What images come to mind when you hear the word “ambition?” Do you envision the co-worker who last week took credit for your hard work, or do you see the manager who positioned himself politically to win favor with the C-Suite? Do you notice those employees who know how to “manage up” but seem to have little time to communicate well with subordinates?
Most of us would agree with those images, but how many of us recall the supervisor who took time to mentor us? Do we remember the manager who by the force of his kindness motivated us to excellence? It’s likely these examples do not jump to the front of our minds.
Make It Your Ambition
Webster describes ambition as “an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power.” Little wonder ambition conjures images of fellow employees clawing their way to the top – zealous for a better title, higher pay, and more perks. Hollywood has made millions portraying these individuals. We treat these people with disdain, but isn’t there a wee bit of envy in our hearts for their successes?
Several years ago as I sat in my office, I overheard a conversation between a co-worker and my boss. Apparently, my supervisor was giving this person an interesting new project. Instantly I began to ponder how I could improve my position and receive similar assignments. I took the bait the enemy dangled before me.
God in His faithfulness led me to I Thess. 4:11,12 (NIV), “and make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Make it my ambition to lead a quiet life? How could ambition and a quiet life appear in the same sentence?
Lead a Quiet Life
God in His infinite wisdom calls us to work at a quiet life, focusing on our own responsibilities and our assigned vocation, with the zeal associated with ambition. We need to be individuals marked by intention, the determination to lead a life that honors God and glorifies Him through faithful service.
Does leading a quiet life preclude promotion? Can a Christ follower seek to better his or her position? Ps. 75:6,7 (NIV) reminds us, “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” In reality, we cannot promote ourselves and glorify God. God’s word includes many men and woman who achieved success beyond their wildest dreams and human undertaking. But who among us would want to face greater responsibility without the blessing and equipping of the Lord?
Win the Respect of Outsiders
A few years ago Hollywood produced a wonderful film, Freedom Writers, portraying the impact of teacher Erin Gruwell on her economically challenged students. By treating these students with respect, children the world had largely forgotten, Ms. Gruwell motivated them to find their voices and to attain more success than they could have
Respect is a moral need. We all want respect, the regard and esteem of others. When we make leading a quiet life and minding our own business our ambition, the Lord says we are rewarded with the respect of co-workers outside the Body of Christ. We win their daily respect, opportunities day by day to deepen relationships for the glory of God.
Not Dependent on Anyone
To lead the “I Thess. 4:11, 12” kind of quiet life requires the ambition to put our full faith and trust in the Lord. We must find our sufficiency in Him, trusting Him with our position, promotion and peace. He must be as the psalmist said, “Our portion in the land of the living.”
The result of this kind of ambition is a freedom our status striving co-workers could scarcely imagine. By depending fully on the Lord, we experience the joy of “not being dependent on anyone.” No golden handcuffs can force us to remain in an unfulfilling and potentially morally challenging position. Unexpected layoffs don’t send us into spirals of worry and despair. Forced retirement does not signal the end of significance.
Ambition does not need to be a negative concept when that ambition is rightly applied. With the Lord’s help, we can ambitiously lead a quiet life. We can take the energy others spend in self-promotion to reach out to managers, co-workers and subordinates and to develop excellence in our own work. Who knows? Perhaps leading a quiet life glorifying the Lord puts us in the best position to receive promotion. In the end it positions us for
the greatest commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
-Written by Sandy Carter