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?”