Redeeming frustrated ambition

We’ve all experienced those times when things just don’t go our way. All the planning and the resources in the world can’t prevent the frustration of our ambitions, no matter how noble. As the wisest King of his day put it:

What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.” —Solomon (Ecc 2:22-23)

But the problem is not that we have ambitious goals. We were designed by our Creator to work that extends even beyond our lifetime. Certainly, God’s mission to Adam to “fill the earth and subdue it” would take awhile (Gen 1:28).

No, the problem lies because we try to do great things on our own, apart from the Creator. Instead of listening for His counsel and direction, we implore Him (if we do at all) to advance our cause: Lord, bless my work. In fact, we’re more apt to solicit God’s help only when we get into trouble. How many times have you heard (or said) these words during a seemingly hopeless time: All I can do now is pray?

Instead, if we are to redeem our ambitions, we need to intentionally examine our pursuits. In the video presentation that follows I suggest that we can transform our thinking by asking three fundamental questions. You wouldn’t take on a job offer without knowing the answer to them, nor should you spend your energy on an ambitious pursuit without similarly asking them of yourself. Answering these three questions can help you can determine if your succumbing to a go-it-your-own frustrated ambition or under the influence of one that is redeemed, set free for a bigger purpose.

  1. What’s the job? Frustrated ambition is characterized by pursuits that are aimed at personal comfort. It asks, “How can I get my needs met with the least amount of effort?” Redeemed ambition on the other hand is characterized by service. In the words of the Apostle Paul, it looks out “not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4)
  2. What’s the pay? Frustrated ambition is never satisfied with the pay. One with frustrated ambition always comparing themselves to others, and finds themselves unfairly lacking. Like the Rolling Stones song, they “can’t get no satisfaction,” though they try. Those with redeemed ambition, though, are content people; not absent of drive, but seeped in gratitude. In the words of author Dave Harvey, they are “hungry for more, but content with less.”
  3. Who’s the boss? Frustrated ambition answers this question unhesitatingly. They’re looking out for Number One. In the words of poet William Ernest Henley, they are masters of their fate, captains of their soul. And pride and power are their wardrobe. Those with redeemed ambition, however, clothe themselves in humility. They don’t forget that they, too, have a Boss; One to whom they will one day report what they have done.

In the 30 minute video below, I outline these principles in more detail. This message was delivered at IronWorks and is part of the Fall 2012 series, Holy Sweat: Your Work Matters to God. If you’re a guy and reside in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, I invite you to join us every Friday morning or Wednesday afternoon.


In what ways have you seen your ambition frustrated?

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