Thursday, March 26, 2009

What Godly Ambition Looks Like

Recently,  I had the opportunity to discuss the topic of ambition with a group of mostly young men who find themselves wondering "what does godly ambition like if you're not a pastor?".   

We looked at Nehemiah as a profile in godly ambition, deriving observations from Nehemiah 1.

Here were the main points from our reading of Nehemiah 1 and subsequent discussion -

1. Godly ambition is concerned with God's glory and purposes.   Although he lived securely in the fortified capital city of Susa, Nehemiah was deeply affected by the ruin of Jerusalem.  He was moved to tears upon learning of its condition.  And, he longed to see the redemptive purpose of God fulfilled to the glory of God's name.

"Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name."

For the Christian today, this means giving priority to the advance of the gospel - yes, even if you're not a pastor or minister.   We do this by proclaiming and living the "message of cross" in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, in the broader community.   Consider that in your sphere of influence, you may be one of the few to bring the gospel to those who need it most.

2.  Godly ambition is concerned about the well being of others, especially the people of God.   Nehemiah's concern wasn't only about the city of Jerusalem but also about his countrymen.   

And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.   And they said to me, "The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame.  The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire."    As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days.

One measure of ambition is whether it extends God's compassion outwardly to others.  This doesn't just mean social work - it can also mean something as simple as engaging our workplace with an intention to exercise care to those around us.

3.  Godly ambition is founded on our identity in God.   I'm no expert on cupbearers but it would appear that it was an important position, affording access to the king.   Yet, Nehemiah only mentions his position as cupbearer in a simple statement at the end of the chapter - "Now I was cupbearer to the king".  It was a modest acknowledgment of God's sovereign hand in giving him such a position of access.   Yet, his identity was not linked to this unique position in the court of the king but rather in his place among the people of God.   

Whether we achieve much or little in the sight of men, we rest in the knowledge that, in Christ, we have immeasurable wealth.   We stand, not upon our achievements, but upon His achievement on our behalf.

4.  Sometimes ambition finds us.   Nehemiah didn't just get a passion for God when he received the news about the state of Jerusalem and his countrymen.   He was clearly a man who had deep interest in God's purposes prior to that point.   The news of Jerusalem merely offered the opportunity for Nehemiah act upon this passion in a unique way.   Don't worry if there isn't something "great" or "dramatic" for you to do today - simply focus on developing a passion for God and His purposes wherever you find yourself.   You might discover the opportunities to express godly passion are all around you.

What does godly ambition look like to you? 
Please share your thoughts on this topic

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Despite what our culture leads us to believe, vocation is not self chosen. That is to say we do not choose our vocations. We are called to them. There is a big difference."

Gene Edward Veith, Jr ; God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life , p. 50

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is Ambition Wrong?

This morning I had the opportunity to lead a discussion on the topic of ambition with a group of friends from my church. The dynamics of ambition in the workplace can be a thorny issue for many Christians. It raises some challenging questions like - "is ambition wrong?" or "what does godly ambition look like, especially if you're not a pastor or minister?"

I'd like to share and extend the discussion on this blog post by addressing the first question - "is ambition wrong?" Ambition is often defined as "an earnest desire for achievement or distinction...and a willingness to work for its attainment". Many would equate that achievement to wealth, fame or power but does it really have to be so? For Christians, the seeds of ambition are often the dreams, desires and goals that God places in our lives. Seen from that perspective, ambition isn't just "not wrong" - it's normal.

However, the Bible does warn us about certain kinds of ambition that are unfruitful or even sinful. Two kinds of wrong ambition come immediately to mind -

1. Selfish ambition - where we measure opportunities (think: career , ministry, etc...), primarily in terms of "what's in it for me". James 3:16 warns us of negative consequences when selfish ambition is played out in real life.

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice."

2. The pursuit of wealth - where we measure opportunities, primarily in terms of material gain. The reality is that many of us might not even consider the "desire to be rich" a problem to grapple with. Yet scripture couldn't be more plain in 1 Timothy 6:6-10.

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."

Here's the main point of this post -

"Ambition isn't wrong but there is such a thing as wrong ambition and scripture warns us to be on our guard against it"

In the next post, I'll share our discussion about what godly ambition looks like

Have you wrestled with ambition in your life?
Have you identified the presence of selfish ambition?
What does the pursuit of wealth say to the world around us about the value of Jesus Christ?

Please share your thoughts on this

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Boys, be ambitious.  Be ambitious not for money or for selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame.   Be ambitious for that attainment of all that a man ought to be"

William S. Clark, (1826-1886)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Gospel and Authentic Leadership

It can hardly be called a groundswell, but over the past couple of years, there has been an increasing appreciation for authenticity in leadership.    Harvard Business School professor, Bill George has been at the forefront of this discussion.   His book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership promotes the idea that effective leaders are first and foremost, authentic leaders.  Leaders with character, rather than simply charisma.   In this HBS podcast interview, he discusses some of the concepts in his book.  

I think Bill George is absolutely correct about the importance of authentic leadership.   However, I'd like to extend the discussion in a specific way by suggesting that it is the gospel that truly and ultimately brings authenticity into our lives and hence into our leadership.  

The lack of authenticity in life or leadership stems from our fallen nature.   We seek to obscure who we are, consciously or otherwise, because we find it difficult to confront our own fallen state.   As David says in Psalm 51 - "For I know my transgression, and my sin is ever before me... Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me"

Without the remedy of the gospel, we have no recourse.   But in the gospel, we discover the both the gravity of our moral failure and the power of God's gracious love for us.    We are freed to love and serve others rather than to live for ourselves.    We are freed to lead, based on what is right rather than what is popular.   We are freed to fight injustice at great cost to ourselves because we have a eternal treasure in Christ that transcends our experience in this life.   Most importantly, when we fail, perhaps even in being honest or authentic, we can dispel guilt by remembering the work of Christ on our behalf.

For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.    (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Here's the point - authenticity means being who you were really meant be.   The effect of Christ's saving work restores us to our Maker and frees us to be, exactly who we were created to be.   Want to be an authentic leader?  You might want to start by believing and applying the gospel daily.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quote of the Week

In the exercise of our callings, when we think we shall do no good, but all things seem contrary, yet faith says 'God has set me here; I will cast in my net at Thy commandment.' Let us look upon God and see what He commands, and then by faith cast ourselves upon Him and leave the success to God.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)

Friday, March 06, 2009

How to Be Distinctive

The sermon at our church last Sunday touched upon Philippians 2:12-16. Lots of good points were made but the one that got my attention focused on verses 14-15:

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe "

Do you want to be distinctive as a Christian in the workplace? Would you like to shine in a dark and confused world? Simple - don't grumble or complain or be argumentative.

This verse is striking because of what it doesn't prescribe as a path to being distinctive. For instance, it doesn't cover the really "serious" sins -"don't commit adultery" or "don't murder". It doesn't suggest that the path to shining in a dark world is to " end world hunger" or "fight poverty" or even "reshape your culture" - all worthwhile pursuits.

Instead, here's what we get from the apostle Paul - "do everything without complaining or arguing". It's simple, mundane but it's right where we live everyday. If you believe this verse, just doing our daily work without complaining is precisely what can make us stand out as a people called by God.

That's because "not complaining" takes a trust in God. Consider this - how can we preserve peace in our hearts when things don't go our way or when we don't get what we want? We live in peace and maintain hearts of joy by trusting God. We remind ourselves that He is supremely in control of the situation, yet in accordance with Rom 8:28, He has our best interests at heart.

Just doing whatever we're called to do without complaining or being argumentative - that's how we shine.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Quote of the Week

God gives human beings authority in the created world, what we might call "responsible dominion". Here is the first big work project. God, the king assigns sub-kingdoms, in which, under God, we human beings have our say. "Let them have dominion", says God....

The Bible speaks of dominion, not in the sense of conquest but in the sense of stewardship. After all, how does God exercise dominion? How does God demonstrate hospitality in creation and providence?... In the kingdom of God, to have dominion is to care for the well being of others

Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God's World p.31