As I work towards launching and growing a business, I read a lot of business literature on the subject of ambition. I am building a carefully curated list on my Kindle app, Pinterest, Instagram, safari reading list and iphone notes. My surroundings are so saturated with this literature, that today, I just wanted to take a step out of it and look upon it; not from within but from the outside. To do this allow me to whip out my all purpose book, second to no other, original, relevant, timeless…you know the one, it needs no introduction; the Bible!
What I have noticed is that, ambition and the things we do as a result of it on the journey, have a way of consuming us. Often the message is, ‘Go get!’ But get what? Why? Who are we becoming as go-getters? To be honest the more I maul over these things, the more I realise that it is easy to become a victim of ambition. A great quote from one my favourite authors, Stephen R. Covey, sums it up nicely. “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
It doesn’t matter how much sleep I give up, how efficient I become or how much money I make. If it’s all leaning against the wrong wall, what was the point in all that ambition. Gaining the world and loosing your soul is a real threat my people.
Let’s go back to the very beginning of the word ‘ambition’. A look at chapter 14 in the book of Isaiah reveals that the concept of ambition goes far back to the beginning. The message of ambition being ‘getting your self to your desired goal at all costs’ is equally as old.
Isaiah 14:12 – 15
How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
to the depths of the pit.
This right here is an account of Lucifer’s concise business plan outline / executive summary. Lol! Looking at this verse, you have to admit that this guy was pretty ambitious. He had been watching that throne for a minute, dreaming about what it would be like; being there. That view! That power! No doubt, with some self motivation he decided to take the first step on his ladder. You all know the drill, lol! He was going to work at getting there at all costs. And it cost him his eternity and glory.
Interestingly, there are a few traits in this text that are not so hard to see in today’s literature on ambition:
- Obsession with self. The devil said in his heart, “I will ascend,…I will raise my throne, I will sit enthroned,…I will make myself…” But we know how that ended. The devil ended up falling from heaven. “But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.” (Is 14:15) Obsession with self can have many faces in the context of business and career.
- It can mean not considering the needs of friends and family at all.
- It can mean always feeling the need to be right in all situations.
- It can mean doing the wrong things to get where you are trying to go.
- It can mean pursuing the wrong things all together.
- It can mean shutting God out.
2. Lofty and wayward goals. Who in their right mind would eye the throne of God and even make such an attempt ?! And yet ambition has a way of doing this to us. Today’s success literature encourages us to dream big and go for the gusto. Even my favourite christian speakers often tell us if our dream isn’t big enough then, we don’t need God for it. I am not saying this is wrong, am saying ‘Dream big’ is the order of the dreamers in every space!
3. Doing things that are not in your lane. The devil was made to worship God. Not to lead an army against God’s rule or sit on His throne.
You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
He was supposed to be a guardian of the throne. Instead he started vying for the throne. This is easy to do in today’s world. We see so much glory in another person’s lane and suddenly we want to be at the centre of that glory. That glory becomes our passion and ambition and so we neglect the purpose for which we were ordained.
To be honest, every one of us ambitious people will find ourselves guilty of one or the other of these things in our journey. I wouldn’t be reflecting on this if I hadn’t been guilty of some of these things myself. So what exactly separates lofty wayward goals from a good vision? What justifies cultivating some relationships and letting go of others in our pursuits? What is that fine line between being envious or being inspired by someone else’s glory?
I believe the answer to these questions is purpose. Purpose contextualises ambition. Purpose is that wall; it is the why to what. Without purpose, difficulty during the journey can cause us to abort the journey. On the flip side, without purpose, success can cause us to lose sight of who we are becoming . Take a look at this verse of this ‘business man’ (for context) who made it to the top.
By your wisdom and understanding
you have gained wealth for yourself
and amassed gold and silver
in your treasuries.
By your great skill in trading
you have increased your wealth,
and because of your wealth
your heart has grown proud.
Pride set in.
A lot of literature on ambition puts the focus on us. What we must do now to get somewhere, and almost all this stuff is well founded but still has the potential to offset us. The only way to throw a wrench into the pitfalls of ambition is to factor in God’s purpose.
Let’s look at some of the pitfalls of the ‘ambition’ ladder leaning against the wall of God’s purpose.
- Obsession with getting yourself ahead – God’s purpose is and always will be people. ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ Phil 2:4
- Lofty and wayward goals – God’s purpose is that we spend our lives working towards his pre-ordained plans which then become our goals. ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ Ephesians 2:10
- Doing things that are not in your lane. God has endowed each of us with talents to cultivate, while pursuing purpose. ‘…who called his servants and entrusted them with his possessions. To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent—each according to his own ability.’ Matthew 25:15
Purpose is more important than ambition, and in the context of God’s purpose, ambition will have a hard time swaying you or keeping you off course.
If you are reading this, you are ambitious. What is the context of your dream? What is God’s purpose for you life?
Love you for reading and dreaming.