Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I have to confess that, as the new year starts, I struggle with ambition. This is the time of year for goal setting. As I think about what I want to accomplish during 2011, it's very easy to think about the accolades that I want to receive for accomplishing those goals. As a professor, my two biggest responsibilities are teaching and research, so I think about being praised as an excellent teacher or receiving congratulations on a ground-breaking publication. Yes, it's easy for me to shift from reflecting about my goals for the year to seeking approval of others.

Part of what makes ambition a tricky thing is that God wants us to produce quality work. In a college class on faith and art, I had a professor once say that you can't be a good Christian artist (or banker or scientist or teacher or...) without being a good artist. In other words, putting "Christian" before one's vocation doesn't automatically make you good at it. You have to work at your trade. No one wants a mechanic that has scriptures quoted all over the waiting room but can't fix your car.

So desiring to be good at what you do is a perfectly Godly trait. I've said this before, but I think it really comes down to where your focus lies. When you think about your job, what are the things about which you obsess? Is it what a particular boss or coworker thinks about you? Is it getting ahead of him or her? Is it advancing in your career far enough that you have "enough" money (an elusive goal)? Or is it to glorify God? To bring Him honor? To advance His cause? One way to understand yourself in this regard is to look at your thought-life. When you think about or daydream about your job, what comes to mind? Is that what God would want?

As you set goals for this year, be careful about ambition. You cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24; Luke 16:13). Take this opportunity to choose the right one.

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