C.S. Lewis and John Stott on Ambition

Are your motives behind your ambitions selfish or godly? Are you doing what you’re doing so that Jesus may be made much of, or so that you would be made much of?

These can be tough questions. Especially for those of us that are highly ambitious. But we should find comfort in that ambitions for God are not just allowed, but commanded. We are not called to be passive. But still, it’s helpful to figure out the “why” behind our “what” for our ambitions.

In his less famous book, God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis describes ambition this way:

Ambition! We must be careful what we mean by it. If it means the desire to get ahead of other people . . . then it is bad. If it means simply wanting to do a thing well, then it is good. It isn’t wrong for an actor to want to act his part as well as it can possibly be acted, but the wish to have his name in bigger types than other actors is a bad one . . . What we call “ambition” usually means the wish to be more conspicuous or more successful than someone else. It is this competitive element in it that is bad. It is perfectly reasonable to want to dance well or look nice. But when the dominant wish is to dance better or look nicer than the others — when you begin to feel that if the others danced as well as you or looked as nice as you, that would take all the fun out of it — then you are going the wrong way.

John Stott is helpful here as well. From his well-known, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, Stott shows us that ambitions for God must be big:

Ambitions for self may be quite modest . . . Ambitions for God, however, if they are to be worthy, can never be modest. There is something inherently inappropriate about cherishing small ambitions for God. How can we ever be content that he should acquire just a little more honour in the world? No. Once we are clear that God is King, then we long to see him crowned with glory and honour, and accorded this true praise, which is the supreme place. We become ambitious for the spread of his kingdom and righteousness everywhere.

Don’t let less ambitious Christians make you feel bad for your dreams. But in the same token, be sure to regularly examine your heart, and truly get to the bottom of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

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