Good, Old-fashioned Selfish Ambition

I didn’t used to consider myself to be an ambitious person. I never had high aspirations for career achievement or wealth. But I realize that a change has occurred, and ambition has crept up on me. This is likely a result of improved mental and spiritual health. I now have a desire to do and succeed. This ambition, in and of itself, is good; it has me accomplishing more in life. But the same desires can also lead to sin. And sometimes God shines His light into the corners of our heart and reveals to us the worst parts of ourselves.

I was praying for someone, and I found myself struggling. The prayer was half-hearted because part of me didn’t want what I was praying for. It wasn’t that I wished bad things for the person, but I wanted a certain situation for myself that was contrary to the person’s good that I was praying for. The worst part is that it wasn’t something important. Any advantage to myself would be small and trivial. I was taken aback to discover within myself this selfish ambition of such a petty nature.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. . .But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

James 3:14-15, 17

Lately, I have seen God open up new opportunities for me, and I know that He is at work in my career. I know it is all God, but as time passes, I start to feel that I have earned it. Then I start believing that I deserve it. All the while, my outward self probably seems normal. But my prayers are half-hearted and I have to stop praying about one thing to pray that God will change my heart and teach me love and humility. It isn’t the first time I have prayed for humility. My dreams of being published and making a living as a writer point me straight to this need. If I ever attain any level of success, I don’t want my heart to stray. Right now, I don’t have any big successes, but I think I am in a good position for the future. Yet even this has led to feeling self-sufficient and proud. My mind is not set on things above and I am not loving the people around me as I should. So I go to God, knowing that it will be a painful lesson if pride is to be stripped away.

Humility isn’t thinking you are the worst person. It is about seeing yourself rightly: a sinner and a debtor, yet chosen by God to be an heir with Christ. Christian humility walks a tightrope. David knew. He wrote, “. . .what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalms 8:4) And also, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalms 139:14a) He knew that even in all of his earthly greatness, he was nothing. Yet at the same time he knew that God had set him apart and called him. Just like the A.W. Tozer quote I used last week: “In himself, nothing; in God, everything.”

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

I was raised to work hard and not be dependent on others. I also believe in working as though all I do is for the Lord. But I must also remember that nothing I have is earned or deserved. The only thing I deserve is eternal damnation, but Jesus took my punishment and saved me. I must believe that salvation alone is worth more than anything I could obtain in this earthly life. I realize that this is what Jerry Bridges meant in his book, The Discipline of Grace, when he instructed that we must preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. As humans, we are not wired for humility; pride is our default setting. Every day when we wake up, we have a tendency to revert back to this, forgetting what we have learned or resolved.  Perhaps this is why morning devotions are such an essential part of the spiritual disciplines. For much of my life, I recoiled at the idea of waking up any earlier than I absolutely had to. But when it comes to walking with God, starting the day with Scripture and prayer makes a significant difference. It is important to remember who you are and Whom you serve before you face the world and the challenges of the day!

As I write about this struggle with pride, I find myself wondering if I appear self-righteous. False humility seems uglier than open pride. I want so much to be honest as I work through the various issues of life in this blog. I hope that my life will be evidence of a sincere faith. I was listening to Matt Redman again this week, and a couple of lines caught my attention. In the bridge of the title song from his album, Unbroken Praise, he sings, “Let my deeds outrun my words / Let my life outweigh my songs.” As a person who speaks and writes so many words, I think my deeds need to lace up their running shoes. The test of the genuineness of my faith has nothing to do with the words I write, or even the words I speak. It is about my actions and my responses to life. So this week, even as I struggled with selfish ambition, my prayer became, “Let my deeds outrun my words; let my life outweigh my blog!”

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