Ambition redefined.

February 2, 2011

(Mostly trying to sort through thought jungles.)

Godly ambition is not “for men only.” Ambition and femininity are not antithetical.  Godly ambition is for every believer, male or female, because ambition is not primarily defined in masculine or feminine terms.  It is defined in biblical terms, God’s terms.  Male or female, we are called to be white-hot ambitious for His Person and His Cause. Expressions of ambition, however, may differ between men and women.  Each is given a particular sphere to express godly ambition, creatively and passionately, within the local church and within the family.  And we marvel in this paradox — that we find our freedom not in anarchy or autonomy but in kind Monarchy.  And our good King has established the bounds of complementary, masculine and feminine ambition in these two cornerstone areas of life.  In other areas of life, where Scripture isn’t explicit, there may be overlap in function, but not in identity as man or woman.  So in assessing ambition as a woman, I should ask myself, “What season of life is this?  And what is the best way, given my identity in Christ and particular gifting and current opportunities, to express feminine ambition?”

Godly ambition is not about me. Godly ambition is not about distinguishing myself against all the other rats in history.  Godly ambition is not about making my name great.  So hard to get that out of my system.  It’s not even about being known as the “godliest” or “best” Christian.  Oh, sneaky sinner.  Godly ambition is about distinguishing God — “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It’s a love for His glory and the burning desire to see Him as the exalt and exult of every soul.  Ambition is not a personal quest for identity and approval.  I don’t ultimately find my identity in credential, club, corporation, culture, or career.  Rather, my sin-broken identity is restored beyond my dreams in Christ.  Through the gospel, I am: slave, soldier, ambassador, well loved daughter.  So ambition is not about my ego; it’s about the expression of my true identity, “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

Godly ambition is not legalistic. In the end, it isn’t about the pursuit of an “acceptable” list of careers.  Most professions are not godly or ungodly in and of themselves.  Climbing the corporate ladder to be CEO or striving to be the best Fashion Designer are not inherently ungodly pursuits (i.e., status itself is not wrong, money itself is not evil, and fashion is not inherently carnal).  I smile a little as I write this, because it sounds so silly … but I can be a pretty silly, sinful Pharisee sometimes, exchanging the be-prosperous-and-beautiful gospel for the be-poor-and-wretched gospel instead.  Anathema.  Godly ambition is gospel-centered, dealing with the heart and not with cookie-cutter visions of what is “godly.”  Remember the Proverbs 31 woman?  She was a woman of business.  She was a manager.  She was a cook.  She was a fashion designer of sorts.  As a wife and mother, her primary calling was to her family and home; and she was no sterile, ambition-lacking, passive woman.  But that’s the Proverbs 31 woman, some might say.  What of the single woman?  What if her chosen career is “secular”? Tell her to love and worship God with all her heart, and pursue her dreams and ambitions with all her might.  “Can a Christian, with an explicit gospel mission statement, make secular work sacred? Definitely yes.” (JE)  What of the married woman with a career?  God has defined her identity, her role, and her priorities; and by grace, she is free to express her ambitions in her given spheres, under her husband’s leadership.  Don’t bind her with the laws of men.

Godly ambition is not a lone-ranger quest. Godly ambition is expressed in community, primarily the local church.  Godly ambition is not planned and launched alone.  Following God does not mean shutting out human counsel, refusing accountability, and pressing on alone.  It’s not individual effort for individual glory for individual enjoyment.  It’s not me against the world, or even me and God against the world.  In the gospel, I haven’t been redeemed to be an island; I’ve been redeemed to be part of His family and household of faith.  God is ambitious for and through the universal church made tangible through the local church.  Last Sunday, at LBC-SJ’s inaugural service, Pastor Chris Mueller preached, “It’s the end of the ages.  It’s the fourth down.  There’s one play left.  What is that play?  The church.”  Am I on God’s team?  Am I in the game?  If so, I better get in on the play.

Godly ambition is not optional. It’s a command.


9 Responses to “Ambition redefined.”

  1. moon Says:

    These are some of the things I’ve had to struggle with in the past year in regard to graduate school decisions. Glad to know that I’m not the only one struggling through it. 🙂

  2. Jordan Says:

    Tim Keller has a characteristically excellent sermon about culture that touches on a some of these issues. The part that sticks out in my mind is his comparison of stock brokers to pastors, arguing that not only is one not more godly than the other, but he reminds us that in glory our work building culture and stewarding creation will look much more like the stock broker’s than the pastor’s, as there will be no more souls in need of saving. At any rate, the fact that such a perceived dichotomy exists in the church is a strong indicator of just how little we grasp and apply the gospel to all aspects of our lives.

    Keller’s sermon:

  3. Richard Says:

    Not to discourage you by any means, but I think it’s necessary that you make another post about what godly ambition is. =)

  4. tia Says:

    moonjooy, ❤ :] i got an email response from another sis about this post. we should all hit up peet's together! puppies and coffee …

    jordan, thanks for the resource! i've read but never listened to keller — can't wait!

    richard, can't i just go back and highlight the "ambition is …" statements? haha. i thought about that though; it's like a new kind of dictionary that tells you everything the word *doesn't* mean, haha. each entry should end with "all right, now process of elimination yo."

  5. David Says:

    Interesting area for thought ….

    How for instance do you balance Phil 3:13/14 & Phil 4:11?

    Is “contentment” wrong when it becomes lethargy? Is “ambition” wrong when it becomes idolatry?

    If the chief end of man is “to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever” (Westminster Shorter catechism), or “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” (John Piper) … then how are we to evaluate “ambition” other than by saying “for whose sake and for whose glory am I thinking/feeling this way?”. So – as you so rightly say – “it’s not about me”.

    Ungodly – or (to create a word) “un-Godward” ambition is not a male or female issue, it is sinful and therefore common to all. It can be blatant (as all too often seen in the career-ladder world) or subtle (“I can glorify God in a stellar career” in whatever field); but it can be immensely dangerous to the soul. One who thinks like that may lose sight of Mark 12:30 … not to mention Mark 4:19, Mark 8:34 & 36, Mark 9:35, etc

    At the (rare!!) risk of disagreeing, though, I might also suggest that “godly ambition is a command” is a slightly unfortunate turn of phrase … or at least open to misinterpretation. Could “being godly” and “being ambitious” actually be forces that war against one another?

    But “zeal for the Lord” is more explicit, more challenging … and more rare.

    Look forward to your thoughts

  6. Jordan Says:

    David, I think that ambition and contentment are two distinct concepts. One can be ambitious and as well as content, regardless of the extent to which that ambition is realized. In other words, they’re not two mutually exclusive sides of the same coin, as if one must make a choice between ambition and contentment. Both are required.

  7. tia Says:

    thanks, jordan!

    and hi david!

    dude, brotherly accountability is great. i’m def still a learner and recognize God uses others to put my glasses on the right part of my face, so your questions and disagreements are welcome! :] at least, that’s my prayer. (i’m pretty sure my friend stephen is still praying for me from the time i responded emotionally to one of his comments, haha.)

    i think phil 3:13-14 refers to the believer’s inward state, whereas phil 4:11 refers to the outward state. but in another sense, the ambition/contentment tension is a sweet one for the believer. there’s something about resting in God’s work and yet seeing that “rest” and trust in His work propel us in our work for His kingdom. and both a/c are rooted ultimately in the heart, not in our hands. i think that tension is one that will remain until we get Home, when we see the Object of our a/c face to face, when His promises in and to us are fully realized. until then, we are both strivers and resters.

    and thanks for pointing out that “godly ambition is a command” can be misinterpreted. i’m reminded how important it is to carefully define terms and to be as clear as possible. i’m using “godly ambition” nearly synonymously with “zeal for the Lord”; i would just add that “godly ambition” is also “zeal because of the Lord.” it’s a little dangerous, i admit, using a word like “ambition,” because it has more negative connotations attached to it — selfish ambition, individualism, etc. but by “godly ambition,” i’m thinking non-phil 2:21, phil 1:21, acts 20:24, deut 6:5 …

    i wrote a little about it in a previous post, “ambition revisited,” but i wholeheartedly agree with you: ambition is a heart issue. i think we can divide ambition into primary and secondary ambitions, too. primary ambitions dealing with those heart issues of worship and idolatry, secondary ambitions being the actions stemming from our hearts (secondary things like career pursuits, projects, causes, etc.). godly ambition/zeal for the Lord can be expressed in a number of ways. i guess the Bible study principle of “one meaning, multiple applications” can apply here, too. there’s only one kind of godly ambition — the God-ward, God-pleasing, God-given one — but there are multiple applications. and godly ambition, in that sense, is a command, though its applications are creative and many.

    in his book, rescuing ambition, dave harvey says something to the effect of, “ambition sours easily.” so your warning to be cautious is well taken.

    … whew. thanks for making me think this through some more.


  8. Veronica Says:

    Great post Tia. Processing those thoughts as well. Since my brain is a lot of mumbo jumbo, I’ll do the facebook thing and “like” this post. Ha!

  9. tia Says:

    vern, one of these days, i want coffee + conversation with you on this, among other things. blog comments and “likes” aren’t cutting it :]

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