“The undisciplined ambition for self lives on until we develop a relationship with God that can quiet the storm…This self-seeking will continue as long as our relationship with God is dissatisfying…We need to deal with our unfinished business so we can find contentment in God and allow those around us to experience it as well.”
-Russ Ewell, When God Isn’t Attractive
Ambition might as well be the slogan for the Bay Area. We have created an incredible world of technology, advancement, and innovation in the Bay. It seems as if every couple of blocks a new start-up is developing, with many becoming successful ventures. Some of the best colleges in the world are located here, and much of the world looks to us for the next breakthrough. With all of this incredible progress and ingenuity flowing from the heart of the Bay, it is easy to get caught up in the mentality of becoming selfishly ambitious. In this environment crowded with opinions and individuality, there often isn’t much room for seeing our need for God or others.
A curse is placed on those who trust other people, who depend on humans for strength, who have stopped trusting the Lord. They are like a bush in a desert that grows in a land where no one lives, a hot and dry land with bad soil. They don’t know about the good things God can give.
-Jeremiah 17:5-6 NCV
God’s Message: “Cursed is the strong one who depends on mere humans, Who thinks he can make it on muscle alone and sets God aside as dead weight. He’s like a tumbleweed on the prairie, out of touch with the good earth. He lives rootless and aimless in a land where nothing grows.”
-Jeremiah 17:5-6 MSG
The Bible gives us a snapshot of what our lives look like when we rely on human strength and ambition. These versions of Jeremiah 17 describe us as a bush in a desert or a tumbleweed on the prairie — though independent, we feel completely alone. We end up aimless, constantly searching for the next thing to satisfy us but always coming up short. With this incessant desire to find the next thing to meet our needs, we never actually see the good things God is doing in our lives. When I’m in this mindset, I could have everything going for me. I could have my dream career and be surrounded by lots of friends, but still feel empty and discontented. I become bitter, wishing I could be more, do more, and have more. But this only does so much.
Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
1 John 2:15-17 MSG
When our only goal is to be successful, get everything we want, or be better than the people around us, we will only end up isolated from the very things that will actually make us happy. Success doesn’t last forever. What we want will change. Someone will always be better than us. The abilities or talents we take so much pride in today will someday fade.
It isn’t bad to be talented or successful. But when we let these things define our very identities and lives, we will never be truly satisfied or secure.
But the person who trusts in the Lord will be blessed. The Lord will show him that he can be trusted. He will be strong, like a tree planted near water that sends its roots by a stream. It is not afraid when the days are hot; its leaves are always green. It does not worry in a year when no rain comes; it always produces fruit.
-Jeremiah 17:6-8 NCV
When we rely on and trust God rather than our own strength or achievements, we become strong no matter where we are in life. Whether we succeed or fail, we can still be content and confident because we don’t get our happiness from circumstantial achievements. When we depend on God for strength and happiness, we free ourselves up to not only think about how we can be better, but also about how we can help others succeed.
Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
-Philippians 2:3-4 MSG
When we get our confidence from God, we are able to put ourselves aside to help other people get ahead. Though our successes and talents may fade away, the ability to make others better never will. Only when we forget ourselves long enough to notice those who may need a helping hand will we achieve true happiness.
What are you basing your security on right now? Your own ambition and talents? Or in God? Who in your life needs you to forget yourself long enough to help them become better?
To learn more about how to become truly satisfied, read chapter 5, “When Emotions Become God: Increasing Our Emotional Awareness,” in Russ Ewell’s book, When God Isn’t Attractive.