Let’s return to what we think about “ambition.”
For many, this word translates into the guy in stylish business attire with coiffed hair who will do just about anything to climb the corporate ladder. Or the celebrity pastor-personality who cares more about extending power than serving people.
Let’s face it: It feels a bit slimy for Christians to describe themselves as “ambitious.” That’s a prayer request you never hear: “Can I just ask the group to pray that I will have more ambition?”
No way. It feels like asking God to triple your salary. That’s why ambition needs to be rescued.
You see, I believe that ambition—godly ambition, that is—is a noble and essential quality for our lives to bring glory of God. Your pastor’s call to ministry started with ambition. “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble thing” (1 Tim. 3: 1).
But let’s face it: ambition has mostly hovered outside respectability. For church leaders from Augustine to Jonathan Edwards, ambition was synonymous with the love of earthly honor, vainglory, and fame-hunting—not exactly the qualities to which Christians aspire
Today’s cultural climate doesn’t help. The prevailing worldview in the West involves a distrust in big ideas and a leader’s desire to achieve them. Along with that comes the firm belief that objective truth just doesn’t exist.
But when we deny truth, we suffocate ambition. Without truth as a foundation and ideas worth exploring, life gets pretty pointless. Meandering replaces meaning, confusion trumps conviction, ambivalence swallows aspiration—nothing really matters all that much. And when nothing really matters, well, nothing really happens. Afraid of taking risks for the sake of a glorious aspiration, leaders turn in on themselves. Resigned to mediocrity, they shift their eyes from the bright horizons of glory and immerse themselves in worlds only as wide as themselves or their critics. Or their church critics.
Ambition needs to be rescued.
This liberation must include a rescue from a wrong understanding of humility. That may sound crazy, but I’m serious. I think this issue quenches a lot of evangelical fire. Humility, rightly understood, shouldn’t be a fabric softener on our aspirations. When we become too humble to act, we’ve ceased to practice biblical humility. True humility doesn’t kill our dreams; it provides a guardrail for them, ensuring they remain on God’s road and moving in the direction of his glory.
Ultimately, it’s we ourselves who hold ambition hostage. We’re sinners, we love ourselves, we aspire to bring glory to ourselves, and we’ll drop godly dreams if something more attractive shows up—and in the process, the right kind of dreams die.
These devotionals are my own small attempt at a rescue operation. In a world where AI is competing to replace reality, God wants us to lay hold of ambition—specifically, godly ambition—and return it to where it belongs. To do this, we must snatch ambition from the dust heap of failed or sinful motivations and put it to work for the glory of God.
This is what God did for Paul. God took his narrow, man-centered ambition to destroy the fledgling church and transformed it into a holy ambition for the gospel spreading throughout the whole world. Paul, who had once been zealous to preserve the traditions of the Jews, wrote later in his life,
I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named [that is, from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum (modern-day Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, etc.)], lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, / and those who have never heard will understand” (Romans 15:20–21).
Paul’s ambition was to preach the gospel even as far as Spain (Romans 15:24). He set his sights on achieving great things for the glory of God. In the execution of that goal, Paul was tenacious.
Start today by looking up and out. God redeemed Paul and rescued his ambition. He can rescue yours too.
Tenacious Tuesday Questions
What sort of aspirations and ambitions for life do you have right now? What about for spreading the gospel? Are they centered more on your purposes and your glory, or is God the goal? Are they broad or narrow? What sorts of ambitions for ministry have you laid aside in the past because they just felt out of reach? Think about how God might transform your ambitions or resurrect new ones for his glory. What might that look like?
Lord, help me to set my eyes not on my glory, but one yours. Give me holy ambitions centered on you and your kingdom purposes. Use me mightily for the sake of your glory and the good of your people.