Nowhere that I know of does the Bible forbid or condemn ambition. James 3:13,14 speaks of selfish ambition. How would a leader know if their ambition is selfish or God-pleasing. Here is Kyle Worley to help us answer that all-important question.
Originally posted by Kyle Worley
Testing Leadership Ambition
I had spent months writing a book, working hard to speak truthfully and persuasively, and I sat there holding it in my hands deciding whether or not I should give it to the influential leader standing on the other side of the room. It should’ve been easy to walk over and say, “Hey (insert name of respected leader), I wrote this book and just wanted to give you a free copy without any expectations.”
Christian leaders, in any environment, often struggle with how to think through and process the ambition that fills them. There is a battle in our hearts that leads us to either self-righteously cast out all attempts to grow in our calling and gifts (labeling them “selfish”), or to selfishly pursue all attempts to increase our “platform,” that dangerous term, by outdoing all others in showing honor to ourselves.
How do we remain humbly faithful, while at the same time practicing a holy ambition? When does the pursuit to be a faithful steward of our gifts and abilities become a selfish pursuit of fame and status?
Test Your Ambitions
I want to suggest three ways that we can test our ambition and two ways that we can be presently faithful while ambitiously pursuing future possibilities:
1. By being rooted in the Word.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joins and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Focusing in on that last phrase, we can quickly see that seasons of our life that are marked by both a rigorous ambition or vision, as well as an indifference to the primacy of God’s Word in our lives, will be seasons that commonly produce selfish ambition. The first question I ask myself when testing an ambition is, “Have I been examining myself underneath God’s Word?” If I am avoiding the light of God’s Word, it is usually a clear indication that the ambitions flowing out of my heart, however noble their ends might be, are ambitions that are emerging out of heart content with self-exaltation.
If I am not rooted in the Word, then the only one “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” is me. And that is a terrifying concept when I think about what my sinful hearts finds to be holy and acceptable.
2. By being rooted in a local church.
Paul exhorts the church in Romans 12:10: “Love one another in brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” He goes on to say in v.13 that we are to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
When we are rooted in a local church, we are in community with brothers and sisters who can demonstrate the love of Christ and the simple beauty of showing honor to others.
Within a local church, believers are called to “compete” with one another in lifting up each other and “stirring one another up to love and good works” (Heb. 12:24). The church is a place where we see the urgency of the needs of our church family. Our ambitions become flavored with the wisdom and needs of the people with whom we are covenantally bound.
When I am rooted in a local church, my heart is turned both towards Christ our head, and the brothers and sisters who constitute this local body of believers. The ambitions that emerge out of living in community with other believers are characterized by a desire to serve the Church, as opposed to serving myself.
3. By being rooted in the Great Commission.
Jesus’s words in Matthew 28:18-20 – “Go and make disciples of all nations” – must be echoing in my heart as I pursue the ambitions that arise within me. If I am pursuing a raise at work because I believe the scope and efficiency of my stewardship is in keeping with a larger salary, I must do so knowing that I am not asking for more money to own and hoard, but for more resources to be placed in open hands. If I am pursuing a more central position of leadership within a local church, I must do so knowing that whatever privileges that potential position includes comes with the immense responsibility of directing those privileges to the exaltation of God’s name in the nations.
If I am rooted and committed to the Great Commission, the ambitions of my heart will carry the aroma of being committed to the cosmic nature of Christ’s lordship. I will know that my ambition is holy if it leads me to increasingly desire that the name of Christ be brought to those who have not yet heard the gospel.
Be Faithful to the Call
So, if we test our ambitions according to the light of God’s Word, the Church, and the Great Commission and they are found to be holy, how can we be presently faithful as we practice this holy ambition?
1. By remembering our identity is in Christ.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” I am first and foremost work of God, created and saved in Christ Jesus. My identity is not rooted in my ambitions, or the success thereof, but rather in the gloriously creative and saving acts of God.
When I remember that my identity is in Christ, I can patiently and humbly remain faithful as a I pursue the holy ambitions that God has placed on my heart. If my identity shifts to my ability to produce or accomplish great ambitions, I will suffer an identity crisis as I realize that no success can every satisfy like finished work of Christ on my behalf.
2. By killing the “greener grass” lie.
When you begin to believe that the success of the work of God in and through you is conditional on you being in, or with, a different place, position, or person, you have bought into a grand lie. Stephen Altrogge wrote in his wonderful book, The Greener Grass Conspiracy, that the Holy Spirit is not confined to your ideal situation.
If your ambition is characterized by the “If I could have this….get this…be this…or go here then I would be satisfied…” mentality, then your ambition is idolatrous. You have made your ambition your idol, and when you finally “achieve” it, it will be your destruction. It will not satisfy because there will always be another level to climb.
Take heart. The gospel frees you to be presently faithful while practicing a holy ambition.