As a kid I had a Batman helmet, pajamas, and soap on a rope. I wanted to have special power, defend the weak, and stick it to the bad guy. During my pre-teen years I traded my Batman helmet for a football helmet and dreamed big on that front too. Then reality struck and my fantasies of glory were replaced with the unvarnished complexities of no athletic scholarships and an uncertain future.
For 99.9% of us, the dreams of our youth are replaced with ideas of what it takes to be successful in the world, which is typically synonymous with wealth and power. While pursuing a fulfilling career, we strive for more; climbing ladders we believe will provide meaning and significance. Our determination, hard work and commitment to our cause are usually applauded and rewarded. The means to an end is justified, glorified and amplified with every rung we climb. But our ambition, while considered honorable, can take us off course and into a soul-less fog.
Out of the fog of ambition, clarity comes when we understand that everyone is wired by God to be someone great and do something great. But when we listen to the wrong voices, our energies can fuel selfish ambition instead of a noble and higher call. Real greatness can easily be unplugged.
The Apostle Paul knew about ambition. Before he found Jesus, his thirst for power moved him up the ranks in the Pharisees tribe. After he found Jesus, he had a new perspective, putting ambition in the back seat.
- “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
Jesus warns his disciples in Matthew about striving for success, by worldly standards, because we can lose our eternal destiny.
- “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” — Matthew 16:26
The Bible is clear we shouldn’t make selfish ambition our mission. All the time and effort spending, getting, promoting and rising up the corporate ladder is aiming too low. More sadly, people suffer in our quest to reach the top. But is there such a thing as godly ambition? God says yes!
The Bible tells us that God’s highest vision and noblest ambition for us is to become like Christ and to aim for heaven in Romans 8:29. In the best sense God wants to become like our older brother.
In Philippians 3:7-15, Paul explains what this process involves on a daily basis.
- “…I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing ChristJesus my Lord…that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith… I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 3:7-15
God gives us a position to use as a platform to serve Him and other people. If our ambition is focused on knowing, gaining more of, and trusting Christ, then God can use us anywhere, anytime.
The best role model is Jesus, the Son of God who chose to lead by serving, even washing feet. He was the ultimate paradigm buster when it comes to unfettered ambition. He was a “servant king.”
- “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” — Luke 22:27
Focus on what is important, not on impressive titles. Aim for heaven, instead of ranking high in this world. Don’t be ambitious, be conscientious. Don’t be jealous of others, be zealous for God. Serve others, instead of lording Christ over them. Strive for an eternal goal, not an external appearance.
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