Posts Tagged Ministry

Godly Ambition

My older two sons and I are working our way through Dave Harvey’s new book, Rescuing Ambition. It’s been a pretty good read and has provided some good opportunities for helpful discussion. We’re just past halfway through, so I’m not prepared to offer an unqualified endorsement, but Harvey writes in a very readable style and is quite gifted at combining profundity and pithiness. He’s pretty funny too.

The chapter we read for yesterday focused on what Harvey called the paradox of ambition—that it leads downward in humility versus upward in self-exaltation. He used Philippians 2 as the base for most of the chapter (some of which was easily found in that text and some of which seemed a little squeezed into it). I was very thankful for one portion particularly because it provided a great opportunity to talk with my sons about something that has been a concern of mine for some time. I’ll let Harvey speak, then follow up with why I thought this was a valuable statement:

One great measure of our humility is whether we can be ambitious for someone else’s agenda. Not just tolerate and accommodate the goals of those over us, but adopt their vision, promote and pursue their dreams. Our willingness to make others a success is a great measure of the purity of our ambitions.

I am not sure whether that resonates with you or not, but it does me for a few reasons. I think it strikes right at the heart of our culture’s obsession with self that seems almost exclusively to equate success with making a name for yourself. Really, this isn’t a problem unique to our culture; it’s rooted in depravity and, therefore, found in every culture. But ever since our culture rejected any kind of theistic frame of reference and made man the measure of all things, it’s like the cult of self has bulked up like it’s on steroids. Noble accomplishment isn’t enough; being recognized for a noble accomplishment means as much or more than the accomplishment itself. In a culture like ours, selfish ambition is actually admired and applauded.

It’s understandable, though still sad, that this would drive people with nothing more to live for than the fame that can be attained during their short lives on this planet. It doesn’t make sense, though, when it infects people who ought to be living in light of eternity and the promise from God that He is “not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10). People who are confident that God sees all things don’t strive to make sure everybody else sees what they are doing. To the contrary, they actually look for ways to serve that can only be seen by God (cf. Matthew 6:1-18).

Once the quest for personal recognition and fame are set aside, then we ought easily to embrace any “agenda” which truly aims for God’s glory, whether it is ours or someone else’s. If we only get fired up about our own ideas and only invest our energies into our own agenda, then we are more than likely infected with selfish ambition. I don’t have time to develop it like I’d like, but this applies, I believe, to: (1) pastors who never move to advance projects outside of their own church (other than their own ideas); (2) assistants who give more attention and devotion to their own agenda than the agenda set by the one(s) they are supposed to assist; and (3) church members who pick and choose from what their church is doing according to how it fits with their own personal agenda.

The bottom line is that all of us should be completely committed to Someone else’s agenda! Our job is to figure out how we fit into it and then work to see that it gets advanced. This should be our great ambition. It is pitiful that we too often let the advancing our own name get ahead of advancing His great name. A lot more would get done if we were more concerned about His glory than getting the credit for what is done.

No Comments