Is ambition a good thing or a bad thing?
Is it both?
Are you confused?
Allow me to explain.
Ambition doesn’t carry an inherent meaning. By itself, it’s neither good or bad. It’s like money—just a tool people use for one purpose or another. It’s the internal motivation behind your ambition that determines whether or not you have godly ambition.
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For better or worse, Christians are just as ambitious as anyone else. This can be a great thing—with some spiritual leaders creating world-changing ministries. This can also be a terrible thing—with some followers losing themselves in pursuit of something unrighteous.
So how do you determine whether or not the ambitions in your life match up with the plan God has for you? How do you keep your ambitions from getting out of hand? Ask yourself these five questions.
#1. Is your ambition all about you?
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” — James 3:16
One significant indication of Godly ambition is where it falls on the spectrum between selfishness and selflessness. Are you working hard because you want to help other people? Or are you working hard because you want to make yourself look good?
Selfish ambition is self-serving. You’re only going to act based on how it furthers your agenda. This leads to cutting corners and burning bridges because the end goal is always to suit yourself. Selfish ambition isn’t godly because it doesn’t serve God.
It’s not always that obvious when our ambitions are selfish—no one wants to believe they’re that conceited. But we’re all probably more self-serving than we’d like to believe. So every time you’re overcome with ambition, ask yourself—is this serving someone else, or just me?
#2. Does your ambition allow you to serve God?
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” —Romans 5:12
We can serve others and still not be serving God.
There are plenty of good causes and best intentions out there. But following Christ means listening to what God wants for us in every season of our lives. We can selflessly put in extra hours at the office to help out a coworker, but if that comes at the expense of our family or our faith, it’s probably not in God’s will.
Just like everything else, it takes prayer, reading scripture, and listening to others to determine the right direction for your godly ambitions. There may even be seasons when God wants you to be less ambitious overall. Perhaps he’s building your patience and obedience for something in the future.
Overall, it’s crucial that we ask ourselves whether or not our ambitions are serving God. When in doubt, slow down and be sure to get validation from God. Ambitiously pursue him, and the rest starts to take care of itself.
#3. Is there room for some humility?
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” —Philippians 2:3-4
Ambition can help us to get ahead in life. It can accelerate our careers and build influence. It can also develop big egos and delusions of grandeur. Even godly ambition can go sour if we don’t have the right attitude about the results. So stay humble.
If your ambition has squashed all sense of humility in you, it’s likely gone off the rails. You may be highly successful, but no level of accomplishment justifies mistreating others or thinking too highly of ourselves. Remember that none of us are above God.
Take a look at your attitude towards your ambition. Do you still have a healthy level of humility? Or have you become too self-absorbed? This is a good indication of whether or not you’re obeying God. Godly ambition doesn’t have an abundance of arrogance or ego.
#4. Does your ambition bring you joy?
“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.” —Colossians 3:23
The end goal of ambition and work is not our satisfaction. However, that doesn’t mean any of it should be joyless or hate what we do. God is not only concerned with our happiness, but neither does he want us to suffer throughout our life.
If the work you’re doing brings you nothing but misery, perhaps it’s time to stop and question if it’s where God wants you to be. Everyone goes through seasons of unrest or uncertainty. But there should still be something about your work that brings you joy.
What do you enjoy about what you do? How can you find more joy in the less exciting things? If you’re having trouble finding motivation, remember to focus on serving God and reading the scriptures about work to see what God has to say.. If you don’t like what you do, odds are you won’t do it well.
#5. What is the motivation behind your ambition?
Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves what the underlying motivation behind what we’re doing is.
Why do you work hard?
What drives you?
Who pushes you to keep going?
The answers to these questions are likely complex, but hopefully, God is involved in there somewhere.
Plenty of things can motivate us—providing for our family, gaining influence, helping others, being proud of what you’ve accomplished. Our internal motivations reveal a great deal about our ambitions. They’re the why behind the what. They’re the driving force that fuels our ambitions. They’re also a great way to gauge whether or not you have godly ambition.
What motivates you?
What keeps you hustling?
Does God factor into the equation?
Your motivations are an indication of your priorities. Take some time to inspect what inspires you. List them out. Do you think these are healthy? Are they moving you toward or away from God.
When appropriately used, godly ambition can be a good thing. The opposite is true, too. Get a handle on your ambitions to figure out if you’re where God wants you to be.
What are your life’s ambitions? Do you consider them to be godly? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.