“We grow small trying to be great.”
E. Stanley Jones
The few acres of forest are a fungus treasure trove. Toadstools and puffballs and sulfur shelf. So after the boys and I went on a mushroom hunt, I shared some of our rich reward. God’s hidden, creative grandeur was placed in the public eye.
The next day a friend introduced a worship song that I’d suggested we sing over a year ago. Its rich lyrics and rousing refrain were well-received. They led many to worship. Without a shred of credit to the one who discovered it.
It’s no surprise that Rescuing Ambition nearly jumped off a friend’s countertop into my arms that same week. Dave Harvey, as in Davebitious, wrote the book. Dave assumes his family would work much better if they all majored in Daveology, and that his friendships would work best if they had a Davetistic bent. Life’s problems, he figures, would be cleared up with some Daveological insights and that, “the world would be a better place if we could just celebrate an annual Davetoberfest.”
I’d never heard of Dave or his book before Thursday. And while I differ slightly on the name of the annual fest- Abtober might be more catchy-I do recognize a kindred, praise-loving, sin-fighting soul when I read one. This Type-A, Tiger Mom battles to keep ambition in its proper place. So my friend lent me her book.
Maybe your ambition, your desire and determination to achieve something, is not tied to Facebook fame or more followers. Maybe it’s more money or more ministry or more muscle or more nearly perfect children.
Do you wonder what Paul by saying that those who seek glory, honor and immortality are given eternal life? If you’ve ever wondered humility can co-exist with ambition, join the club. If you’ve wondered if your drive for distinction is gauged just right, you’re not alone. Or maybe you know your ambition engine is off kilter: you resent the one who gets credit for your clever idea and you burn when your good deeds go unnoticed.
Some of these quotes are from Dave’s book. All of them orient my ambitious, glory-seeking soul to seek God’s praise. They proclaim the utter folly of taking up anything short of it, of exchanging the glory of the eternal God for any small glory of my own.
9 Calibrating Quotes
1. “I do not know whether anyone has ever succeeded in not enjoying praise. And, if he enjoys it, he naturally wants to receive it. And if he wants to receive it, he cannot help but being distraught at losing it. Those who are in love with applause have their spirits starved not only when they are blamed off-hand, but even when they fail to be constantly praised.”
-John Chrystostom, quoted in Rescuing Ambition (p. 35)
2. “Wickedness can in no other form become more intense, nor its plans more vast, nor its obstinacy more enduring, nor its destruction more extensive, or more dreadful than the love of distinction…Selfishness is in its nature little and base. But no passion and no pursuits are more absolutely selfish than the love of distinction.”
-Timothy Dwight, quoted in Rescuing Ambition (p. 42)
3. “There is a holy ambition which is at the bottom of all practical religion. This is seeking the kingdom of God, looking in our desires and aims as high as heaven, and resolved to take up with nothing short of it. Those that seek for the vain glory and honor of this world…are disappointed, but those that seek for immortal glory and honor shall have them.”
-Matthew Henry, Commentary on Romans 2:7
4. “It is well to be seeking to do more for the Lord Jesus Christ, but I would earnestly discourage you from seeking…a higher position merely for the sake of occupying it. Be not ambitious in this sense; for, after all, what is human greatness? Have you ever met with a really great man who would have given a penny for his own greatness? Do you not also know that the way to be really great is to be little?“
-C.H. Spurgeon, Anxiety, Ambition, And Indecision
5. “We need an ambition that won’t rest until more people are reached, more churches planted, more marriages helped, more art created, more enterprises started, more disciples made. We need an ambition that lives joyfully today but wants more for God and more from God tomorrow...So desire great things. Get out there and get to work. The world is in need of people ambitious for God’s glory and willing to do something about it.”
-Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition
6. “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition and settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.”
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
7. “What we learn from John the Baptist is that the greatest glories in this life are not in receiving attention or fame, but in funneling it all to Jesus. The biggest, longest lasting statement John could make to the world was not in the number of his followers, but in how he responded when his followers fled to Jesus (John 3:25-29).”
-Marshall Segal, The Joy of Living in Jesus’ Shadow, posted 10/16/15
8. “Think about yourself in accord with the measure of faith God has assigned you. Make the measure of yourself the measure of seeing and savoring and treasuring Christ. If you want to have significance, embrace Christ as the One who is significant. If you want to have value, embrace Christ as the Once who is infinitely valuable. Our worth consists in treasuring the worth of Christ.”
-John Piper, The Mercies of God and the Transformed Christian Mind, (On Romans 12:3)
9. “Man is a fallen star till he is right with heaven: he is out of order with himself and all around him till he occupies his true place in relation to God. When he serves God, he has reached that point where he doth serve himself best, and enjoys himself most. It is man’s honour, it is man’s joy, it is man’s heaven, to live unto God.”
-C.H. Spurgeon, Humility and How to Get It
I just took a break from writing to fetch the mail. Ekballo– To Every Tribe‘s quarterly magazine- came. In it, Debbie Ibanez, a missionary in Mexico, asks:
When Jesus spoke of us losing our lives, do we imagine he was meaning our lifestyle? He means our selves-our image of who we are and the importance we attach to that image. Because Self is the greatest competitor for the beauty of Jesus and because the human heart is, above all things, deceitful, we cannot afford to take our eyes off Jesus Christ. The work God does through us comes at the expense of Self, by crushing this idol.
Yes. Trying to look great and glorious, original and wise will shrink you. You’ll look about as big and grown-up as the two year-old wearing his Daddy’s work boots. If any would be great, he must be small. As small as the servant of all.
So, no-ambition is not sub-Christian. Far from it. And yes, ambition can co-exist in a humble heart. In fact, seeking glory, honor and immortality is not condemned, but commanded. Be eager, don’t amble. Be fervent, don’t drift. Follow hard, don’t coast. Be zealous for good works. Don’t be lazy with whatever measure of faith God assigned to you.
But, yes-pursue your praise from God, not man (Romans 2:29, John 12:42, 1 Corinthians 4:5). Seek your glory in Christ being exalted, not you (2 Corinthians 3:18, Matthew 23:12).
Not so many friends were as smitten as I by God’s spongy, frilly low-dwelling beauties. Six meager likes on the mushroom post was just what the Good Lord ordered. And that song I suggested? It was far better, more crushing to the Self-idol, that it came through another.
So long as I long for God’s glory to be seen, it’s no matter if it comes through Abaholic me.