Is Your Ambition Godly or Selfish?

" If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind." James 3:13-16

Carey Nieuwhof describes the battle with selfish ambition that can destroy our spirituality in his article entitled "The Slow Death of Selfish Ambition." 

Most of us secretly want to be better known, valued and appreciated than we are.   For some of us, that’s just in a wider relational circle.  For others, it’s more public.  We long to be better known in our ministry, in our company, to see our product selling, our album get recorded, our blog get traction or to find ourselves thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook friends.  If we were to pry behind the secret motivation…we think that would make us successful.

I know I’ve struggled with this over the years.  When I was starting out in ministry, I wanted to be that guy who spoke at conferences and was well respected as a leader in ministry. You don’t talk about that kind of thing much, but if you were to gain access to my sinful mind, the thought spun around  in my head from time to time.

Then in a season of my life a few years ago, God wrestled that down.  Well, that’s putting it nicely.  He snapped my ambition.  He took me to a place where I realized that as much as I didn’t want to admit it even to myself, much of my motivation was selfish and not God-honouring.  I finally surrendered it to him.  In fact, I he brought me to a point where I could see myself serving as an effective pastor without ever anyone knowing who I was.  I didn’t really want that definition of success.  But I embraced it anyway. As best I could, I surrendered my ambition to God.

Ambition kills servants of God and turns them into servants of themselves. I’ve come to enjoy the slow death of selfish ambition in my life.  It’s not complete, but it’s in progress. Here’s what I’m learning and (now) loving about the difference.

  1. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, your personal sense of worth goes up and down with the opportunities ahead of you.  When you’re motivated by God, your value is solidly found in Christ every day.
  2. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, failure is terrifying.  When you’re motivated by God, failure becomes an opportunity for grace and growth.
  3. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, you think you’re the deal.  When you’re motivated by God, you know that He’s the deal.
  4. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, you use people to get you where you want to go.  When you’re motivated by God, you value people as you go.
  5. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, you take the credit.  When you’re motivated by God, you realize how much God and the people around you deserve the credit.
  6. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, you strive for breadth of exposure.  When you’re motivated by God, you focus on depth in your walk and let God determine the breadth of exposure he gives you.
  7. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, you are always thinking about the next thing.  When you’re motivated by God,  you’re always thinking about what God wants to accomplish in your life today.
  8. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, you’re always comparing yourself to the other guy.  When you’re motivated by God, you begin to celebrate what God is doing through the other guy.
  9. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, it’s hard to say no to any opportunity.  When you’re motivated by God, it’s easier to say yes to balance and priorities.
  10. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, you can feel entitled to any success that comes your way.  When you’re motivated by God, you simply feel grateful.
  11. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, the need to win is greater than the need to love.  When you’re motivated by God, the need to love is greater than the need to win.
  12. When you’re motivated by selfish ambition, you are always insecure.  When you’re motivated by God, your security comes from His steadfast love.

I’m so grateful for these learnings.  The journey isn’t over yet, but I’m glad it’s begun.

The ironic part of this story is that a year or so after God broke me on this issue, I got a call from a major church to speak at a conference in front of thousands of people. When I got the call, I was a bit blown away, but it didn’t mean what it would have meant a year or two earlier. I could hold it loosely.  It was an opportunity for the Kingdom, not just for me.  Ironically, I’ve had more opportunities to do what I used to dream of doing than I ever did before God broke me.  But I don’t accept all of them – and those I do, I hold more loosely than ever before.  And when they’re over, I’m not ‘fulfilled’. Increasingly I’m just grateful that God would use me.

www.careynieuwhof.com. Used by permission. 

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