Sometimes our ambition to succeed can become an idolatrous monster to feed.
I have never really been comfortable around ambitious pastors. I’m of the old school that believes if you want a bigger church to lead, then grow the one that you’re leading right now. I’ve been in ministry for 22 years and in that time I’ve only led two charges. The average time that a pastor spends with one church is about four to five years, so by this time I should be leading my fifth or sixth congregation…if I was truly ambitious.
It’s not that I don’t have ambitions and dreams for the congregation that I lead, or that I have jettisoned all my hopes and goals for the future. I just think that stability and dependability in pastoral leadership are more important than paper credentials and scholarly works. Those pastors who want to reach the top of the ladder are driven by a worldly view of success. For me, success is listening to God and trying to do what He wants for His Church and its people.
Matthew 20:22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.
When the mother of James and John approaches Jesus about having her two sons sit beside Him in His glorious Kingdom, she is being ambitious on their behalf. Like any mother, she wants the best for her children, so she asks Jesus to grant her sons this ambitious request. James and John don’t ask this of Him directly, probably because they understand that Jesus isn’t big on power struggles within His chosen band of disciples. Sheepishly, they get their mother to petition Christ on their behalf. If they were truly ambitious, they would have personally asked Jesus to grant the request.
I like how Jesus answers them. He lets them all understand that He is also working under a Higher Power and that such a request is not His to give. He makes them aware that in order to be worthy of such a high honor, they would have to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the Kingdom. They answer this positively, in the hope that Christ will give them these positions of power. Jesus accepts their willingness, which has more to do with ambition and greed rather than service and loyalty. They will be required to sacrifice themselves for the cause, but it’s still up to God to allot the appointed thrones on the right and left of Christ.
Sometimes we allow ourselves to be overcome by our ambitions and in our zeal to fulfill our dreams, we lose a precious part of ourselves. James would be martyred for the cause and John would be exiled for many years. They both would pay a heavy price for their ambitions. If we also become obsessed with greatness and glory, then we can lose our humility and honesty, our faith and fidelity. There’s nothing wrong with wanting things to be better in our lives, but when we sacrifice our families and friends, our church and our charity, then we have taken the wrong path and have turned our ambition into an idolatrous monster that feeds upon our greed.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep us from grandiose schemes and ambitious dreams that would ruin the precious things in our lives. Help us to maintain a sense of balance, so that our desire to succeed does not become an idol of our greed. Allow us to seek to please You with our faith by placing our goals and dreams into Your hands. May we also use our successes to resource the eternally glorious work of Your Kingdom. In Your Holy Name, we earnestly pray. Amen.