We strive to follow their (and the ants’) example.