Ambition: an eager or strong desire to achieve something, such as fame or power.
Ambition has a pretty bad public image. This was perhaps best shown when Michael Parkinson was interviewing our very own Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson, on his Saturday night show. At one point he suggested that Nigella was very ambitious. Offended, she retorted: “I’ve never been ambitious, but I need to have a purpose”. Her reply got me thinking.
The apostle Paul tells the Philippians to be one in purpose, but to do nothing out of selfish ambition (Philippians 2:2-3). It would seem that Paul was with Nigella – whilst we don’t want to be known as ambitious, we’re all in favour of a bit of purpose.
The charge of being ambitious was one that Nigella wanted quickly to dispel, and I know how she felt. Early on in my working life, over a quiet pint, my cousin Jeremy described me as the most ambitious person he knew. I was disappointed and I have to admit, very shocked. It was one of those moments in life when, confronted with a mirror, we don’t like what we see. I craved success and recognition to make up for my own insecurities, and I guess to many, including my cousin, it was pretty ugly.
So is it ever OK for Christians to be ambitious? I want to argue, categorically, yes.
But it all boils down to two questions:
1. Who are we ambitious for? 2. What are we ambitious about?
I think that there is a difference between having selfish ambition and having godly ambition. To see that in action, let’s head back to some words from the apostle Paul.
Paul wrote: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20). No one is going to argue with that desire. In fact, all through the Bible there are many examples of men and women who passionately pursue godly goals – today we call it purpose, but we can also term it godly ambition.
The trick it seems is to put God’s goals rather than our own at the centre of our ambition, even, and perhaps especially, when these goals are very different.
So let’s do the mirror test; go and get a mirror (yes really, go and get a mirror) and let’s look ourselves. As we notice the additional wrinkle that we have never spotted before, let’s ask ourselves those two questions: who are we ambitious for and what are we ambitious about?
Since I became a Christian, now ten years ago, would my cousin, Jeremy, see or hear any change in my ambitions? While I would hope so, the evidence suggests that I am still a work in progress! I recognise that many of my ambitions are still selfish, but over the years, and by His grace some of God’s have crept in too.
As a Christian working in media, I ask myself ‘what does godly ambition look like in this industry?’
As we read through the Bible we can pick up some clues that show us what it is to be ambitious as a Christian working in God’s world.
In the first few pages of the Bible the Garden of Eden reveals a God who is passionate about a world that screams His creativity. Putting man and woman to work in that world was God’s idea and a vital part of his creation, and that work seems to include creative and artistic expression. My work in the media industry puts me in the precious and privileged role of reflecting God in what I create; so it seems right to be ambitious about what I do in the hope that it will reflect God in all his wonder.
The Bible also encourages us to see that it is good not only to have godly ambition about what we do, but also about the way that we do it. Godly ambition will drive us to encourage people to see the joy of working in a collective and collaborative way rather than allowing office politics, ego or squabbles to get in the way.
God has some big ambitions for us. The way that we treat people will reveal how godly our ambitions are and this is most often the case under stress with the people we find most difficult.
There are many examples of Christians who are ambitious (very ambitious). The xxxchurch have a ministry to the adult film industry. Their ambition is to touch an area of the film industry that most Christians have regarded as a no-go zone. Their ambition is to tell producers, actors, cameramen, and lighting technicians in the adult film industry that Jesus loves them and that He came to die for them.
As well as telling workers in the porn industry about Jesus and His love for them, they show that love; they run and get them coffee, they do make-overs on the actors dressing rooms, they listen and they love.
It seems to me that we need Christians working in the media who are ambitious (very ambitious) for a very wonderful God.