Book Review: Rescuing Ambition

“Rescuing Ambition” by Dave Harvey

Have you ever been described as “ambitious”? If so, was it intended as a compliment or a criticism? Is ambition a trait that Christians ought to desire?

Ambition is certainly a topic not often addressed by Christian authors and pastors (Dave Harvey is both). As the book reminds us, this is a word that frequently has a negative connotation for Christians… but should it be that way? The author thinks not.

The problem, Harvey says, is that we have failed to separate “ambition” from “selfish ambition”. Ambition, like many other things that drive us (money, sex, etc), is not inherently bad, but it is very prone to being twisted toward selfish, sinful uses. Ambition, simply defined, is merely “a quest for glory”. As this book contends, then, we were created for ambition, because we were created to be glory-seekers! The problem is not that we seek glory, but that we so often seek our own glory, rather than seeking God’s glory.

The goal of Rescuing Ambition is to do just that: to rescue this God-given drive to pursue His glory from our own vain attempts to glorify ourselves. The world certainly does not make this easy, as our entire culture is geared toward glorifying — being ambitious for — things other than God. Unfortunately, Christians tend to react in one of two ways: We either conform to this worldy culture of selfish ambition, or we seek to crush ambition itself. This results in either pride or passivity.

So Harvey takes readers on a journey through Scripture, and through the personal experiences of many ambitious and godly Christians, to give a holistic concept of godly ambition that is attainable (and in fact commanded) for every Christian. The book moves from the conceptual to the specific, showing us exactly why God created ambition, how it was corrupted, and what we must do to rescue it — both for ourselves and for others.

The path toward ambition’s rescue is not an easy one. It requires the courage to take risks, and will inevitably result in some spectacular failures. When we are ambitious for God’s glory, our ambition will lead us out of our comfort zones and into the muck and mire of a broken world, building relationships with broken people. However, this ambition, rightly understood, brings with it the promise of several rewards, both earthly and eternal. In fact, “Godly ambition has reward in mind at all times.”

The secret to rescuing ambition lies in it’s paradoxical path. To become great, we must become small. To live, we must die. To be first, we must be last. This is the opposite of what the world thinks ambition should look like, but it is what the Bible tells us is the key to our eternal joy. When we surrender our pursuit of our own desires, and instead devote ourselves to exalting Christ, we place our futures safely in the hands of the One whose desire is not only perfect, but is for our own well-being!

The result of this kind of ambition is a supernatural contentment in every circumstance. Sometimes we will receive earthly blessings, other times we will face earthly hardships. Take a look, for instance, at this passage from Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith”:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. ~ Hebrews 11:32-38

The passage goes on to say that NONE of these — neither the ones who “became mighty” nor the ones who were “destitute and afflicted” — received their promised reward in this life, but ALL received the inheritance of “something better”, which God made available through Jesus Christ. Like these faithful saints of old, and like the apostle Paul, we must learn contentment in every situation. Whether God brings us low, or brings us abundance, we must rely on God’s strength to keep our contentment (and our ambition) rooted in the eternal promises of God, rather than on the things this world offers us (Philippians 4:11-13).

Lastly, Harvey’s book shows us that our ambition must be directed toward and expressed through the Church. We are not only to seek God’s glory on our own, but to work together with Christ’s body to magnify the Lord corporately and cooperatively. God has ordained that we are to pursue Him as part of a community of believers. We must be as committed to Christians as we are to Christ himself, serving and worshiping together within a local church body. We must also perpetuate this godly ambition in the Church by “paying it forward”. Our ambition for God’s glory must extend beyond our own lives as we grab hold of the Church’s mandate to disciple and train leaders, raising up future generations to follow and pursue God.

Rescuing Ambition is a much-needed book for Christians today, and for myself specifically. It has been one of the most personally helpful and edifying books I’ve read in a long time, and I commend it to you wholeheartedly! Buy it here.

And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel” ~ Paul, in Romans 15:20

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