Ambition is a double-edged sword. When it is God-directed and Spirit-managed, it can bear tremendous fruit. But when it is hijacked by self and ego, it can leave a wake of destruction.
I have wrestled with this issue for most of my life. If you have leadership gifts, you know what it is to be captivated by vision and passion. To have dreams of what could be. To be compelled to do something significant with your life. But if we are honest, our motivations are often a complex mix of both God-honoring desire and self-serving ambition.
God wired into every one of us what the ancients referred to as a “fire in the belly.” This is the source of our vision, our longing to make a difference, and our will to sacrifice for a greater cause.
At the same time, God also has built into us the need for quiet, solitude, rest, and reflection. This is one reason God established the Sabbath: to teach us there is a healthy rhythm of life. I like to refer to this part of us as a “spiritual recliner.” It’s a place of rest and peace. It’s more about being than doing.
You need both a fire in the belly and a spiritual recliner to be healthy. Think of it like this: your fire in the belly (ambition) is like raw electricity. It’s alive, energetic, powerful, exciting and full of potential, but it can also be dangerous and potentially fatal. Think of a healthy soul as a transformer. A transformer serves to regulate, channel, direct, and control electricity. A transformer takes what is potentially harmful and deadly and turns it into something useful and helpful.
It seems to me we are reaping the results of a generation in the church where it has been all about raw electricity. The outcome has been a spike in leaders who are coming unglued. It’s dangerous to equip young leaders with vision, leadership, strategy, and church growth principles without equipping them to have healthy souls. We need to be just as serious about building transformers as we are about generating raw electricity.
In his introduction to Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren talks about learning to catch spiritual waves like a surfer catches ocean waves. It is God who creates the waves and movements of his Spirit. We don’t get to decide when the wave comes, from where it comes or how big it will be. But it’s our privilege to ride great waves and participate in what God is doing.
My fear is that Christian leaders no longer stand on the shore looking for and praying for a wave of God’s Spirit. When ambition does not have a healthy soul attached to it, we start trying to create the waves ourselves.
What are you doing to build a “spiritual transformer” in your life? What can you do to ensure that your “fire in the belly” doesn’t turn into “unholy ambition”?