Ambition. I mean the godly kind. It’s an undiscussed casualty of the pandemic and the ensuing debates over politics and power. People seem less motivated; more ambivalent. As for the church, well, there’s just a way we are wired that makes ambition seem slimy.
This whole thing has me concerned. It has consequences. If we lose ambition, churches remain unplanted, ministries stagnate, and entrepreneurs don’t fight to make dreams happen. If the church sees ambition as a threat to humility, we undermine aspirations. The church declines.
To toss some fuel on the embers, I started this blog called Tenacious Tuesdays. May it serve you by inciting your imagination for godly ambition that glorifies God!
One Sunday, as I stepped away from the pulpit after preaching, I saw Jake (not his real name). He stood there waiting—patient, earnest, intense. I could tell the message had stirred his stew. We shook hands and Jake dropped this question.
“What do I do when my ambitions set me up to fail?”
Jake had pursued the American dream: hard work + good education = success. He was bright, innovative, and armed with aspirations. BIG aspirations! And Jake was a Christian, so he assumed God had endorsed his desires. After all, he wanted to “make his life count”, whatever that meant.
But Jake had a plan. First, he wanted to become a highly skilled software developer. That’s reasonable enough. Good job, Jake. But check out these next two.
As an engineer, he then wanted to fundamentally change the face of software development—to do for software what Bill Gates did for Microsoft, what Steve Jobs did for Apple, or what George Lucas did for lightsabers.
Finally, armed with the stellar financial profits from those triumphs, Jake wanted to serve as a leader in a local church . . . for free.
So off he went into the land of software development to make his dreams come true. Just two years into his successful job, his ship arrived. An offer for the perfect position, coupled with promises of growing responsibility and leadership, put him on the fast track to a speedy finish. To top it off, his church asked him to lead a ministry, the crowning piece of his goal-setting trifecta. Reality was finally aligning with Jake’s ambitions for glorifying God.
This was a slam dunk, right? After all, Jake was doing it all to serve the church.
Suddenly circumstances changed. The recruiter who made all those promises was replaced by someone less than convinced of Jake’s ability. His job became a source of stress, even dread. Several months later, Jake was downsized right out the front door.
Jake stood in front of me, trying to make sense of a detonated dream. He was laid low. A few years earlier, his success had been just a matter of time; he was zealous, equipped, and confident over the inevitable fruit up ahead. In the blink of an eye, he became jobless, goalless, and hopeless—a self-described failure.
Jake stood before me with head bowed. “What do I do when my largest dreams are denied? Where do I turn when a mountain of momentum turns out to be a castle of sand?
Maybe that’s where you are today. Some dream for your life is under threat. Perhaps it just died and you woke up this morning feeling the funeral.
David, the shepherd-boy-turned-king, was no stranger to disappointed dreams. After he was anointed king by Samuel, he spent over a decade on the run, waiting for the Lord to give him the kingdom. Nothing seemed to work the way he might expect. And even after he became king, once he grew old, he had to flee Jerusalem because his son Absalom was leading a coup d’etat.
Can you relate?
While David had more than his share of “how long, O Lord” moments, he also recognized and submitted to God’s providence as he waited for the Lord to keep his promises. What appeared as failure in the eyes of man was actually the working out of God’s intent to establish David as king (see how he reflects on this in 2 Samuel 22). The delay of dreams created dependence upon God.
We have our ambitions. God has his plans. Sometimes our ambitions align with his plans; sometimes our ambitions need to adjust to his plans. Jake wanted to be a self-funded church leader, but God had a different purpose for his life.
It is not wrong to aspire to good things. But we do need to subject our ambitions to the mysterious purposes of God. Maybe you want to become a successful artist or entrepreneur.. That’s a great ambition. Are you content to allow God to not only define how and when that might happen but also what it might look like? Are you willing for him to revolutionize your idea of what “success” really is?
The strength of our dreams doesn’t reveal the depths of God’s will. Sometimes God incites great expectations to produce an external impact for others. At other times, he does it to produce an internal impact within us. Happy is the Christian who learns that God may incite desires he does not fully satisfy on earth. Maybe you need to think about that more today.
As Jake listened, a smile began. An unseen hand was on the dimmer switch turning the dial. Jake was beginning to see that God uses all ambitions–some to expand our fields, others to humble our soul.
As you start your day, remember that our dreams are not a contract God must execute. They are his means of transforming us to become more like him.
Tenacious Tuesday Questions
Have my ambitions become idols? Or am I willing, eager even, for God to redirect my life to serve his purposes? What delayed or denied dreams can I thank Him for right now?
Heavenly Father, you are wise and order all things according to the counsel of your will. Help me to trust you and serve you faithfully. And please order my ambitions so that they align with your good purposes for my life.