How Much is Enough?

By Keith Miller | April 12, 2010

Dear Keith, how much ambition is normal?  I have been raised always to be ambitious, to use my talents and abilities to the max and “make something of myself.”  But recently someone told me I am focusing too much on getting ahead, and that I’m an overachiever—maybe to the point of being self-destructive.  If ambition is normal sometimes, when does it become excessive?

I think that a certain amount of “ambition” is necessary to get anything done beyond a mere survival level of existence.  Jesus evidenced considerable ambition to do God’s will as perfectly as He could—sometimes paying a great price to do so.  So did Paul.  Dr. Rollo May, a very perceptive psychologist in the 20th century, said that normal ambition “proceeds from strength, is a natural function of the living being, and is not necessarily anti-social.”

But “normal ambition” becomes excessive and, in my opinion, sinful, when it satisfies itself through controlling, or climbing over, other people, shaming them, or when it is directed toward evil ends.  In other words, I think it is natural and Christian to want to accomplish things as long as those things are not (1) bad things for the person as a follower of Christ. (I.e. As long as the goals are not counter to the purposes of God as Jesus revealed them), and (2) as long as the means one uses to accomplish them are not deceptive or destructive to other people.

And for me as a serious follower of Christ, “Ambition” is particularly dangerous, because it is so easy for me to hide the fact from myself that my ambition is often to accomplish things that will make me look good, smart, and exceptional—even when the things I am doing are helping other people.  The reason this is particularly difficult is because all motives are mixed, so I must always have the courage to risk being selfish and trust God and my fellow Christians to keep my eyes—and ambitions—focused on God’s will.

Dear Lord, guide me in my daily life and work so that I remember that loving you, and others (as well as myself) is more important than whatever I may achieve or acquire.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

James 3: 12-14, The Message

30-33“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Mt 6:30-33

46-48They started arguing over which of them would be most famous. When Jesus realized how much this mattered to them, he brought a child to his side. “Whoever accepts this child as if the child were me, accepts me,” he said. “And whoever accepts me, accepts the One who sent me. You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference.”

Luke 9:46-48, The Message

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on How Much is Enough?
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The Edge of Adventure (course) gave me the nudge I needed to remember that sometimes we just need to give ourselves completely to God and let Him do the rest.
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