Ambition is a double-edged sword
Ambition is a double-edged sword. If wielded properly, this sword can empower us to make the very best of ourselves and pursue difficult and seemingly impossible goals. On the other hand, it can become a deadly weapon of mass destruction, bent on destroying others for our own selfish gain.
The Christian world tends to shy away from ambition in reaction to the potential harm ambition can cause. Most of my generation has been encouraged to be humble and unassuming. The “meek Jesus” mentality invaded my childhood like mosquitoes at a campsite. We are encouraged to be humble and meek by our leaders, but God calls us to be warriors, to be strong and courageous, to bring about world change. In other words, God calls us to be ambitious for His kingdom. Why should we shy away from it?
Our elders obviously have good reason for teaching us to be meek and mild. If you have personal experience with this struggle of ambition, you know it can become very easy to be wrapped up in your own desires rather than putting God’s ambition for your life first. I certainly know what that’s like. We have stories in the Bible full of similar examples: Ambition is what drove Satan to desire to be more like God; Satan tempts Eve with the same thought having the forbidden knowledge of God; Jacob’s ambition drove him to betray and trick his brother out of his birthright. The negative examples go on and on, and the early Christian writers warned us of selfish ambition (emphasis added).
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 2 Corinthians 12:20 (NIV)
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
This distinction between selfish ambition and ambition for God is precisely where many Christians stumble. It is so important to remember that our ambition needs to be directed and inspired by God. America is obsessed with careers and typically encourages young adults to choose a stable career path and constantly try to move up in the world. Unless children and young adults are taught to seek out God’s directive, it is very easy for them to instead search for a stable and potentially unfulfilling job that’s based entirely on money or personal interest. The problem with teaching our children this mindset is that they learn to seek out their education, experiences, and jobs based entirely on their own selfish ambition.
This is how I define selfish ambition: defying God’s known path for your life and just doing what you think is best; choosing a career based entirely on prestige, fame, wealth, or financial stability; or undermining coworkers in order to get ahead.
This is how I define Godly ambition: working with excellence to bring glory to God; following your God-driven passions; using your influence to encourage others in righteousness; donating your hard-earned money to worthy causes.
(Remember, earning more money is not a bad thing — it’s what you DO with your money and how much you’re attached to it that determines if your heart is in the right place. Don’t fall into the trap of believing money matters more than God’s plan. Read my last post, Praying to be Poor, to learn more about the dangers of desiring wealth.)
Any career you dream up without the blessing of the Almighty will most likely be boring; God designs our lives to be extremely ambitious and full of excitement! Think about it: If our all-knowing, all-powerful God has the perfect job for you that will utilize your skill sets, passions, talents, and glorify Him, then why on earth wouldn’t you want to pursue it? God created you and knows your heart and passions, because He’s the one who gave you those passions! Follow God, and He will fulfill you.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:6 (NKJV)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
Once you determine the career path God wants you on, then commit to it with ambition! Work hard to achieve excellence to bring glory to Christ. No matter where you are in your life, you can still bring glory to God by treating people as Christ would. Any path will be full of broken and hurting people who need to see a transformed life. Live boldly for Christ, work hard and with consistent excellence to bring glory to God, and your employers and colleagues will see what it means to have ambition without selfishness. In my next post, I’ll discuss the excellence God demands of us in our careers, whether we work as servants, artists, or CEO’s.