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When I was a boy growing up in the midwestern state of Iowa, I used to help my mother with the honeybees we raised. It never ceased to amaze me how all those bees in the hive could work together as if they were a well-oiled machine. In September, when we would open up the hives to harvest the honey, everything inside was operating like a little city, and the bees all seemed to get along.

Bees are among the busiest creatures in all of God’s creation. In Western culture, the expression “as busy as a bee” has come to be synonymous with someone who is very active and industrious. Bees are just that, and, as part of the colony, they work well together as a unit. Each has a contribution to make in the operation of the hive. Each is interdependent and must rely on the others to survive.

Organization of a hive

A beehive, made up of drones, queens, and workers, can have up to 60,000 bees in it. The drones are males and live only to fertilize the queen. The queen’s purpose in the hive is to produce as many as 2,000 eggs a day over a lifetime of two to seven years. Usually one queen can maintain the hive.

Most numerous in the colony of bees are the workers. These little creatures are what really make life in the hive hum, so to speak. They take care of all the everyday operations, without which, of course, there would be no bee community at all.

Workers live from four to six weeks during the peak of the season. In that short time, they perform many tasks as they go through progressive stages of social and task-oriented development. These stages are unique and form one of the most complicated hierarchies of social achievement in nature. Bees function in the hive in the jobs that best suit them as they pass through specific life stages.

Within a few hours from the time they are hatched, bees assume their first job in the hive—cleaning and capping cells that were recently filled with honey. They also feed the drones and the queen, and they play nursemaid to the unhatched bees. Bee eggs must be cared for as they transition into larvae and then pupae, which is the cocoon stage of development.

And then magically, as if by some preordained clock ticking in their little brains, the workers suddenly switch job descriptions and begin receiving and storing nectar from other workers. During this time, they also pack pollen into cells, build the hive’s honeycomb, and become “sweepers,” cleaning the hive of any unnecessary debris. If it gets too hot, they help cool the hive by beating their wings in fanlike motions.

Then, mysteriously, they move on to new tasks, becoming honey “ripeners,” and then guards that help to protect the hive from enemy attacks. Worker bees have stingers built into their abdomens that can inject a lethal poison into their enemies. However, in the process of stinging, the workers themselves die, giving their lives for the colony.

Finally, bees morph for one last task, and this is perhaps the most unique job description of all. They become foragers. At this stage, they search for and collect nectar from which they make honey. Some foragers serve as scouts, ranging as far as six to eight miles in search of flowers and blossoms that produce nectar. When they have discovered the potential nectar source, they fly back to the hive to communicate this information to the other bees.

How bees communicate

We don’t really know everything about their system of communication, but what we do know tells us how truly sophisticated it is, as communication systems go in the animal world. Returned scouts perform either a round dance or a wagtail figure-eight dance across the honeycomb. Round dances tell the colony that the scouts have found nectar within a hundred meters of the hive. Wagtail dances indicate honey at greater distances. The exact direction is communicated by dancing up and down along the honeycomb, or left and right, and it all seems to be oriented to the sun.

Of course, then the real work begins by the foragers, a truly marvelous phenomenon. Bees visit 50 to 100 flowers on one trip, and it takes approximately 55,000 trips back to the hive to make one pound of honey. What’s even more amazing is the fact that in its lifetime, a worker bee produces only about one- twelfth of a teaspoonful of honey.

Each bee has capacities within which it functions as it moves through each of its life stages. Bees do not question their life stations but accept them willingly, as given them by their Creator.

God’s church

Like bees, the people in God’s church need to learn to work together. We are born with physical, social, and spiritual gifts. Some of us have the gift of poise and polish and can speak like Paul. Others know how to reach the hearts of children or express ourselves in writing. There are those of us who have learned how to motivate and how to harness the energy and inspiration of our fellow church members.

God knows what your talents are. Do you? He wants to you find meaning in life, to feel a sense of belonging, and to become a fulfilled, dynamic Christian in your area of activity. However, He also wants to teach you to reach out in new avenues of service to others. Without a doubt, serving others in a church and a community can have its headaches, but it will also lift you to new horizons of happiness in Jesus.

With one crisis following another in our fragile world, the church offers a promise of hope and eternal life. As a unified body of believers, like the bees, we are a team. The church works better together than as individuals, and as individuals, we cannot afford to denigrate or diminish our roles as part of the whole. God has put us in our places for a purpose. We can rejoice in the privilege of serving our Maker, because, ultimately, He knows what will make us the happiest. Though we may not see it at the moment, all things are working together for good, both in the body of believers and in the lives of the individual members of His church (Romans 8:28).

Like honeybees, we serve a higher purpose than just our own survival. If we will humbly accept the gifts of energy and service God has entrusted to us, we will achieve new skills and talents from His throne of grace. He will take us to greater heights of service. He will imbue us with greater capacities for compassion. He will inspire and enable us to do things we were not capable of doing before.

We must keep looking up in faith and hope, doing our work for God, doing it for the good of our brothers and sisters in Jesus, “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

Busy as a Bee

by Bradley Booth
From the November 2011 Signs