My last post was about letting God lead you and how the Christian life is not directionless, but about being more at ease with God’s plans and will than your own.
I had several people tell me that the post was so freeing, and others who wondered if I thought it was wrong to have ambition in life. “Is ambition bad? Does that mean I’m not trusting the Lord to make my plans?”
Is it okay to want to do great things for God? Is it wrong to learn new skills and prepare for something God is giving you a heart to do?
The answer is no, ambition is not wrong. Planning is not wrong.
Ambition is a good thing. We encourage hard work and, of course, the wise person plans ahead. We use our talents and gifts for the Lord. We’re negligent if we don’t.
But ambition is never neutral.
Ambition always stems from somewhere.
James tells us that there are two types of ambition: selfish ambition and the ambition that stems from the wisdom that is “above”:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Selfish ambition has self promotion as its center. It works to give me an advantage. It labors to make sure that I am taken care of and seen and heard and on top. At its core is jealousy and envy, and its “fruit” is every sinful and despicable practice meaning that it eventually will produce bad conduct: every vile practice. A person with selfish ambition has been made ineffective to Christian service and is actually harming the body of Christ. Selfish ambition feeds on the lies of the earth, the flesh, and the devil and is a contradiction “to the truth” of Scripture.
Ambition that works for the good of God and others has several traits. It has no ulterior motives. Its motives are pure-hearted. Its practice is gentle. Its demeanor is open to reason and discussion. Its lifestyle is lovely and full of mercy and good fruits. It blesses others without partiality or partisanship. Its single-focus is God’s glory and it will always produce godly behavior that promotes peace.
I think there is so much confusion about ambition because we start with pure motives but we can quickly morph into sinful motives:
- Like the person who takes on a ministry in the church only to become territorial and domineering about it later.
- Like the church leader who gets jealous and irritated when people seek counsel from “laypeople” in the church instead of them.
- Like the woman who wants to counsel others but lacks love and speaks her “wisdom” without self-control or Spirit-leading.
- Like the mom who wants to train children as unto the Lord, but who allows self-image to become a tyrant and obedience the end-all product.
- Like the husband who wants to provide well for his family, but lets that ability to provide come to define his worth.
- Like the college student who is ambitious for popularity, so they compromise their convictions to make friends.
- Like the woman who appears to want to serve others, but for the wrong reasons–always with strings attached–and when others don’t give her the thanks or friendship she thinks she deserves, she sulks and punishes them later.
I know these are simplistic examples, but our hearts are so wicked, that we can start out “Spirit-filled” and morph out of control quickly if we forget about Christ and ignore His leading.
I hope this shows you what I mean by having the correct type of ambition when it comes to walking the Christian life.
It’s ambition that says, “I want to do what you have for me today, Lord.”
It’s ambition that is obedient to the Scripture, and that does not sin in order to get what it wants.
It’s ambition that does not have a hint of bitterness or jealousy connected to it.
It’s an ambition that doesn’t look for praise, promotion, or preeminence in any regard. It’s not looking to make a name for itself.
“Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, do ALL to the glory of God.”
It’s an ambition that has the heart of the Savior behind it: to lift others up and give them the better place, to encourage and serve for the sake of His name not for self gain, and to work for the kingdom of God with no regard to the costs and with no expectation of earthly acclaim or adoration.
Striving under selfish-ambition is a dead end, Christian woman. Only when we turn our eyes towards service for the True Master and hate our selfishness, envy, comparison, jealousy that we’ll find the freedom to live for Someone bigger and better than ourselves. Anything motivated by selfish ambition is slavery to sin and will keep you spinning your tires, getting nowhere, reaping the unpleasant consequences of that type of sin, and will, because of the bitter nature of jealousy and envy and selfish ambition, keep you at odds and at war with others. It will keep you in bondage, all the while promising grandeur and greater things.
If God condescended to serve us, then our only ambition can be to serve Him out of gratitude. And of course, where bitter jealousy and envy and selfish ambition reside in the heart, thanksgiving and gratitude cannot reside in the same residence.