When I received a promotion early in my career, some friends started teasing me about my “ruthless quest for power.” Later on in my career, another co-worker and I disagreed over whether or not I was “ambitious.” As I always maintained, there wasn’t some grand plan that I was working in order to achieve some position of strength. I never had grand ideals for who I was going to be – being president, or an astronaut, or even a princess wasn’t in the cards for me. I just wanted to make the most of every opportunity I was given, and as much as possible lead a simple life of worship.
To most Christians, this sounds like the right attitude to have. We know that we aren’t supposed to be consumed with the things of this world – power, money and prestige. What I failed to realize, however, is that God doesn’t call us to not have any ambition at all. Instead, His Word says we should be devoid of any selfish ambition (Phil. 2:3). I should, however, be ambitious about serving others. I should be ambitious about doing the things of God. Not to make myself look good – but to radiate His goodness through my life.
It’s a hard position to maintain – being filled with selfless ambition and not letting it become selfish conceit. We can all probably recount stories of people that started off doing things for the right motives, only to later on be consumed about how their good deeds would fulfill their personal desires. For the Christian, however, in recognizing that we already have all we need in Christ, we are free to be ambitious about the things of Him. In resting in the fact that He will provide, we no longer have to worry about making it happen for ourselves. When being His is our ambition, then our life will be rightly focused on serving Him through serving others.
If we want to check our motives, a key sign of whether our ambition is rightly focused is how we respond when things don’t go “according to plan.” If it’s about furthering our own agenda, we’re going to get upset, complaining and bitter. However, if it’s about being ambitious for God – we are going to trust that He is working even in these unexpected events to bring about His plan. If we’re ambitious for Him, we’re going to trust that He’s working to bring about something better – something lasting – something eternal.
It’s o.k. to have ambition – as long as our ambition is about furthering His kingdom and not setting up ours. In fact, we should have ambition – because it should be our desire that our lives increasingly display how great God is.
Now it’s your turn ….In practical terms, what does selfless ambition look like?