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August 15, 2014

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Platforms or dreams: How God views ambition

by Dave Malnes

Dreamers take risks.

A writer exposes their soul. A musician offers a gift. A coach wants to make a difference.

They willingly place themselves on display and dares to dream with quiet ambition.

Dreamers desire influence.

The creative desire an audience. Leaders desire followers. Craftsmen desire consumers.

Are there not aspirations associated with dreams? What fuels human ambition to capture an audience, grow a business, or win a game or two?

God does not seem to disparage ambition, but He does give warning to the self-ambitious.

Ambition prompted Paul to preach the gospel (Rom. 15:20) and God nods his head in approval.

Six times the Bible warns against “selfish ambition” causing God to shake his head in disapproval.

Vain conceit and envy seem to be the tag words associated with ambition that centers on self. God directs his concern on glory. When glory is directed to God it is good. It is both God-pleasing and beneficial for the giver.

abandoned house

God can handle praise far better than we can. When glory is misdirected back to our selves, it feeds our pride. Ambition turns to self-ambition. The insatiable appetite for praise, affirmation, or appreciation misdirects our focus. We lose sight of the fact that God is the sole author of all blessings. He draws the audience. He brings the followers. He is the control of the victories.

For Christians, when we seek to build platforms, what is our ambition?

[In a recent article, “Every Platform an Altar” Ann Voskamp, a well-known author, thoughtfully addresses ambition that will cause every aspiring author to be both uncomfortable and soul-searching.]

God created engines within human beings that require fuel to make it go. Is ambition a type of fuel that creates the desire to practice, to not give up, to build a platform, to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

The Apostle Paul, whose ambition was to preach the gospel, was also inspired by God to write,

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” (1 Thess. 4:7)

Martin Luther, whose ambition was to bring people back to God’s Word, wrote,

When riches come, the godless heart of man thinks: I have achieved this with my labors. It does not consider that these are purely blessings of God, blessings that at times come to us through our labors and at times without our labors, but never because of our labors; for God always gives them because of his undeserved mercy. For, as we have said above, he uses our labor as a sort of mask, under the cover of which he blesses us and grants what is his, so that there is room for faith and we do not imagine that by our own efforts and labors we have achieved what is ours.” (“What Luther Says” ed. Ewald M. Plass)

Is it wrong to own a business, to write a book, to record music, to be an Olympic champion?

(I follow the blog of Susan Dunklee, a U.S. Olympic biathlete, who writes about training and competing.)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)

Dreamers take risks. God places the desires in our heart, whatever they may be, and encourages us to be ambitious in carrying them out. This is his will, his purpose, and for his good pleasure. The end result is for his glory — no matter how small or large it may be.

In our ambition, we can ask one simple question, “Whose applause or approval are we seeking?”

I look forward to reading your comments about ambition. Do you struggle like me in trying to define the difference between godly ambition and self-ambition in our lives? What helps you?

 

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 17 2014

    As you may remember, the Scottish missionary Eric Liddell was a popular athlete in his youth. Liddell viewed his running ability as a gift from God, and hoped to honor God at the 1924 Olympics. Although Liddell had trained to run the 400 meter race in two stages, one at a slower pace than the other, he was inspired by the Scripture verse “…[T]hose who honor Me, I will honor..” (1 Sam. 2:30) to give his all, so ran the race instead as a more difficult sprint. The resulting record stood for 12 years. However, Liddell declined to race on Sunday. This meant he missed the 4 x 400 meter relay. Liddell’s true goal was neither winning nor losing, but honoring God. May the same be said of us.

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    • Aug 18 2014

      Thank you, Anna. I remember reading a poem that was along the lines, “Disappointment: His Appointment.” We “train ourselves to be godly” then turn over the results to God. Goals, dreams, and ambitions are good — if they bring glory to God. Disappointment usually comes when our own expectations are not met. I’m sure Eric was “disappointed”, but in choosing to honor God, God re-directed his efforts. And guess what? God honored Eric. Eric displayed a maturity in Christ that I desire to emulate. Thanks for the comment.

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