Years ago, when I first stepped into ministry, it was a very heady experience. I enjoyed the approval of those around me and received praise from my peers. Like a strong intoxicant, I began to crave it more and more – so much so that I found myself in emotional withdrawals if I didn’t get my “fix.” I wanted to be the next great voice for the Kingdom of Christ – not because of Jesus, but because of personal ambition.
You see, I failed to understand what Paul meant when he said: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10, NIV).
It’s that last statement that gripped me: “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I wanted those around me to think well of me, to approve of me. I wanted to be admired by men and this led me down a path where I no longer served the Lord Christ but my own ambition. However, I didn’t see it that way.
I looked upon what I did as advancing the cause of Christ. If I could become well-known, if I could be great in the eyes of men and be accepted as an influential voice, then I could REALLY serve the Lord. I transposed faith with ambition and deceived myself into believing my life was pursuing Christ. It didn’t work. And, let me tell you, the humbling power of God was on the way.
If you are a born-again believer in Jesus, and you have confused faith with selfish ambition, rest assured that God will humble you. Peter reiterates this, saying: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5b, NIV). I won’t go into the details of how God humbled me because it will be different for everyone. Suffice it to say, it works.
As I look back, now, on the vanity and pride during the early days of my service to Jesus, I wonder how God could ever have chosen such an arrogant, self-serving person like me. I have learned what Paul meant in the text above. Personal ambition is no substitute for faith. True faith seeks the will of God and the delight of the Savior. True faith is satisfied when service is rendered, even when no applause are forthcoming. And, true faith does not seek to please men but to please God.
In the Gospel of John 5:44 (NIV), the Lord Jesus said this: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” The answer is: you can’t.
Let me conclude from the book of James: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16, NIV).