January 9th, 2008
Focus Text: Proverbs 11: 5-6 (NLT)
5 The godly are directed by honesty;
the wicked fall beneath their load of sin.
6 The godliness of good people rescues them;
the ambition of treacherous people traps them.
Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead
Ambition is a curious thing. Depending on the context, it can be a huge positive in one’s life or it can be absolutely corrupting and detrimental. For high school students, ambition to achieve academic success and a college scholarship is an admirable thing. We applaud such efforts and congratulate those who excel. In this case, ambition is a wonderful thing.
Flip the coin, however, and consider a young businessman driven to succeed to the point of madness. Hundreds of cold dinners left idle on the table at home late at night leave his marriage frigid as well. His children feel neglected and his family suffers. Success has become his idol . . . perhaps with noble intentions . . . but an idol nonetheless and no amount of time, energy, or sacrifice is enough. Only the top position, the top paycheck, or the top office will seemingly satiate his dizzying thirst. In this case, ambition is obviously a negative.
The American mindset is one that places ambition in an awkward position. We are reared with a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. ”Make something of yourself.” ”When the going gets tough” . . . and so forth and so on. The problem is that our drive to succeed can become obsessive and unhealthy, ruining the very life that we think we are striving so hard to improve.
Yet, those who lack ambition altogether and live with no internal motivation to move forward are also missing out. Laziness is an epidemic that can cripple those who succumb to its symptoms. No desire to work hard or to improve is most definitely a negative attribute that can also adversely affect one’s life. So where is the balance?
Two words: stomach acid.
That’s what I said: stomach acid. Let me explain. I theorize that ambition is like the stomach acid of our emotional and spiritual lives. At first glance, most of us don’t visualize positive images when we think of stomach acid. However, we can’t ignore the important role that it plays in our bodies. Without it, we would be unable to digest the food that we eat. Our bodies, in turn, would be unable to sustain strength and stamina. The end result would be extreme weakness and possibly death. Hey, stomach acid is important dude!
But too much of it can leave us feeling sick and unhealthy. Just ask anyone out there who’s popping little purple pills for their acid reflux and they’ll tell you that it is no fun to have that pesky acid rebelliously claw its way up the old esophagus. You see, an overdose of stomach acid will make one miserable.
The same rings true for ambition. In our lives, we need a healthy amount of ambition to grow, to move forward in our process, and to reach for new levels of effectiveness; however, we must never let ambition dominate the health of our bodies . . . spiritually, of course. On who walks upon the road towards successful living must always keep in mind what is most important . . . and Who is most important.
That’s the truth of this passage: “The godly are directed by honesty; the wicked fall beneath their load of sin. The godliness of good people rescues them; the ambition of treacherous people traps them.” It’s our godliness . . . our drive to be like God by being near to Him and absorbing His attributes through His grace . . . that will rescue us from mediocrity. When our ambition is to be like Jesus, then ambition is good . . . the acid is working as it should.
But the insatiable, unquenchable drive to succeed . . . even at good things like ministry, church growth, or the development of our personal talents . . . can quickly “trap” us and make our throats burn with the wrong kind of ambition. In the end, the overall health of our personal spirits, as well as the health of the entire Body of believers, must be our chief objective.
So, we choose what we will be ambitious about . . . I hope to avoid the reflux in my own spiritual esophagus . . . wherever that is.