"Go to the ant, O sluggard, study her ways and learn wisdom; for though she has no chief, no commander or ruler, she procures her food in the summer and stores up her provisions in the harvest. How long, O sluggard, will you rest? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest - then will poverty come upon you like a highwayman, and want like an armed man." [Pr. 6:6-11].
Once a week I go online and find myself reading the church bulletin of the New Jersey parish in which I had been raised. Although I now live 2,000 miles away from that wonderful parish, and have for many, many years, I read it to see if anyone I know has passed away or is on the sick list so that I can pray for them.
Whenever I come across a name that I recognize under the "Pray For The Dead" section, I stop and reflect on that individual and find myself wondering how he or she lived during the years they were allotted on the earth.
I remember them in the prime of their lives, when they were young, healthy, beautiful, and strong. I remember them smiling and greeting others at Mass, helping out at the annual parish carnival, selling donuts in the church foyer on Sunday morning, leading a Girl Scouts troop, or playing softball for the parish team. If you think about an individual long enough, you’d be surprised at the flood of memories that will come rushing back to you.
Many of these people are names that I recognize simply because I would see them at Mass. But when it comes to actually knowing how they lived their daily lives before the Lord, this is something known only to them and to God.
Were they ready for death when it came? On earth they were busy and active people. Their lives were filled with activity, participation, and involvement in many different things. In the midst of all of that activity, however, did they keep eternity in mind? Did they spend their lives preparing for the moment when their names would be listed in the church bulletin under the words "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord?"
In Solomon’s proverb, he instructs us to study the ways of the lowly ant and to learn wisdom. The ant works hard in order to make provision for its future when the harshness of winter arrives and it can no longer work. Ants are steadfast, hard workers, knowing exactly what they need to do without anyone instructing them or supervising them. They know that winter is coming, and they spend all of their waking hours during the summer and harvest seasons working, preparing, and getting ready for the time when they can no longer work.
Solomon instructs us to consider the ant’s ways and to be wise. Its ways should and must be applied to our spiritual lives. Are we working diligently in order to prepare for our future in eternity? Are we living moment by moment with eternity in mind, or have we become lazy, negligent, and distracted by the world when it comes to our spiritual lives and preparation for the soul’s entrance into eternity?
Life on earth is temporary. Not only this, but none of us knows how long we’ve been given to live out that temporary life. Death comes at its appointed time; it is always ready, but are we?
In light of these truths, we cannot afford to become careless and negligent in our spiritual lives. Because death is coming, we must guard against becoming distracted and entangled with the things of this world, which will profit us nothing in eternity.
If we allow ourselves to become careless and negligent in our spiritual lives, we are headed for spiritual poverty in our earthly lives as well as eternal poverty if we do not repent.
Many who identify themselves as Christians are suffering from spiritual poverty in their lives because they have slacked off when it comes to prayer, Bible reading, cooperation with the Spirit’s work of sanctification, and obedience to the Lord. They decided to take a break from these spiritual disciplines, and when they did, the flesh took over and Satan moved in for the kill.
Anytime we slack off in our spiritual disciplines, we are giving Satan and our flesh a foothold in our lives. Therefore, it is vitally important that we remain diligent in our daily prayer life and time spent studying the Sacred Scriptures.
We must be steadfast and alert in our refusal to become distracted by and entangled in the world, and we must be diligent in our cooperation with the Spirit’s work of sanctification in our lives.
The minute we begin to slack off in these areas, we are on a collision course with spiritual poverty. One day of missed prayer will soon evolve into one month. A few days away from the written Word will evolve into a few months.
I’ve experienced this miserable truth enough times in my own life to attest to its validity. One morning, instead of spending time with the Lord, I decided to spend those hours reading a thrilling secular novel. When I finished the book, to my great joy, I learned that there were sequels to the story.
As I read sequel after sequel, I didn’t realize that weeks were going by, and I wasn’t spending any time with the Lord. Spiritually, I had become like a well that had gone dry. I had no spiritual power whatsoever. I did not possess the joy of the Lord in my inner being. I became depressed and discontent. My flesh was in complete control of my life instead of the Spirit of God, and every little problem that crossed my path simply overwhelmed me.
Most of all, I found that I had completely lost all interest in spiritual things. When I had been praying and studying God’s Word on a daily basis, my face was set toward Heaven, and I despised the things of this world. But as soon as I began to neglect these spiritual disciplines, my face turned away from Heaven and my focus was on the world once more.
I had gone from warrior to wimp in just a matter of weeks, and all because I decided to take the tiniest of breaks from my spiritual disciplines. Satan saw his golden opportunity, moved in for the kill, and knocked me off my block. After living like this for several months, I’d had enough and returned to seeking the Lord with all of my heart. My spiritual strength returned, and I was ‘impoverished’ no more.
Truth be told, I don’t know how professing Christians can live like that year after year. Our churches today are filled with many men and women who have sat in pews for years, yet have never cultivated a daily devotional life with Christ. They do not know what it is to be filled daily with His Spirit. They don’t know the joy of achieving intimacy with Christ in prayer. They don’t know what it feels like to be completely filled with Christ because their lives are still largely filled with, and centered around, the world.
During the week, they pursue the world, not Christ. They spend absolutely no time with Him in prayer or in the Word, but then they come to church in order to worship Him. I couldn’t last spiritually if I lived such a life. I would have walked away from the faith years ago if God had not sustained me through time spent in prayer and in His Word.
So many who profess to be Christians are simply operating on ‘Empty,’ yet they know it not. Their lamps have run out of oil because they have grown negligent in their walk with Christ. They started skipping this and putting off that. Satan moved in for the kill, and now, they find themselves spiritually impoverished.
There tends to be a belief in some Catholic circles that all one needs to do in order to be spiritually strong is to go to Mass once a week and receive Holy Communion. The unspoken belief is that the Body and Blood of Jesus will give us all that we need to be victorious in the coming week. Just go up for Holy Communion, partake, and continue to live life as we’ve always lived it during the week. Christ will take it from there.
Brothers and sisters, this simply is not so. If it were, then why would Christ Jesus our Lord, as well as Paul and the others, instruct us to be diligent in prayer? Why would the Psalms and other books of the Bible teach us to meditate daily on the Sacred Scriptures?
Whether we want to accept this truth or not, we have our part to do as well. We are only deceiving ourselves if we believe otherwise.
The Bible lines our thoughts up with God’s and teaches us to look at life from His perspective, and not man’s. Prayer, on the other hand, is where we receive the spiritual strength needed to put what we have read into practice. The two go hand in hand.
The Lord is calling us to return to our devotional lives, for it is there where we will receive our spiritual strength in Him. Through time spent in prayer and in His Word, our lamps will remain filled with oil. Not only this, but these spiritual disciplines will keep us on spiritual track. As long as we are on spiritual track, we will be ready for eternity when it comes.
The Lord is calling us to be vigilant and to be alert. Like Solomon’s proverbial ant, we need to work diligently and steadfastly, making the most of every opportunity to prepare our souls for eternity.
When it comes to the soul’s preparation for eternity, there simply is no time for rest.
How long, my brother, will you rest? When will you rise from your slumber?
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest - then spiritual poverty will come upon you like a highwayman and eternal want....
...like a man well armed.
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