God Doesn’t Need Me to Scratch His Back?

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What does healthy ambition look like? Is it okay for a Christian leader to be ambitious and build kingdoms in the world? Over at, Keith Miller had a great post last month. He tells the story of being crowned King of High School Daze years ago--and learning that he had misplaced ambitions. Here's a quick excerpt from his article about Christian leaders and ambition:

The school queen was a beautiful girl, and I was crazy about her. But as I sat there alone waiting for the "coronation" to begin, I had a strange hollow feeling inside—not at all the excitement and anticipation I'd thought I'd have. I asked myself, "Is this all there is?" And in that moment I knew a secret: being "king" is not the meaning of life. But I didn't know what was.

Then, in the discussion questions, Keith asks, "Is it okay for a Christian leader to be ambitious and build kingdoms in the world? What does healthy ambition look like?" Although I helped Keith edit this article a few weeks ago, it really struck me again this morning.

Ambition is an interesting issue for Christians. My friend Bradley at Shrinking the Camel (also one of our Content Editors for says ambition is one of the biggest concerns he hears from Christian executives. He raises ambition as one of his primary concerns in his list of faith and work concerns. Specifically, Bradley asks how to positively channel his drive and ambition.

But I think we have to answer the deeper question first. Is ambition ok?

I think it is. It has to be. Certainly King David had ambition when he conquered the areas around Israel. Certainly Solomon had ambition when he built the temple. Certainly Paul had ambition when he travelled the known world to spread the gospel. Not to mention Samson the Herculean hero. Not to mention Lydia the successful business woman. Not to mention Peter.

These people connected their personal ambition to God's ambitions. And they did so honestly. It wasn't a matter of hoodwinking God. So much of the so-called prosperity gospel seems like a hood wink. You scratch my back, God; I'll scratch yours. You build my kingdom, I help build yours. As if God needs us to scratch his back or build his Kingdom.

No. He doesn't need us. He graciously lets us be part of the exciting work that he is already doing in the world. And when we are part of his work, our organizations and institutions and families and friendship are part his work too.

We can honestly seek God's will as we make leadership decisions. Inside Work talks about this in their post "Plans, Predictions and New Year's Resolutions." Dan Wooldridge says,

The state of the art in business thinking and personal development thinking tells us to begin with the end in mind, to be clear about our vision and goals first, and then build plans and capabilities for achieving them. Seek the vision, the plan first. But these scriptures tell us to NOT seek the plan, the vision, the formula first, but to seek the Planner, the One who has a vision for our lives.

What does it mean to let our ambitions be guided by God's ambitions? I think it is really quite simple. We seek to know God--not as a plan, not as a divine business coach, but as Himself. God. Father. Son. Spirit. Creator. I am. The bread of life.

We love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And of course, we love our neighbors, customers, coworkers, clients, patients, students, friends, enemies, and families as ourselves.

Other than that, I believe there is a lot of freedom. So Bradley, knock profits out of the ball park this year at your company. Gordon and LL and others, sell thousands of copies of your new books Turtles All the Way Down and InsideOut this year.

I have no shame in promoting people. If we're going to do something, we ought to do it to the best of our ability! Often this will translate into a kind of success that the world recognizes--larger profits, larger companies, more book sales. It won't always. And that is okay too. But in the long run, I really believe the wisdom of Howard Butt, Sr.: "He who serves best, profits most."

Let me end with two simple questions.

What are your ambitions? What do you really want to do in the world?