BY SAGE GARCIA
Ambition. Control. Power. Prestige. Self-worth.
These are the things that I so often grasp onto, or rather, try to grasp onto. It is my deeply held belief that all Duke students can be characterized by the trait of ambition. Ambition is a unique character trait, precisely because of its ability to act as a lighter fluid from which other goals in our life are set ablaze. Let me give you an example. As an ambitious pre-law student, I understand that my GPA will heavily affect the outcome of where I go to law school. Thus, there is no room for error; my sole goal in classes has simply become to get an A. Not to learn. Just to get an A. On the surface level, it is clear that my ambition has propelled me to do well in my classes and maintain a strong GPA whilst living as a young adult at one of America’s premier universities. But I have to ask the question: is this worldly ambition good, or rather, a mark of true success?
There is Such a Thing as Improper Ambition
You see, ambition is both a blessing and a curse. Clearly, ambition propels us to constantly reach our goals and thereby set higher ones. In this sense, it is good. In fact, totally and completely healthy. But ambition also pushes us to live life in a way that is pretty dry sometimes. Constantly seeking to outrun your partner, outsmart your peers, and, to be simply and completely honest, be on top, no matter how high or low that position may be, as long as it is higher than the next person.
Ambition is a Good Thing
Jesus had something interesting to say about ambition. When talking to his disciples, he plainly stated, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Don’t you just love how terribly blunt Jesus was? I mean sure, these words might sting a little bit, but He leaves no ambiguity in this airtight nugget of wisdom. Jesus makes it clear. As followers of Christ, we are called to be great. The only question is: whose measuring stick are we going to use? Ours? Or the one for whom the voice from Heaven came down to say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)?
Ambition is one of the many good gifts that God gives his children, and it is only when we use this God-given trait for our selfish gain that everything goes haywire. Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that we shouldn’t use ambition in the classroom, on the field, or in the workplace. As a matter of fact, we should be striving to be the best in all that we do, constantly seeking to climb up the ladder, in order that we might make excellent use of our talents so that God would be glorified.
Holy Ambition Leads to Joy
But here is what I am really saying. The order in which we lay out our ambition is crucial. It’s Jesus. Then us. Jesus. Us. And this is great news! Jesus doesn’t get pleasure from being a dictator who is constantly dishing out rules and regulations, in order that we might submit. In fact, it’s the very opposite that is true. Jesus tells us to give up our lives for His sake because He knows that this is where the greatest joy is found. The point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones that God is for us. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ. This is an important truth here. Because we are made for God, we are most satisfied when we live in relationship with Him. By constantly putting us in check to make sure our lives are lining up with the Kingdom, He is ensuring our greatest satisfaction. There is no greater gift than for God to give us Himself.
So, how does this affect my life, and more specifically, my ambition?
In a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, C.S. Lewis said, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” You see, overvaluing a lesser good results, paradoxically, in losing it. If we seek to make our kingdom great, and then give what is left to God, everything gets watered down. But when we seek first His kingdom, everything falls into place and our happiness is magnified too.
Our task as Christians is to faithfully carry out the work that God gives us day by day, and to be ready and willing to change direction as the Holy Spirit leads. Perhaps we’re spending too much time trying to plan the next 10 years of our lives and not enough time planning the next 10 days. Don’t wait to live your life. To those of you who believe in Jesus, stop worrying about your “life plan” and simply follow Jesus right now, with an ambition and eagerness to see God’s name glorified in the midst of a culture that encourages us to make our kingdoms great before all else.