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


Ted M. Gossard said...

I am reminded of a saying attributed to Mother Teresa which goes something like this: "No one does great things, but only little things done out of love." She must have been addressing how people looked at her and the mission in India, and what serving Christ entails in comparison to how people, even Christians can look at it.

Good thoughts from Nehemiah. He certainly is a good picture of this. I think the emphasis has to be on faith. Walking by faith means we end up living out the hope and love we have in Jesus. And that means we can't give up and throw in the towel (as I mentioned I'm tempted to do, in my last comment).

Again, good thoughts you draw out, a good study.

Bradley J Moore said...

These are great guidelines. I also thought of comparing ambition in business to athletes - world-class athletes - They do not settle for mediocrity or "losing." (Think Chariots of Fire!) They train and dedicate and devote themselves to being the very best they can be in order to "win the prize." I think God expects us to be the very best we can be in all that we do. Maybe that is something different than ambition...

Every Square Inch said...

Ted - I like that quote from Mother Teresa. When we consider ambition, we can often think about grand accomplishments in the eyes of men. I can't help but wonder if we shouldn't be paying attention to the little things done in love and faithfulness

Bradley - thanks very much for your edifying thoughts. Excellence is what you're talking about - measured not in terms of achievement but in terms of faithfully exercising our gifts

Anonymous said...

good points about having an interest in God's glory and purposes, the well-being of ohters, and having our identity in God.

bradley j moore said...

ESI - Wish I had your email to send ahead of time, but I wanted to make sure you knew we featured your site and this post at the HCB Blog site today... Thanks for the great dialogue on an important topic! Look forward to reading more on your site!!

Every Square Inch said...

nAncY - thanks for stopping by with your thoughts. When we have our identity set on Christ, we're not wrapped up in what we do but rather who we are.

Bradley - thanks for featuring this post. You can always reach me at everysqinch @ aoldotcom

Kimberly Devine said...

I believe every single life has purpose to achieve for God's glory, so much so I have dedicated my life to the cause.

I used to think the bible was full of stories about some distant people, from distant lands, but now I see that we are each and every one writing our own bible stories with each decision we make. He will make it great when we make space for miracles in our lives. Lean on faith!