Monday, October 16, 2006

Trusting God With Our Ambition

Without ambition, there would be no great works of art, no companies built, no church plants and no sweeping legislation for the common good. Dreams and ambitions are gifts from God and very much part of living a fruitful life. Yet as Christians, we often struggle with ambition because of the ambiguity we face on this matter. We are warned about the dangers of selfish ambition but also reminded to steward gifts given to us by God.

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, ambition fueled by right motivations is a good thing. Rather than retreating into a defensive posture with regard to our ambitions, we’re called to steward God given dreams and ambitions in a manner pleasing to him.

This week, we’ll examine my second assertion on stewarding ambition - how trusting God is a key ingredient of godly ambition. If we are to please God in the stewardship of our ambition, we must entrust our ambitions to him. It is entirely possible to be rightly motivated regarding our dreams, yet falter in our stewardship by failing to trust God through the process. For instance, you may dream of successfully running a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the gospel through acts of benevolence. Yet, if you pursue that dream apart from a trust in God, you would not be successfully stewarding your ambition as a Christian.

Yet, it is easier to know that we ought to trust God with our ambitions than to functionally do so. What does it look like to entrust our ambitions to God? How can we set the trajectory of our lives towards that end? I’d like to offer a few thoughts.

First, trusting God with our dreams and ambitions begin with a functional acknowledgement of God’s sovereign rule over our lives. One practical way we do this is by submitting our plans to God’s will. Assuming our goals are aligned with God’s revealed will, working hard to attain them is a good thing. Yet, our plans to accomplish our goals must be accompanied with a humble awareness of God’s will as predominant in our affairs. James explains it in this way –

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"--yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
(James 4:13-16 )

According to James, making plans without a sober assessment of our lives and an acknowledgement of God’s will is essentially arrogant. It’s a form of boasting apart from God that isn’t benign, as we might imagine. On the contrary, God considers it evil.

I've had to wrestle with this in my own life. Far too often, I view my efforts in "getting the job done" as the primary factor to any successful endeavor. Sadly, in the process, I will functionally relegate God's will as peripheral rather than central. Thankfully, due to the influence of God's word and the gentle reproofs of life, I'm beginning to understand that it is God's will that plays the greater part of success or failure.

Faith towards God in our ambitions is completely alien to conventional thinking. It views God’s will as predominant and humbly submits to it. We would do well to remember the sayings in Proverbs with regard to our plans -

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.
(Proverbs 16:3)

Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.
(Proverbs 19:21)

Another practical way to submit ourselves to God’s sovereign rule in our ambitions is by acknowledging our limited understanding. Because of the subjective nature of dreams and ambitions, we ought to humbly recognize that we know only in part. We must always be postured to consider the possibility that our dreams may not find their fulfillment in the way we expect.

For even while we labor diligently, we need to hold our dreams lightly. As we pursue our dreams, we should expect to endure varying paths and fortunes throughout the process. All you have to do is trace the lives of men like Joseph and Daniel to see the fluctuations in their position and influence over the course of decades. Their apparent fortunes may change but what doesn’t change is God’s rule over the contours and details of their lives. Keeping a view of God's loving providence over our lives will keep our hearts from bitterness and discouragement.

Trusting God with our ambitions also entails a hope filled dependence on him. We look to God to bless and promote, all the while remembering that it is God who raises one and humbles another. We must rightly place the confidence and burden of fulfilling our dreams, not on ourselves but on God. With the Psalmist, we should say –

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
(Psalm 57:2)

Our hope is rooted in the favorable disposition of God towards us because of Jesus Christ. However, it is yet possible that most of our dreams and ambitions will remain unfulfilled in this life. What must we do when we may be left longing for more even while we live in this present age? C.S. Lewis, speaking about desire in The Weight of Glory points the way for us -

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty...are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Our desires and ambitions, even when they come from God, are not meant to satisfy us but to ultimately point us to the One who will. As we pursue our dreams and ambitions, Jesus stands ready, not simply as one to assist us but is himself the fulfillment of all our true desires.

Next in the series: Stewarding Ambition with Faithfulness


phil said...

Thanks for this post Andre. Some very helpful and grounded insight. What are your thoughts on taking risks? The old testament is full of examples of men taking great risks for God. Eldridge has, in my opinion, said some interesting things on this subject but leaves the reader with a warped view of God as being the ultimate risk taker.

Mick said...

Great job, Andre!


andre said...


It's interesting that you ask about risk taking...over the past year I've had ample opportunity to think about that. It's more than I can respond to immediately but here are my poorly formed thoughts on this.

What prevents constructive risk taking,is the concern/fear of loss. Yet, as Christians, we are best positioned to take enlightened constructive risks because we ultimately have nothing to lose. Our treasure is Christ and he cannot be lost to us. While we will strategize, plan and work hard, we do so in a sense without the pressure of facing the ultimate downside.

I havent' read Eldridge but I know that many have positioned God as the ultimate risk taker. It sounds romantic to say that but I'm not sure that's possible - God is sovereign. He does whatever He pleases without the risk of failure. The fact that we experience the possibility of failure and He does not is actually a distinguishing reminder to us that He is God and we are not.

Thanks for asking such a thoughtful question - sounds like this ought to be a post in the future to stimulate more discussion.

phil said...

It would be great to hear more of your thoughts on this issue in the future.

The Hedonese said...

Wrote something on risk-taking god here where I concluded tis way:

"we could afford to take big risks for the Kingdom and combat evil because the Rock our trustworthy foundation of hope is not vulnerable to risks."