Friday, June 09, 2006

Dreams, Ambition and the Glory of God

I'm currently reading through "Lost in the Middle", Paul Tripp's newest book on the challenges of mid-life. One of the more interesting chapters of the book is Chapter 5 - "Towers to the Sky" where he discusses the power of our dreams and imagination.

He reminds us that the ability to dream and imagine is a unique gift from God:

"A dream is imagination coupled with desire and projected into the future...Imagination and the ability to dream future dreams are vital gifts from God so that, though we cannot see, hear or touch him, we can still have a relationship with him"

However, our dreams (and ambition) can also be dangerous to our souls when they take hold of us. Here are a couple of excerpts:

"Before long the dream is not just a faint and distant hope for the future. It becomes a prized possession. I become convinced that life without the dream would be unthinkable and unlivable. My sense of identity, purpose, well-being, contentment, and satisfaction becomes directly connected to the realization of the dream."

" the pursuit of my essential dream, I have been slowly building my own personal tower to my personal heaven. It has me. It defines me. It motivates me. It guides and directs me. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning and a reason to press on."

Paul Tripps writings are always insightful and this is no exception. A couple of thoughts as I read through the chapter -

First, this is not a problem confined to mid-life...the towers of our dreams are often exposed in mid-life but they're constructed throughout our adult life. So his gracious exhortations are applicable whatever your age.

Second, it seemed to me that our dreams are actualized and often take form as ambition in our lives. Ambition is the drive to actualize our dreams - where dreams are passive, ambition is active. Yet, ambition often carries a negative connotation for a Christian. It leads me to ask -

  • Is ambition typically wrong or selfish? Or is there a right form and place for ambition in our lives?
  • In practical terms, is it right for a Christian to directly pursue a position of influence in politics, media or business?
  • It made me wonder what godly ambition looks like for a Christian in the marketplace - what are its essential attributes?

Related to the last question about the nature of godly ambition in the marketplace, here are my thoughts on what that looks like. May these only serve as a starting point for fruitful discussion.

1. Christian ambition in the marketplace should be motivated by our ultimate desire to know Christ and to make him known. Our aspirations for a specific position or area of work, should serve as an expression of our over-arching ambition as Christians to know, experience and love God more deeply.

2. Christian ambition is the marketplace should be characterized by God-centered humility, marked by a trust in God who brings about success or failure. We should look humbly to the one who raises the poor from the dust (Psalm 113) ... and brings princes to naught (Isaiah 40). We should make lots of room for the sovereign hand of God, leanin upon his Providence, recognizing the many things that only God can control and we cannot. On this point, I confess I often find myself striving when I should be resting. I often wonder if my striving at times isn't a desire for autonomy when God has designed me for dependency. Psalm 127:1 reminds us that "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain".

3. Christian ambition is about serving those around us. This is an ethic well understood if not always practiced in the church but in the marketplace it is seldom espoused, much less practiced. Yet, this distinctive is to mark Christians even when they operate in the realm of business. For the Christian, any aspiration for leading or management - any ambition to lead projects, build companies or make sense of disorganization is motivated a desire to serve others . "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt 20: 26-28)

What are your thoughts on the topic of dreams and ambition? How do you navigate through your ambition, yet keep God foremost on your mind and heart?


ittai said...

Wow, Andre! So glad you addressed all this (and very insightfully I might add). I have often pondered and wrestled with these very questions. I think your answers satisfy the questions very well in a general sense. It's then up to us, as individual believers in Christ, led by God's Holy Spirit & governed by His word, to flesh that out, see what it 'means' for us. But I definitely agree that our ambition is only good if it is fueled and directed by ambition for God's glory. (Matt. 6:33 - "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His glory..."

Thanks, bro! Again, very uplifting and challenging!

Cole Hanner said...

As always, I enjoy hearing your thoughts and insights into these subjects that impact us so closely in life. This one is always a challenge to us all, as I feel I'm so quick to take the proverbial "Wheel" of my life and wrestle control from God. I feel this applies to the area of ambition or even some goals. I feel that I need accountability or I will quickly make my ambitions become idols that rule my emotions and end up directing my sinful heart. I am constantly being reminded of how blind I am to self-righteousness, and often blinded to arrogance, pride, and anger. Seems hard to believe that we (read that to mean "I") could be blind to those obvious characteristics or sinful judgements, but I validate that condition much more than I'd care to admit. (Humility is obviously another quality I struggle with; as evidenced from the previous comment.) So, without beating the horse further, I feel we need others (Christians) to question our motives, to challenge our "reasoning", and to question our values all along the way. Unless the Lord builds the house (as you referenced earlier) we labor in vain. I think that if we can keep our motives as pure as possible, have the accountability we need from solid Christians, and are open to those individuals speaking into our lives, we can take a healthy approach to our future, and grow in Christ through this process. There are many other issues I'm leaving out -as it pertains to honoring God in our pursuit of Godly goals, and looking for opportunities to honor God in the pursuit of those goals. I simply wanted to encourage you and throw a comment or two your way for discussion. This would be a great discussion issue for any group of men - especially some of "us" manly men!! (That's a joke Andre!!)

Great comments from you Andre. Well done.

David said...

i say, think small and trust a big God. this however is not small-mindedness. look at Joseph. he never looked to be Pharaoh. He was faithful and content where he was; whether as a prisoner for years or a servant of Potiphar. because he was faithful with little, God gave the increase, but he never looked toward or for the increase. and yet he never denied the promotion. elijah was sent to one widow. Jesus ran from being made king (john 6). the reason why they both knew what to and what not to pursue was because they were faithful in the smallest and yet greatest of commands; seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. the God who demonstrates His awesome power in the waves of sea's shores does so by the humble means of a breeze-wrought ripple. many desire to be the wave, few are willing to begin as the ripple. look to Christ.