Ambition

Two friends graduated from medical school in the spring of 1883. Ben was eager to head for New York, where he felt a young doctor could earn the most money. Will decided to join his father’s practice in rural Minnesota, even though Ben called him foolish for doing so. But Will shared his father’s zeal for medicine and his desire to make innovations in the field—even in the sparsely populated Midwest.

Years later, the wealthy and powerful were coming from around the world to be treated by Will’s family at their clinic—the Mayo Clinic.

Our ambitions differ from person to person and church to church. We need to realize that this is how it should be and resist the temptation to judge those whose passions are different from ours.

In Romans 15:20, Paul says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” Paul wanted to take the gospel to unreached people. He was eager to build his own foundations. Conversely, my ambition is to revive and build something that already exists. The church needs both kinds of builders, and God provides them. He uniquely creates us with the gifts and talents necessary for different purposes and tasks, and He places different desires and ambitions within us to draw us toward those “good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:9).

So we need to pay attention to our ambitions. What stirs in us? How can we help others if we follow our ambitions? Will what we long to give contribute to God’s Kingdom? And, in the midst of our ambition, are we prioritizing our relationship with God? Because while ambition can be a positive thing that draws us toward God’s will, it also has a dark side…

In Renovation of the Church, Kent Carlson says, “Ambition is often fueled by the insatiable desire to be recognized as important….personal ambition is a ravenous monster not easily tamed.” He adds that the solution to this is to emphasize purpose over success because ambition becomes most dangerous when we use it to alleviate our insecurities, stroke our pride, and validate our importance to a world that doesn't care. Then it drives us with an unhealthy energy—an energy focused on self instead of God and His Kingdom. And it throws our lives and relationships out of balance.

There is a razor-thin line between healthy and unhealthy ambition. As Christ followers, we need to be aware of that line and step into our ambitions cautiously, remembering the larger purpose and vision God has given us and knowing that He is the one in charge of outcomes. Our job is simply to share the unique gifts and passions He has given us for His Kingdom and His glory.