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We strive. We push. We plan. We pursue. Through blood, sweat and tears we power on to meet our goals, fix our problems and cling to control.

In our striving, pushing, planning and pursuing, we oftentimes find ourselves empty, weary, angry and spent.

We gained, but we also lost.

Ambition will eventually fade into either self-reliance and pride, or depression and loss of joy. While it sounds respectable and commendable, the unintended consequences can lead us further from the heart of God rather than the closeness with Christ that we are longing for. Even if the work is good, and even if it centers on Christ, it is the heart – our hearts – that take a beating.

Goals and plans and hard work are not to be discounted. In fact, God commends a studious and faithful worker! Laziness is not the alternative for ambition. However, ambition, as noble is it may seem, will get you nowhere.

So counter cultural, I know! Most of us in our western mindset can hardly fathom this concept that ambition might not be God’s perfect way. Ambitious people win the world! How dare I question the motives and outcomes of ambition?

My answer: Jesus.

“After the approval of heaven at Jordan came the assault of hell; after the dove, the devil. This is the usual order in spiritual experience, and in this the Master was no exception.”  J. Oswald Sanders

After his baptism, and after God’s public approval, came what we know to be Christ’s wilderness experience. Forty days of fasting and prayer. Alone. Pulled out of the public square and into battle. Temptation came at him. And while his body was weak and weary, Christ did not succumb to the prodding and agitating words of the tempter. It was out of this experience that Christ modeled for us the “how to’s” to following God’s call.

In our human nature when God invites us to join him in pursuit of a dream, a calling, a ministry – whatever it might be – we instantaneously want to grab it by the horns and make it happen. Bend it into submission. Work ourselves to the bone in order to see the end result. I find it convicting that Christ did nothing of that nature when God’s mantle was placed upon him.

Rather than jump into his role as the Son of God – God incarnate – picking disciples, embarking on a preaching circuit, and disrupting the status quo, he first went into the wilderness.

We hate the wilderness. We try so hard to avoid it at all costs.

But if Christ is our model, and if Christ chose the wilderness over an ambitious agenda to please his Father, what makes us think we can avoid the wilderness ourselves? Are we better than our sinless Savior?

Interesting to me that the second temptation that came to Christ was in the form of  ambition – the desire to achieve things. (1)

Tempted to jump off of the highest point of the Temple and to command his angels to save him, Christ refused. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah that would overthrow the government, wield his power and position and stun them with his wonders. This stunt would have given the world what it wanted. But it was not God’s way.

Ambition can get us what we want, but it may not be God’s perfect way.

Humbling and convicting, so often is Christ’s example to me. We have to fight hard to overcome the mindset of this world, even in the world of ministry where self-promotion, numerical success, attractive ministries, attractive ministers, cross-less expectations, full bellies and hungry hearts are common distractions. The way of Jesus is so counterintuitive. Completely upside down to our societal and cultural norms. And yet so affirming and satisfying.

“For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:30 (NLT)

Chasing after dreams and obeying the call of God was never meant to leave us empty, weary, angry and spent. Pursuing God’s call and mission was meant to be a joy…a task, perhaps, beyond our capabilities, but well within our reach.

I think the lesson in all of this is that before we begin the task, we must spend time in the wilderness.

Let the wilderness drive us closer to Jesus.

Let the wilderness teach us the heart of God.

Let the wilderness instruct us in the rhythms of God’s grace.

Let the wilderness empower us for the task ahead.

Ambition will get you nowhere.

Submission to the wilderness will lead us to Jesus.

“We long for showy fruit when the Lord calls us to focus on clinging to him. We want to produce, but he reminds us that he provides as we abide. Abiding is not inactive.” Ruth Chou Simons

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

1. The Incomparable Christ, by J. Oswald Sanders, page 87

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