Thought for the Day by Hannah Lievesley (St Chad’s)
Ambition – good thing or bad thing?
A friend recently confessed to feeling a bit jealous of an ex-colleague who’d been promoted to the job she’d been destined for herself before she left to train for ministry. Jealousy is never a good thing, we know that, but it often arises as a bi-product of ambition. So what about ambition? Is that a bad thing too? Should Christian’s ever be ambitious?
The 1 Kings account of the rivalry between Adonijah and Solomon brought our conversation back to mind. In Old Testament history, God often seems to choose the leader who least wants the job. Indeed, ambition sits awkwardly with a lot of the teachings of the bible, not least Jesus’s Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But there are different kinds of ambition. Can some of them be good?
I guess it boils down to the questions, “What is the end goal of your particular ambition?”, and “What are your drivers in seeking this goal?”
Emma Ineson was Chaplain at the Lee Abbey Community in Devon, then Principal of Trinity College Bristol. She’s now suffragan bishop of Penrith in Carlisle Diocese, and last year published a book, ‘Ambition: what Jesus said about power, success and counting stuff’ in which she explores the issues around faith, vocation and the question of ambition. She says,
“The Christian tradition has been largely negative about ambition that exists to fulfil personal aims or further personal status, as in ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition’ (Phil 2.3). Rightly, most Christian thinkers have advocated humility over this kind of ambition. But there is a different kind of ambition that we might instead term zeal or passion for changing the world for Godly ends and with Godly means. In that sense, Christians should be the most ambitious people in the world!”
I wonder, if you are a naturally ambitious person? If so, what are your drivers and your end goals? Now think about it for a moment. Do these sit comfortably with Jesus’s teachings and his mission to the world?
If ‘No’, then are there ways you can re-focus or channel your ambitions to serve his purposes?
And if ‘Yes’, then thank God for planting that ambition within you, and go to work!