A Few Thoughts on Ambition

One of my areas of confusion as a father is how much do I push my children to do stuff, to excel, to dominate, and have ambition.

It seems our world is consumed with ambition. We celebrate people who work 90 hours a week and make a ton of money and buy fancy things and go on nice vacations and post happiness constantly on Facebook.

As a pastor, I know many behind the scenes things about people. I know their debt. I know their family problems. I know their internal turmoil. I know their emptiness that sets in when ambition is realized, or if it is always out of grasp.

I wonder how much of our touting of ambition and excellence is nothing more than selfishness that destroys the soul?

When Jesus told His followers to take up their cross, deny self, and follow Him, He can’t possibly have meant “At all cost, get on the A honor roll, get into the best college, excel at all you do, and take over the world.”

When Paul said, “It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me,” I can’t imagine his intended point was, “Be all you can be. Be the best. Live for respect, honor, and awards. Do all you can to make money.”

The New Testament has so many warnings about money and the dangers of pursuing it, yet most Evangelical preaching tells people to go get it and get it better than others get it. Joel Osteen is no longer an outlier.

I want my kids to do well. I want my daughter to destroy people on the tennis court. I want my daughter to make other piano players give up after hearing her. I want my son to turn awesome double plays, or strike out the side in baseball.

I want my kids to do well in school. Yet I also know that school, sports, instruments, and most other activities are vanity, vanity, because I don’t know if you know this or not, but all is vanity.

Ambition is talked about in the Bible. At least in the English Standard Version. The KJV translates it “strife.” Ambition is putting yourself first, which inevitably leads to fighting and division. Selfish-ambition ruins individuals and relationships.

Yet selfish-ambition is the underlying application of most modern sermons.

One of the greatest uses of this word usually translated “strife” or “ambition,” is in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.”

If you’re going to aspire to anything in life, according to the Bible (that book we say is our authority for life and doctrine), it is to aspire to calm down and mind your own business.

Yes, what you do, do it well as to the Lord. We have responsibilities to care for our biological and church families. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. Work to fulfill those basic obligations.

Don’t do it for the love of money. Don’t do it for rewards. Don’t do it for recognition and praise. Just find your thing and go do it. Let the results take care of themselves.

Any other ambition will ruin you and your relationships, primarily your relationship to Jesus Christ.

As a believer, it’s no longer you who lives. I imagine that means something very practical.