When God Redeems Creative Ambition
Ambition is a necessary part of life which can lead us to selfish ambition, but what changes when God redeems our creative ambition? This question must be answered if we are to pursue our calling and our gifts with passion. We are going to make mistakes and we need to know that no matter how we might screw things up, God can redeem it.
Naturally, we want to honor God with our talents from the start, but our sinful hearts are so prone to lead us to selfish ambition. We need to understand how to pursue godly ambition, and how to find grace when we fall back into selfish ambition. Without this, our sense of calling as an artist will be compromised and confusing. We will quickly transform from ecstatic and hopeful to discouraged and miserable. God doesn’t want you to live in that awful tension. He wants you to understand your calling and to understand how your ambition was meant to be a healthy part of your creative life.
Influencing Our Ambition
When we come to God, and rest upon his love and grace, it must impact our ambition. When we realize life is not about our personal egos, it will influence our ambition. Consider who the Bible speaks of ambition: James warned us about people who possess, “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (James 3:14). The Apostle Paul warned us of people with desires that became their gods (Phil 3:19) and the danger of loving money (1 Tim 6:10). Yet, Paul shares with us his “ambition to preach the gospel, and start new churches instead of building on another man’s foundation.” (Rom 15:20) Ambition is not the problem. The problem is where our ambition is anchored.
Ambition and Creativity
“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”
– Salvador Dali
Without ambition and drive, creatives will never fully develop their imagination or their creative projects. The artistic process is fraught with too many obstacles. Without ambition and drive, it becomes too easy to be defeated by obstacles, failing to achieve your goals. As Henry Ward Beecher stated, “A man without ambition is like a beautiful worm–it can creep, but it cannot fly.” Henry was the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and used her talent for writing to stir people to fight to end slavery in America. Great work requires endurance, and endurance is fueled by ambition.
Godly Ambition vs Our Cultural Values
When we lived in New York, it became clear that ambition was the highest compliment you could give someone. It may be a city of opportunity, but opportunity exists for those who work the hardest, the longest, and with the shrewdest business practices. Ambition was admired and rewarded. But there is a problem. New Yorkers have taken the puritan work ethic to such an extreme that the puritans wouldn’t recognize it. In such a culture, everything is about work.
There is no sabbath because work becomes all consuming. This culture perverts ambition and leads people away from a healthy sense of calling and vocation. They desperately need to embrace a more biblical understanding, and find their ambition redeemed. Only then will they curtail the overwhelming levels of burnout and abuse that results in such a culture.
Is Ambition a Bad Thing?
On the other end of the spectrum is the culture I have encountered with my friends from Central America. They tell me that all ambition in their culture is seen as evil because in their culture, ambition always includes pushing other people aside in order for you to get ahead. They equate success with ‘stepping on others’ in order to climb the ladder of success. They think cheating, lying and manipulating are required in order to get ahead. While there are always examples of such selfish ambition, their culture has demonized ambition itself. The cost is immense.
Now they have a culture where ambition, inventiveness and entrepreneurship are all seen as bad things. This holds back anyone who wants to be a good person from becoming a leader or innovator. They have the opposite problem of the New Yorkers. And yet, the corrective answer is found in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t see ambition as a bad thing. The Bible shows us how we need to submit our ambition to God’s vision and calling for our life and our art.
Faith and Ambition
It is clear from the Bible that ambition is not the problem. The key question focuses on whether our ambition is godly ambition or selfish ambition. What we see in the New Testament is how the Apostle Paul was transformed, not only from persecuting Christians to evangelizing people to become Christians. He went from persecuting others to being willing to be persecuted. His ambition was redeemed.
His ambition to be the most religious, and the most zealous of the Jews, was transformed by God’s grace. Once he met Jesus and his eyes were opened, his ambition became to share this radical love and grace of God in as many cities as possible, and to glorify God with every ounce of energy he possessed. This is godly ambition. It is ambition anchored in the desire to honor God in all things.
The Struggle of Selfish Ambition
There is natural desire in the art world and entertainment industries to follow our heart’s ambition for personal fame, financial success and the applause of the crowds. We can go to church and have a heart to worship him, but when the real temptation comes, we chose selfish ambition. Some women and men call themselves Christians and are sincere as deep as they understand their faith, but their thinking is shallow. They quarantine their faith and allow their artistic ambition to drive their career and their life. But we were made to live holistically. We were not made to live compartmentalized lives. Eventually our artist ambitions will have deep influence upon our spiritual ambitions.
The first king of Israel lost his throne and was judged by God because of selfish ambition. Though he was anointed king; he followed his own desires and his own ambition. God had called him to go to war, with specific instructions to kill the king of the Amalekites, and not to take the spoils. Saul started off doing what God commanded by going to war. However, he took matters into his own hands. He did not kill the king and decided to keep some of the animals and the spoils for himself and his people. His selfish ambition led him to disobey. For this, he lost his role as king, and was judged by God. (1 Samuel 1:24-25)
The Beauty of Ambition Redeemed
In the New Testament, God had a plan for the apostle Paul from the beginning. The religious zealot young man became Paul, only after his ambition was redeemed by the Holy Spirit’s work. God saw that Paul’s life began with ambition to be the most fervent and religious follower of the Jewish Law. He sought to honor God with his mind and his behavior. He focused on the law, and was so zealous that he killed Christians for heresy and betraying the laws of Israel as he understood them. Jesus, had compassion on Paul, and chose to redeem his passion, his mind and his ambition. With a blinding light, Jesus knocked Paul to the ground, and asked him, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4), and through the miraculous events in Acts 9, we see how God redeemed Paul. This gives hope for all of us, as well as our colleagues. No matter how misguided or selfish our ambitions have been in the past, God can change our hearts and redeem us.
With a redeemed ambition, consider how Paul tells the Philippians:
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil 4:12)
Paul can say this because he has learned that contentment flows from Godly ambition. If our ambition is for our own comfort, we will be upset by discomfort, but when our ambition is to glorify God, we are able to endure hardship and suffering because we know it will be used for good. This is why he was content in any situation.
Godly ambition is present when our heart longs to honor God, in all situations. With such ambition, God can use us greatly. Such a woman or man is powerful in the hands of God to fulfill his purposes. It is not easy to remain focused on honoring God, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we have hope and confidence that we can grow in our ability to align our ambition with the goals of God for our life. As we grow in our ability to maintain a godly ambition, we will possess greater peace, hope and joy.
Your Ambition and Your Calling
Without addressing your ambition, you won’t be able to get the clarity you desire in understanding your calling. We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please share down below…
Has your ambition tempted you to focus on yourself?
Does godly ambition provide more peace, hope and joy?
What lessons have you learned in this area?
How has this influenced your sense of God calling you to be an artist or professional creative?
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