Ambition is rarely considered a virtue for Christians. Historically, it’s carried with it connotations of seeking after personal glory and fame; of desiring for my own greatness, rather than God’s. But Dave Harvey wants to change our understanding of ambition and show us that being ambitious doesn’t necessarily mean being selfish. That’s why he wrote Rescuing Ambition.
In this book, Harvey walks readers through a biblical understanding of ambition, beginning with our creation. “We love glory,” he writes (p. 21). “We were created to look for it and to love it when we find it.” It’s why we love rock stars, actors, authors, athletes. It’s why we want to be those things. There’s glory there, even if it’s fleeting.
And God doesn’t condemn seeking after glory—in fact, says Harvey, he commends it. But the glory we’re to seek after is His. It’s Christ. Christ is “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb. 1:3), and therefore the object of godly pursuit. To seek after glory is to seek after Christ and the things he pursues.
This is to be our ambition.
As Harvey continues, he shows us how our ambitions have been corrupted by sin as we’ve “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23). Thus, naturally our ambitions turn in on ourselves, where we seek to make ourselves great. However, Harvey says, the opposite occurs. We actually make ourselves smaller by trying to make ourselves great. Worse, we place ourselves under God’s wrath. He writes:
Deeply embedded in my sinful flesh is a desire to install myself as lord over all. I want my name worshiped, my glory exalted, and my fame talked about long after I’m dead. But by pursuing selfish ambition, we fall short, tragically short of the greatness and glory of God. . . .
The bad news . . . is this: my quest for my own greatness leads me to a dangerous place. In our hyped-up pursuit of self-glory we place ourselves in the path of the wrath of God.
So we’re in desperate need of rescue. We need to be freed from wrath against imperfection—and we need to be rescued from ourselves. (pp. 46-47)
Fortunately, God has made a way for our ambition to not only be rescued, but redirected through faith in Jesus Christ. What I appreciate in this book is that Harvey doesn’t try to be overly clever or sneaky in his presentation of the problem and its solution. The problem is we’ve sinned against God, pursuing our own glory instead of His. The solution is Christ’s atoning death on the cross. It’s the gospel.
When God saves sinners, He does it for His glory; and imperfect sinners are given Christ’s perfect righteousness. And He saves us, not so that we can go about doing whatever we want, but to pursue the good works we were created for, “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Harvey writes,
Walking in good works begins with aspiring to good works, being ambitious for them. Dreaming and doing things for God is the evidence, the effect, and the expectation of genuine faith.
We already have all the approval we need. . . . [L]et us never leave this solid footing: God’s approval comes from the perfect obedience of the Perfect Man. (p. 62)
And so God redirects our ambitions—He redirects them to glorify Him and delight us. This is probably the most challenging thing about our ambitions: Who or what lies at their end? Harvey asks, “Are your goals built around that job you’ve got to have, the weight you’ve got to lose, that position in the church with your name on it? Or are your dreams increasingly built around God and his life-shaping activity in you?” (p. 79)
These are challenging questions that force me to look at what I pursue. Do I write because I want people to praise my ability? Do I preach because I want people to be impressed with how well I speak?
Or do I do these things because I enjoy God and find my delight in Him? Does that drive me to pursue godly ambition?
As God rescues and redirects our ambitions, we have to understand that there’s a cost. We might fail. We might never see our ambitions fulfilled. But our ambitions are to have one goal in mind: serving our Savior. This is where we’re to find our contentment: not in the accomplishment, but in Him who has redeemed us and created us for these works.
In other words, godly ambitions are humble ambitions. To pursue godly ambitions means that we can forsake our comfort and well-being because Christ is sufficient. So it doesn’t matter if we fail. It doesn’t matter if we don’t’ see our plans play out. Jesus is enough.
The last several chapters of Rescuing Ambition hit this point over and over again, and I am grateful for it. It’s too easy for me to get caught up in seeing things through to the very end.
To take “finishing well” as completing the task at hand.
But Harvey reminds us that “finishing well” actually means preparing the next generation to finish the work we begin. In sharing his own story of stepping down as the senior pastor of his church, to follow the leading of a younger man, Harvey models this for us. This is what our ambitions should be about. “True success means we will turn things over to the younger generation in such a way that enables them to run stronger and faster, with us cheering them all the way.” (p. 210)
That, to me, seems like godly ambition. It’s the kind that I want to pursue. How about you?
Title: Rescuing Ambition
Author: Dave Harvey
Publisher: Crossway (2010)
Buy it at: Amazon