Jul 18, 2012

Putting Ambition to work

Here’s the second part of the seminar I ran last week on work & ambition. You can find part 1 here.

B. Ambition in practice

1. Putting Ambition to work:

The Bible has a lot to say, especially in books like Proverbs & Ecclesiastes to help us define and pursue a godly ambition.

‘Diligence’ – a case-study in Proverbs adapted from Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms by Daniel Estes

Proverbs 22:29 – Work hard, learn a skill and This kind of diligence will lead to distinction (Estes)

Proverbs 11:27 – Estes comments – Failure can come in two ways. On the one hand, a person can focus on the wrong things, such as power, fame, convenience, popularity, or fun. Seeking fullfilmnent by these means leads inevitably to disappointment. On the other hand, one may have the right things in view, but be unfocused on them. This approach to life leads to aimlessness. True diligence stays focused on what is crucial, and in doing that, the person who searches intently for what is good will indeed find it.

Proverbs 21:5 – Hubbard draws out the point here – The diligent person not only works hard but plans well, measuring each step in the process and then carefully implementing the strategy. The ‘hasty’ settle for an approach that is quick and dirty, sloppily planned and halfheartedly implemented.

Proverbs 10:4 – Alden notes The generalisation here is that the industrious, conscientious worker is eventually recognised by his superior and promoted, while the man who constantly watches the clock and puts forth as little effort as possible will stay in the same slot forever, if he manages to keep his job.

There are character studies too that help us learn how to apply godly ambition. So the example o f Joseph, Genesis 39:2-6, or Daniel, 1:17-21, are two examples of God rewarding hard work.

2. Ambition frustrated

As Christians we are to pursue godly ambition but living in our fallen world we have to be prepared for some of our good ambitions to fall. Why might your ambitions go unrealised?

a) Unemployment or underemployment

Waiting is often God’s reorientation program aimed at our definition of success. – Dave Harvey

b) Unfulfilled ambitions

No one gets all he ever wanted or accomplishes all she set out to do. Our ambitions are strained through the limits of opportunity, resources, or our own physical capabilities. In other words, God’s sovereignty fixes certain limits to our lives. – Dave Harvey

c) Rejection for being a Christian

Read 1 Peter 2:18-22.

Q. Which of these three issues is biggest in your own mind? How does God’s sovereignty speak into unfulfilled ambition?

Making the connection between our circumstances and God’s goodness can be the difference between delight and disillusionment. This will transform the way you think about that promotion you didn’t get, the job interview that tanked, or the sales commission of the year that somehow evaporated. The denial of ambitions isn’t ultimately a penalty or punishment. It’s the gracious work of a loving God defining the path for our walk. – Dave Harvey

 3. Ambitions prioritised

If we are ambitious for God’s glory above all things that will relativise our ambitions to glorify him through our work.

As Christians we have other priorities that might come before work; family, church, etc.

Q. Given the prospect of a promotion how do you decide whether it is the right next move for you?

How else ought your ambition for God’s glory be evident in your life that might limit your ambition at work?

4. Ambition and witness

If we work for God’s glory that should be evident to those around us.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:1 ‘All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect,so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.’

If your father or mother, your sister and brother, if the very cat and dog in the house are not happier for your being a Christian, it is a question whether you really are – Hudson Taylor

5. Ambition put to the test

a) I work with a true humility

Selfish ambition says ‘I have to have it and it will crush me if I don’t.’ Ambition rooted in God, an ambition that flows out of a secure identity in Christ says ‘I don’t need it; I’m happy to accept it.’


b) I am more concerned for holiness even if that costs me in my career

Matters of integrity, honesty, godly humility, may mean the loss of a competitive edge but produce in me a godly contentment.


c) God’s priorities are my priorities and work finds its proper place

God, spouse, children, church, job – in that order!

d) I am just as concerned to make a success of others as myself at work

Spurgeon wrote: The best ambition is: Who shall be the servant of all.

e)  A failure to succeed at work (maybe even relative to others within the church) does not lead us to despair but humble trust.

f) Godly ambition puts the building of the church at the centre of our dreams



 What is the biggest challenge to you when it comes to work & ambition?

How can others in the church help you pursue a godly ambition?

What is the first thing you’d like to change about your attitude to work to bring your thinking into line with God’s design for your work?

Further thinking on ambition head for Dave Harvey’s site www.rescuingambition.com


  • It makes me think of Galatians 4:18. “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good.”

  • […] to work. Posts on the first session ‘work & ambition’ can be viewed here and here.  Here is the first of three posts on coping with stress and […]

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