Go to the ant … 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 — Proverbs 6:6–8
We live in an age of consumerism, where transience is valued over permanence; where immediacy is valued over meaningful waiting; where the ability to frivolously purchase something is a display of economic might and an experience of meaning. How can we find contentment in God’s faithful provision, and steward our money well? Hobart Lee, author of the new Graceworks title, The Financial Machine, offers a prelude to the book’s launch on 23 January 2021.
A long time ago, in a country far away, there lived a pair of bosom buddies. Nat and Grassie grew up in the same church and shared a friendship like David and Jonathan’s. In their youth, they were taught to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, and that “all these things will be added unto them”.
They held dearly onto this teaching into their adult years. But, even though their friendship was as close as any friendship could be, their interpretations of this teaching were miles apart. And it showed in the way they lived out their lives.
One fine day, Grassie was in a mall shopping to her heart’s content. Nat passed by, lugging a bag full of documents related to a project she was working on.
“Why not come and shop with me,” Grassie said, “instead of slogging in that way?”
“I am saving up for the future,” said Nat, “and I recommend you do the same.”
“Why bother about the future?” said Grassie. “We have plenty of money at present. God has given us each our daily bread. And He will give us more if and when we need it.” But Nat went on her way.
Hard times came and Grassie ran out of money. Starving and about to be thrown out of her house, she saw Nat giving to the needy every day out of the savings she had put away when times were good. Grassie came to her senses and said, “here I am starving to death! I will go to Nat and ask for help”.
Before she could even ring the doorbell, Nat’s door swung wide open. “I could see you coming from a long way off,” Nat said. “You’ve lost a lot of weight and must be hungry. Come, join me for dinner.”
“And while we’re waiting, let me return this storybook you lent me so many years ago. It was one of my favourite childhood stories. I just couldn’t let go of it.”
Nat handed Grassie a worn book of Aesop’s Fables, and in it was the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper:
In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “We have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.
When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger — while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for days of need.[i]
“Here’s the other book with the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh’s Dreams that you lent me as well. These books really made an impact on me, and I believe it’s time for you to have them back.”
Grassie fell silent. Her situation was dire, and it felt as if salt was being rubbed into her wounds.
Nat placed her arms around Grassie and hugged her warmly. “You know that I love you as a sister and I always wish the best for you. There’s never been a good time for me to say this to you, and I don’t think there will ever be. But I hope you can see that I only want what’s good for you.”
Nat looked into Grassie’s eyes. After the tears were gone, she saw that Grassie was ready to listen. “When times were good, I could never convince you of the importance of planning for your future. Now when times are bad, I hope that you will listen to my story.”
“Do you remember the times we used to go shopping together when we were in university?”
“And then you stopped. Suddenly.” Grassie replied.
“I never shared with you the reason why,” Nat sighed.
“My parents lost their jobs during the financial crisis at that time. They could barely afford to pay for the mortgage and put food on the table, and they told me I might have to stop school.” A tear rolled down Nat’s cheek.
“As I sat beside my bed, beneath my bookshelf, crying to God for help, my uncle suddenly popped by and banged on my window. That caused these two books to drop onto my head. As it turned out, my parents had asked him for help. He came along that day with a cheque and wanted to surprise me on the way in.”
“I never knew that. I thought it was something I did or said that made you stop going shopping with me.” Grassie replied.
Pointing to the area where the books had hit her head, Nat continued. “That bump on the head made me realise that seeking God’s kingdom meant heeding His wisdom as well. He told us to observe the ant. And I did.”
“Just as Joseph came to know of a difficult future through dreams which God had revealed to Pharaoh, history makes it clear that winter comes and goes. Like Joseph who mobilised an entire nation to plan ahead for a difficult future, I must do the same, so that in times of need I will have something to live on.”
Grassie nodded in understanding.
“If I am to have something to share with the grasshopper, I will have to work hard like the ant. Similarly, for Joseph who led Egypt to prepare for difficult times and be able to offer other nations help in their time of need, it took a whole lot of planning and effort once he saw what lay ahead. I believe that is part of what it takes to fulfil our calling to be light of the world and salt of the earth, and to seek first His kingdom.”
[i] Aesop, “Short Stories: The Ant and the Grasshopper by Aesop,” www.eastoftheweb.com, n.d., http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/AntGra.shtml.
Hobart Lee was deeply impacted by stories of the financial hardships faced by his parents in their growing years. He believes that sound financial education is key to living life to the full, and that positive change can be brought about through greater financial literacy among the poor and the rich. Hobart and his wife Eunice, together with their children, live in Singapore.