Little Bugs, Big Mounds

“Another parable he put forth to them, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches'” (Matthew 13:31,32).
On my first trip to Nigeria I visited a game park where I saw a number of antelope and other African animals, including real wild elephants. I was fascinated by all of them, but none were more impressive than one of the smallest of all that I saw ?- the termite! Actually, it was not the termites themselves that impressed, but the huge mounds of dirt that marked their subterranean nests. These termite mounds were from three or four feet high to fifteen or even twenty feet, the larger ones with bases at least ten or more feet in diameter. Made of the red Nigerian clay they were scattered throughout the forest, clear, easily seen evidence of just how many of the small insects dwelt there.
A number of spiritual lessons can be inferred from the termite and his mound. Perhaps most obvious is the power of numbers, when all are united in purpose and action. One termite can move very little dirt in his short life, but millions together are quite powerful. Another way of stating the same principle is “Great things have small beginnings.” Jesus describes his church as being like the mustard seed; tiny in its original form, but with immense potential. A preacher said several years ago, “the only limit to what a Christian can achieve for God is the size of his or her faith.” This is true of one Christian, but how much more true is it of all Christians united together by faith in Christ Jesus. Surely, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23b).
A second lesson is that all things that we do have consequences. The termites do not set out primarily to build a mound. Their real construction takes place underground where they build their nest. Though the mound has some function, it consists of the waste dirt that is removed to make their tunnels. To a great degree it is the by-product, or consequence, of the termites’ work. In physics we were taught, “Every action has an equal but opposite reaction.” Whatever we do leaves results. Every word we speak, every good or evil deed, even every thought, produces other words, deeds or thoughts within ourselves and those who are influenced by us. We frequently do not know all the results of our actions, nor do we always know just whom they affect. But there are effects, either good or bad. We must learn to anticipate the results of our words and deeds and ensure that they are for good, not for evil.
Finally, in a termite mound the real action is beneath the surface. One can look at the big pile of dirt for a long time without seeing any movement or sign of life. One could easily assume it is inert, dead, with nothing inside. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just under the surface there are millions of insects working, eating, and reproducing. The mound above is only a part of the real structure. Thousands of feet of tunnels wind beneath the earth, full of life.
Does the same principle not also often apply to people and even to churches? We may watch someone for a time, thinking, “there is not much to him ?- he is nothing special.” Some churches don’t seem to have a lot of activity, no spectacular programs or obvious attraction. But both may contain hidden depths of spirituality and faith. Don’t be quick to judge. Make sure to know the whole story, exploring beneath the surface, before coming to conclusions. People and churches are often doing much more than we think they are ?- they just don’t feel compelled to advertise or take credit for it.
In God’s creation there are often parallels between the laws of nature and the spiritual principles governing eternal life. Our observations of the material world help us to understand the spiritual. We often can learn, even from the lowly termite.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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