No matter what life stage or context I am in…ambition is there. Whether I am playing a sport, working a side-hustle, or leading a church…ambition is there. Whether I sit in my room alone with my thoughts or I am brainstorming in a conference room with others…ambition is there. Whether I am spending a Saturday with my family at home or sitting in an office on Monday-Friday…ambition is there.
Dave Harvey describes ambition as chasing glory (Rescuing Ambition, 20). We all, to some extent, are chasing glory. This is because God has designed us this way and he commends the pursuit of glory (Romans 2:6-8). The question is whose glory are you chasing?
This question has rattled me as a young pastor because despite what may have an outward appearance of working for God’s glory, there are many days my motivation is more focused on making my name great. On my good days, I truly am striving to do great things for God, but on my bad days, I am doing great things for me under the name of God.
Early in ministry, I thought that I had an ambition problem and that I needed to suffocate this inner-drive. But over the last decade, I have come to realize that God loves my ambition…he hates my arrogance. My ambition is a gift from Him. The problem is that I have corrupted this gift by chasing my own glory, not His.
When this light bulb went off, my perspective and prayers changed. God doesn’t want to remove my ambition but redeem it. I don’t need to deny it but direct it.
Over the last decade, directing my ambition towards God and not myself has been an ongoing battle that I have to regularly ask for God’s forgiveness and help. Nearly every day, I ask myself one of the following three questions to assess if my ambition is selfish or Godly.
Am I Okay With Someone Else Getting The Credit?
One of the best advice that I have ever received has come from the wisest person I know: Kevin McKee. As we discussed my ambition, he said, “Ambition isn’t wrong; selfish ambition is wrong. You just have to discern if your ambition is selfish or Godly.” He then gave me a question that I have never stopped asking myself:
“If your ambitions came true, would you be okay with someone else getting the credit?”
The power of this question is that it immediately reveals if my motivation is for my personal glory or for God’s. Do I care more about people being saved or do I have to be the one who leads them to Christ? Do I want our Lead Team to choose the best idea for our church or choose my idea? Am I okay with the church sharing one of my personal ideas and not giving me credit?
The Holy Spirit has used this question like a knife to pierce into the deepest, darkest corners of my heart. More often than not, my answer to this question leads me to repentance and brings my motivations back into check.
Am I Praying As Much As I Am Planning?
God has gifted me with a passion and skill for strategizing. The problem is that often I trust my plans more than my prayers. When I inspect how I spend my day, my actions communicate that I am trusting myself (plans), not God (prayer) to bring about change in our neighborhood, city, and world. There is almost always a connection between self-dependence and selfish ambition. This has led me to ask myself regularly:
Am I prioritizing prayer as much as I am planning?
Three principles that I try to implement when planning is to pray before I plan, pray while I plan, and pray after I plan. These prayers range from a couple of seconds to several minutes. The purpose is that I remind myself that success will be through God’s power, not mine. He is the one who inspires my plans and the one who brings traction to those plans.
Are My Aspirations Me-Focused Or Others-Focused?
As all ambitious leaders do, I have big dreams of what I want to accomplish. The problem isn’t the dream, but the motivation that drives the dream. The final question that I ask myself is:
When I dream, is it focused on my personal benefit or the ministry’s impact?
When I dream about church planting, do I see myself on a platform or a community being reached? When I picture our church in ten years, do I think more about my role or the movement that is happening? Are my aspirations more focused on what I will benefit or how I can impact others?
Anytime I sense a selfish ambition in my answer, I have to inspect both my motivation and my dream. I have to ask God to show me if this is His dream that I have corrupted or if it is my personal dream that I have wrongly attached his name to.