Is Ambition Good or Bad?

This question has batted around in my head off and on for a number of years.  It seems like the question is answered differently depending on whom the question is posed to.  The answer also seems to vary depending on the definition or the circumstances surrounding the ambition.  So before we make a decision on the matter, I think it best to define what we mean and then draw some conclusions.

Ambition can be defined variously, but for our purposes I would like to think of it as the desire for advancement or success.  I believe that this desire has been ingrained in the heart of every man, woman, and child since the dawn of time.  It is the Adamic compulsion to take dominion over creation that forms the core of ambition.  Ambition separates the proverbial wise man from the foolish man, because it drives him away from laziness and towards productivity.  So in its purest and natural form, ambition is a healthy drive that motivates us all to strive and to achieve and to succeed.

But there is a dark side of ambition too.  We’ve all seen its consequences.  It starts so young and innocently.  It begins as the child who abandons their playmate in order to hang out with the more popular kids.  But it only gets uglier.  It is the dad who is too busy pursuing his career that he has no time for his children.  It is the wife who is so caught up in her own dreams that she leaves her husband.  It is the athlete who is so intent on scoring that his team looses the game.  It is the musician who is overcome with chasing success that he abandons everyone who really matters in life and becomes a recluse.  It is the pastor who is so consumed with the bigness of the auditorium, giving, and attendance that he misses the bigness of the peoples’ need.  Ambition turns dark and hurtful when it is turned inward.  Self-centered ambition is, no doubt, one of the greatest plagues of our era.

Thankfully there is hope.  In the Gospel I find that Jesus has succeeded fully in my behalf.  There is nothing more for me to chase.  There is no achievement, no skill, no paygrade, no rank, no praise, no fame, no experience that will ever make me happy, for Christ came to die to fill all those desires in my behalf.  Now I find myself motivated by a holy ambition.  Driven by grace rather than will-power and driven towards God rather than myself, I find joy in pursuing God’s will for my life.  The Gospel turns my ambition around.  Rather than wasting my life chasing my shadow, Jesus Christ turns my ambition outward and upward.

2 thoughts on “Is Ambition Good or Bad?”

  1. Well said. A lot of supposed Christians (and non-Christians) preach the opposite of this. Encouraging people to covet and strive for material things when there are more important things in life.

    1. It really has to be a balance. We can’t get consumed selfishly with our goals, but we also can’t stop pursuing what God has given us to do either. It is quite a challenge for me. Thanks for reading. I’m glad it was helpful!

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