Monthly Archives: April 2011

Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey

Essays on Ambition 
When I was in primary school, I remember having to write essays on the topic of my ambition. As with most kids my age, I would have defined ambition in terms of my future vocation. Do I want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, a scientist or like my dad?

This way of understanding ambition lingers into adulthood. Our dreams tend to revolve around who we want the world to see us as. Rich, powerful, famous, successful, influential, intelligent, philanthropic. At some point, all of us have these dreams. We look at someone we admire and aspire to be like them. Then there is an Asian tendency to dream your children’s dreams. On top of our dreams, we have our parents’ dreams as well.

Some of us strive incessantly to carve out a name for ourselves, achieving our dreams by any and all means necessary. Some of us couldn’t care less about our direction in life, wandering aimlessly from pursuit to pursuit, non-committal and uninterested. Finally some of us have given up on our dreams, our failed ambitions leaving a bitter taste in our mouths.

In all this talk about ambition, Christians also tend to be confused over the validity of ambition. Should I dream of being successful? Should I want to be influential? Isn’t being a philanthropist and helping the needy a noble ambition? On one hand they know that they are called to excellence; on the other hand they have seen the dark side of ambition and know how it can destroy our heart and soul.

A Helpful Guide to Godly Ambition 
This book addresses the topic of ambition thoroughly from a biblical perspective. Harvey begins by building the case for the goodness of ambition. God designed us to be ambitious. But he shows how the Fall has corrupted our ambition, and how our ambitions have become self-centered. This is primarily responsible for all the dark manifestations of ambition we see in us and around us. The backstabbing colleague. The slanderous classmate. The corrupt politician. Only when we perceive how deeply corrupted our ambitious drive is can we see the need for rescuing.

But even here ambition can become ugly and drive us in a futile pursuit of God’s approval. This is why we must understand how the gospel changes everything. Harvey beautifully explains how Jesus’ work on the cross secures God’s approval for us and consequently inspires our ambitions, ambitions that have been rescued and realigned towards the agenda of God instead. This is a crucial point that many in the church need to hear today, especially those who profess to be of Christ, but continue living for their own dreams.

Harvey then goes on to unpack the nature of rescued ambition. He reveals how biblical faith sustains our ambitions. He explores the path that ambition takes, looking at the person of Jesus and seeing how the greatest man ever took the path of humility towards glory. This is followed by a helpful chapter on how contentment relates to ambition, crucially pointing out that it is Christ and not our ambitions that define us. This sets the ground for the chapter on dealing with failure, teaching us also to rest in the promise that God works all things for our good.

The book concludes with a few chapters looking at the daily exercise of our ambition. He begins by revealing that Christians should be ambitious for the church, because Jesus Himself is ambitious for the church. In an age where ambition is self-centered, and Christians seldom understand what it means for ambition to be God-centered, the call to center our ambitions on the church that Christ loved and died to establish is a needed one.

In an interesting twist, he goes on to argue that not only have our ambitions been rescued, but God is using our ambition to rescue us. This happens when we daily embrace the risks that come with our ambitious plans for Christ and the church and anchor our security in God. This truth is extremely liberating to those who are afraid to press forward with their dreams.

The final chapter was the best one of all, and is a clarion call to the church to be ambitious for the next generation. I mentioned earlier that Asian parents like to dream their children’s dreams, and not necessarily in a good way. But this too is redeemed. We are called to open our eyes and see that godly ambition is something that must be entrusted to the next generation. We must pass the baton to those who come after us. We must enable them to dream bigger, run faster and reach higher. And this is painful to our egos, because it requires us to move to the sidelines in support and allow them to take center stage in the spotlight. But it is necessary if we are truly ambitious for the glory of God.

Some Final Words
Harvey’s conversational, and sometimes witty, tone along with his judicious use of real-life stories combine to make this book an enjoyable read. I also appreciated his honest appraisal of his own ambitions and its tendency to curve in on himself. He writes as one who has struggled with selfish ambition, and has learnt through much difficulty what godly ambition looks like. This means he does not write as a dispassioned academic, but as a pastor who has been fighting in the trenches and wishes to help others in their fight to rescue their ambitions for the sake of Christ and the church.

I would recommend buying this book and setting aside time to read it carefully and thoughtfully. Its message is one we must take to heart:

“Ambition is about work – work we want to do for God. But the work we want to do is always built on a work done for us. Godly ambition is gospel ambition. We dream because God rescued our corrupted, selfish ambitions and gave us the capacity to desire, dream and work for his glory. 

So desire great things. Dream big dreams. Get out there and get to work. This world is in need of redeemed people ambitious for God’s glory and willing to do something about it.

Why shouldn’t that be you?”

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The Lion is our Lamb

Revelation 5:5-6
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,

I See Something Different
Have you ever seen those picture illusions which show a different picture depending on the way you look at them? Like the one where some see an old hag and others see a young lady?

Something along those lines happens in this scene in Revelation 5.

Just to set the context for the scene, in Revelation 4, John’s spirit is taken up into the heavenly realms, right into the throne room of God. There he beholds the splendour and majesty of God the Father, and the worship that is offered to Him day and night. It is an unashamed proclamation of the holiness of the eternal God, who created the heavens and the earth, and to whom all glory and honour and power rightly belong.

Right after this, we enter into the scene in Revelation 5, and John notices a scroll in the right hand of the Father. We get the inkling that this is no ordinary scroll, given that John would notice such a thing amidst the splendour of God on His throne. And if it is significant enough to notice, we would very much like to see what is written on it. But when the angel calls forth for someone worthy enough to open the scroll and break its seals, no one is able to answer the challenge. And John weeps.

At this point, his grief is cut short by one of the elders. He is told to weep no more and gaze upon the Lion, who has conquered and is worthy to open the scroll.

Yet when John looks up at the Lion, he sees a Lamb instead, looking as though it had been slain.

I love this scene. While everyone in heaven sees a Lion, John sees a Lamb who was slain. Realising why this is the case is crucial to the core of the Christian’s identity and his relationship with Christ.

Jesus is the Victorious Lion
The image of the lion is drawn from Isaiah 31:4-5. Here the Lord Almighty is compared to a lion, who battles his enemies without fear and wins the day. It is the image of the conquering King, whose rule cannot be opposed and who safeguards all who live within His kingdom, crushing all their enemies as if they were insects.

Thus when Jesus is called the Lion, it is this image of the conquering King which comes to mind. This is reinforced by the fact that this Lion is said to have conquered and proven Himself worthy. It is a wonderful truth for all who live under this Lion, to know that they live in peace and security, in bliss and rest. But it is a fearful thing for His enemies.

Jesus is the Incarnate Lion
Yet Jesus is no ordinary Lion – He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

He is from the tribe of Judah. Jesus has taken on our human nature so completely (without diminishing His divine nature in the slightest) that He is not ashamed to call us brothers. He is the Lion who descends from heaven to live amongst His people as one of them. Therefore He understands our struggles and temptations fully, having experienced them as we do. And because he never sinned, He is able to help all of us who are struggling with temptation.

Just to make this point even clearer, He is called the Root of David. He is a descendant of David, a man, and it would be foolish to try to interpret this in any way but its literal sense.

Jesus is the Sacrificial Lamb
John knows he is a sinner who is in need of mercy. Therefore he is looking for one who can take away his sin.

He is not alone in his need. All of humanity shares the same need. We are born sinners and our only hope is to look to God for mercy. But justice must be done and sin must be punished, or God will become unrighteous, which is impossible. So knowing that the demands of justice must be met, Jesus loved us and became our Lamb, taking away our sins and the sins of the world by dying in our place. This image is clearly brought across in the Old Testament, in the Passover feast.

This is why John and all Christians will recognise Jesus as a Lamb, because it is this we need most from Him, and it is this He is freely gives us. He is our sacrificial Lamb, and will always be. When we stand with Him in glory, we will be eternally grateful to the Lamb who purchased our standing with His blood.

Jesus is the Reigning Lamb
If a lamb looks like it has been slain, 10 out of 10 times it will be dead. But this slain Lamb confounds us, because He is very much alive. In fact, He is the one who is worthy enough to take the scroll from God.

This is glorious news, because as the rest of Revelation unfolds, we see that the Lamb who was slain will establish His reign, crushing all His enemies and bringing His people home to Him.

It is this fact that finally lays out the whole picture for us. While Jesus could have reign as a Lion, He chose to reign as a Lamb instead. If Jesus had reigned only as a Lion, we would be in despair. As natural enemies of God, we would have been crushed by the reigning Lion.

But because Jesus reigns as our Lamb, we can rejoice! Despite our treachery and rebellion, He has paid the price to bring us back into His kingdom, and there we shall reign with Him forever and ever.

Traps come in all shapes and sizes