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
Here are the first half of my notes on a seminar on work and ambition run at City Church last week.
Set yourself earnestly to discover what you are made to do, and then give yourself passionately to the doing of it – Martin Luther King
Be careful what you set your hear upon — for it will surely be yours – James Baldwin
Work & Ambition
Introduction: Ambition – a dirty word?
- How ambitious are you and why?
- What do you think might be the difference between a godly and an ungodly ambition?
- What worries you about being ambitious?
A. A biblical framework for ambition
In its holiest form, ambition is simply the desire to use our gifts for God’s glory – Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition
1. Ambitious by design
God is ambitious. God works for his glory. c.f. Genesis 1, Revelation 4:11
Made in his image we too were made to be ambitious. Humanity were given work to do and were to be ambitious for God’s glory in fulfilling it. C.f. Genesis 1:26-27, 2:15
God loves good ambition – Harvey
2. Ambition corrupted
The problem is not therefore ambition but distorted ambition. In two ways:
a) Wrong ambition – Work as an idol.
Q. How do you think the fall has corrupted ambition?
Q. What attitudes do we bring with us into the work place when we are working for selfish ambition?
Through the fall a right ambition centred on God’s glory is replaced by a wrong ambition centred on self. Working for God is replaced by work as a god.
Wrong ambition is recognized in the answer to this question: who’s glory (reputation & renown) are you ambitious for? With wrong ambition work becomes a God-substitute in which rather than making God’s name great we want to make our own names great.
Case study: Genesis 11:1-9.
Q. What motivates the workers in Babel?
Q. How does God view ungodly ambition?
A good ambition becomes a selfish ambition when it’s our only ambition. It’s called idolatry – Dave Harvey
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. Tim Kreider, ‘The Busy Trap’, New York Times
b) No ambition — Preferring to be idle
Read Proverbs 6:6-11
Q. What does Proverbs have to say about idleness?
3. Ambition converted
In creation we were given good, godly ambitions for work, as a result of the fall that ambition becomes distorted but in the gospel we don’t lose our ambition but see it converted back to an ambition for God and his glory.
In our work ambition is less about the job you do than the way you do your job!
a) We say ‘no’ to selfish ambition
Read James 3:13-16
Q. What is the consequence of selfish ambitions?
b) We pursue a godly ambition
We might be tempted to think that all ambition is now wrong. But there are many examples in the Bible of hard work and godly enterprise.
Read Proverbs 31:10-21
Q. How does a godly ambition feature in the work of this noble woman?
c) A godly ambition is defined as an ambition for God’s glory
Ambitions for self may be quite modest….Ambitions for God, however, if they are to be worthy, can never be modest. – John Stott
i) Jesus was ambitious!
I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do – John 17:4
Christ’s humility did not restrain his enterprise, it defined it. – Dave Harvey
ii) Paul was ambitious
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation – Romans 15:20
iii) We are called to be ambitious
Read 1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:23-24,
Q. How does being a Christian change the focus of our ambitions?
In the next post: how do we pursue godly ambitions?
Dave Harvey has a new book Am I Called: The summons to pastoral ministry. Jim Packer writes ‘This is the fullest, most realistic, down-to-earth, and genuinely spiritual exploration of God’s call to pastoral ministry that I know. I recommend it most highly.”
This interview on BetweenTwoWorlds with Dave is a very helpful introduction to the book and to the questions we need to ask ourselves as we consider full-time ministry.
To read Matt Chandler’s foreword and the first chapter of the book go here.
Finding fault, finding forgiveness – part 1
“There are two basic problems in every marriage: one is the husband and the other is the wife.” So quipped author and Church Pastor, Tim Chester.
After all how long into any marriage before we begin to realise that this is harder than we thought it would be!
There are many different factors, situations and circumstances that put pressure on any marriage but crucial to a Christian marriage is a mutual recognition that sin and failure are inevitable.
Yet, despite our theology it can be profoundly disorientating to discover that my spouse has faults I didn’t know about or expect. Somehow, at least for a time, I thought my spouse had avoided the fall.
If we are to build strong marriages we need to grasp that through our failings and faults God works out his purposes for us. They are his opportunity to manifest grace and to demonstrate his power in the weakness of a marriage between two sinners.
Three books have been particularly helpful to me in preparing to teach a seminar at our church entitled ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’. They are When sinners Say ‘I Do’ by Dave Harvey, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller and What did you expect? by Paul David Tripp. Each of the three are biblical, insightful and honest but above all else each are optimistic about the impact that spouses can have on each other.
Keller’s book appeals to us to see our marriages as preparation for the great marriage to come between Christ and the church. Once we understand that God has given us a spouse now to change us, to make us fit for Christ, it changes the way we face up to finding fault. Keller writes;
What if you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then…you will roll up your sleeves and get to work.
So as we get going with a short series of posts on ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’ let’s start with five necessary insights for facing up to sin and finding opportunity in them.
A. Five realities to remember in a marriage:
1. As sinners living together in a fallen world sin and failure are inevitable.
You might think you are going to find the perfect match but no Christian should live under any such illusion. The Christian of all people should be ready to face that fact. When we do enter marriage with realistic expectations it helps us to be ready not to run from them but to embrace them as opportunity.
2. ‘Everyone’s marriage becomes something they didn’t intend it to be.’
Paul Tripp’s observation is both obvious and yet profound. There is always an element of disappointment as well as frustration in a marriage which is flawed. When two sinners commit to spending their lives together it’s the marriage itself that will face challenges.
3. ‘Patterns of sin and failure in marriage must be met with patterns of confession and forgiveness.’
Paul Tripp again on the very way we overcome the corrosive affect of sin in a marriage relationship.Being quick to confess our sin and quick to forgive each other’s sin are necessary to building a strong marriage.
4. When we live this way real transformation is possible in a marriage.
So many marriages are damaged by our unwillingness to ‘find fault’ or to ‘find forgiveness’ but when patterns of mutual confession and mutual forgiveness begin to embed themselves in a marriage real change happens
5. None of this is possible without the gospel that supplies this power to confess and this power to forgive.
In future posts we’ll see that the ability to confess sin, freely and willingly and the power to forgive sin lie not in us but in the gospel and who we are in Christ.
The last word goes to Tim Keller:
I don’t know of anything more necessary in marriage than the ability to forgive, fully, freely, unpunishingly, from the heart.
Whether you’re thinking about future ministry or helping others as they consider what role God would have them play in the local church this 2 minute video is a brief summary by Dave Harvey of the different factors that help us assess whether leadership in the local church might be where God is calling us. Dave Harvey is the author of the soon to be released Am I Called? The summons to pastoral ministry.
The great news is that a growing number of books are putting this right by giving thoughtful, biblical practical insights into how we can and should put the gospel into practice in the Christian life. I’ve just really enjoyed Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey which is a model of how to take the gospel and apply it to an important contemporary issue. Another book by Harvey models how to work the gospel out in a marriage, When sinners say I do tackling themes such as sin and forgiveness in the marriage.
Here’s a great summary sentence that highlights what a different book results from bringing the gospel to bear on a marriage rather than simply apply counselling techniques or observations from common grace.
What if you abandoned the idea that the problems and weaknesses in your marriage are caused by a lack of information, dedication, or communication? What if you saw your problems as they truly are: caused by a war within your own heart.
Without such biblical clarity, we have no context for the cross and no ongoing awareness of our need for grace and mercy.
In other words such books help us to see that grace is at the heart not just of our justification but our transformation and holiness and because they intensely practical books we cannot but see the difference applying ‘saving grace’ makes to ambition or marriage or any other aspect of discipleship.
I’m looking forward to reading a new book by Elyse Fitzpatrick Give them grace one of a number of great books demonstrating what grace-filled parenting looks like. The blog of the same name is well worth a look
Dreaming big for God
Expect great things from God attempt great things for God so said William Carey the founder of the modern missionary movement.
I guess like me you find the quote inspiring but what does such trust in God along with such godly ambition begin to look like in your life and in mine?
In a book I’m reading called Exponential, Dave and Jon Ferguson, lead Pastors of Commnuity Church, Naperville, Iiinois made some very helpful observations of the need to dream big and how big dreams begin to change things not least your own life:
I have found that when you dream big, it changes how you think, how you act, and it can even change those around you.
Not least because ‘allowing your heart and mind to pursue a vision that is bigger than you can handle will change you in some very significant ways.’
1. Big dreams change your questions
The bigger your dream, the more you challenge and stretch your mind with tough questions. The size of your dream will often determine the types of questions you ask. Small dreams that are within your grasp and easily managed require one set of questions. Big dreams lead you to ask an entirely different set of questions, questions you would probably never ask otherwise.
At City Church Birmingham we’ve asked the question ‘how can we plant a daughter church?’ now we’re asking a different kind of question ‘how can we see 20 churches planted by the year 2020?’ Only when we started to ask that question did we realise that the only way we could ever see that happen was through seeking working partnerships with other church-planting churches in the city of Birmingham, churches we hardly new and churches of whom we had previously felt no real need to connect with. All because our ambitions were too small.
2. Big dreams change your prayers
Big questions also force you to ask questions to which you do not know the answer. When you have questions and you don’t know how to answer them, who do you turn to? God! Big dreams force us to ask the types of questions that lead to greater dependence on God.
As we start to form new partnerships in the city we pray that God would protect our unity. As we look at church-planting with no resources to fund or
support planting so we pray that God would provide. As we ask questions of strategy such as ‘how do we reach a city of a million?’, ‘how do we practically work together?’ so we find perhaps more than ever we need wisdom from God and so we ask him knowing that he gives generously (James 1:3).
3. Big dreams change others
Big dreams are also contagious. They are infectious. They not only change you, but they can also slowly begin to change your friends and those around you!
We’re thrilled to find that in the first year of running the ‘2020 Planters Programme’ that six church-planters, all committed to planting in the city, are gathering to meet every couple of weeks, pray for one another, share ideas, vision and resources. As we listen to each other, share and pray so we are inspired and urged on in the task. It all seems so much more possible at the end of a Wednesday morning than it did at the start.
4. Big dreams change you
As our dreams get bigger, our doubts will inevitably grow.
That’s certainly been my experience too. The bigger the dream the more you are constantly reminded that it is beyond your ability to deliver it. Wherever there is faith doubt will be right there along side.
At present we are planning a second conference for 2020 birmingham this time the conference will be jointly hosted by Acts29 Western Europe (5-6th May). Mark Driscoll will be speaking and 2020 will have an opportunity to share something of the vision we believe God has given us for this city. As the conference approaches so we feel ever more unworthy because of our sin, unable because of the size of the task and unprepared to answer the questions raised by the task before us. But each times those feelings rise there is a fresh opportunity for faith to grow as we remember that we only attempt great things for God because we expect great things from God.
So what stops us dreaming big dreams?
I find that there are two common fears that keep us and our churches from taking risks for the sake of mission. The first is our fear of failure. We say to ourselves. ‘I’m afraid it just won’t work…and I can’t accept the possibility of failure.’ The second fear that keeps us from taking risks is closely related – it’s the fear of loss. We work for years to build a large church or successful career, and our ‘success’ can become the very thing that gets in the way of our taking more significant risks. We tell ourselves, ‘I’ve accomplished too much to lose it all.’ If it is a fear of failure or loss that is holding you back, let me remind you of the grace of God. Walking faithfully in obedience to God is what matters, not your success or failure in the eyes of the world.
When it comes to taking risks, the important question you need to ask is when was the last time you took a risk and trusted God? When was the last time your courageously followed Jesus and did something that was clearly beyond your own abilities? When was the last time you followed Jesus so closely that it was uncomfortable, maybe even a bit scary?
What might this mean for you?
Dave Harvey author of Resucing Ambition wants us to keep asking this question:
What is the Spirit-constrained ambition that God wants us to indulge for his glory right where we are?
And we could also ask:
- Is there a ministry opportunity I’ve simply been too scared to take?
- What is stopping me from going for it? Is it fear of failure? Fear of loss?
- Who can I talk and pray through this dream with?
- Who can help me shape and realise this dream?
- How deliberate I have been in praying for guidance or in asking God to enable this dream?
- Am I being held back by small ambitions that must give way to something out of my reach?
We carry the same gospel Paul carried, and it requires us to have a similar ambition – Dave Harvey
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