In a bid not to be described as ‘prosperity gospel’ advocates, the topic of ambition is often met, by some, with intense apprehension or explained away as a fruitless exercise in vanity. Their two-pronged antidote to this gangrene creeping furtively into the lives of the saints is to simply trust in the sovereignty of God and beat down these strong desires into godly submission by channelling them into more substantial and pious (?!) causes e.g. asceticism.
But truly, it would be incredibly disingenuous to completely disregard the apprehension of such people as legalistic caution given that most examples of ambition portrayed in our world today are frankly glamorised self-idolatry, misplaced priorities and materialism often disguised as accomplishments. Ambition can indeed become all-consuming.
However, the problem here is that ambition has become synonymous with only greed, self-preservation and pride and in an effort to steer clear of these things we fall into another equally damning pit—passivity, also known as false humility. To err on the side of caution, we tend to reduce the size of our dream, or worse—not dream at all, thereby settling for less in the process.
Humility is not the antithesis of ambition – apathy is! True humility does not curtail our pursuits rather it moulds our aspirations. G.K. Chesterton captures the false dichotomy between ambition and humility beautifully – “the old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”
There is a unique kind of ambition the gospel produces. It does not prevent us from dreaming big; rather it helps to recalibrate our vision and produces a drive that burns long and strong, the kind that achieves much in the here and now as well as in eternity!
Godly ambition is not an exercise in self-exultation. Matthew 5: 16 “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Our ambition ought to be good works that cause others to glorify God.
We should not be afraid to aggressively pursue our aspirations and dreams. However, we should remember that our self-worth and identity is not in our own accolades and accomplishments but in the finished work of Christ.
The key to ambition is to rest (which is not mindless idling) in the sovereignty of God by committing whatever you do to God and trusting Him to establish your plans (Proverbs 3:5-6).