Christians are flammable. God created us to burn. Not like a match—bright and hot but quickly extinguished—but long and strong. That’s why God created ambition. Ambitions are like a flamethrower. God ignites them, he points them in the right direction, and eternal work gets done. God’s work in God’s way for God’s glory. Why burn for anything else?
Paul shows us what the flame of godly ambition can do through a person. At the end of his letter to the Romans Paul says that he has “fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:19). Now I can’t even say I have fulfilled my diet goals today. But Paul? Ministry of the gospel among a pretty serious chunk of geography? Done. So what now? Buy a condo on the coast, maybe take up golf, a lecture tour on “how I did it … and you can too?” No. Paul just recalibrates his vision and turns the ambition torch in a new direction.
“Thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named … I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain” (Rom. 15:20, 24). Here’s the crazy thing. Paul had never been to Rome. He’s probably writing this letter from Corinth. You’d think Paul might say, “I’ve done rural, now its time to tackle the big city.” But if you look on a map you realize that Paul is hoping to slingshot right past Rome—the capital of his world—to get to Spain. Hey Rome, I’ll see you on the drive-by but don’t blink or you may miss me.
That’s the kind of humility-saturated ambition that only the gospel can produce. A completed goal or season of achievement offers opportunity not for retreat but advance. God’s grace to be fruitful in one area becomes a summons to stoke new ambitions for His glory. That’s powerful stuff! You see, when our ambitions are confined by self-serving pride we may achieve much in the moment but little for eternity. But when our goal is the glory of Christ, ambition and humility combine to ignite a fire that can’t be extinguished by a completed to-do list or satisfied dream. We can only be truly fulfilled by going where the Savior leads us and doing what the Savior calls us to do. Because in the end, it’s all about Him anyway. As Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers observed,
This is heaven to a saint: in all things to serve the Lord Christ, and to be owned by Him as His servant, is our soul’s high ambition for eternity.1
1(Charles Spurgeon, The Check Book of the Bank of Faith: Precious Promises for Daily Readings (Rsoss-shire, England: Christian Focus Publications, 1996), 301.)