The Psalm That Keeps Your Ambition in Check

There is a godly kind of ambition.

This is the kind of ambition that makes us press on toward godliness; to grow ever deeper in our knowledge and experience of the gospel; to want to maximize our resources for the sake of the kingdom. This is the kind of ambition that embodies the Christian who has a watchful kind of posture, knowing that Jesus is coming back, and that we are to make the most of who we are in Christ and what we are stewarding for His sake.

Yes, there is a godly kind of ambition. But my goodness, how difficult it is to live in.

That’s because there is also a worldly kind of ambition. This is the never-ending pursuit of “more” and “else,” never satisfied or content with our station in life. More power. More money. More recognition. This is the heart that has no room for gratitude, no room for real joy, no room for godly satisfaction. They’ve all been squeezed out by the cultural lie that has become virtue – that ladder-climbing, in whatever arena you’re in, is not only right but is also good.

It’s infectious, this ambition. And what’s worse, we find ourselves not only infected by it, but carriers of it. We pass it off to our co-workers as we jockey back and forth for position. We pass it off to our children as we demand more touchdowns, more A’s in math class, more invitations to more parties. It’s a self-perpetuating disease that runs rampant through materialism, posturing online, and jealousy masquerading as “friendly competition.” We would do wise to recognize just how prevalent this corrupted kind of ambition truly is. And that’s why we need – we need – Psalm 131:

Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
too great or too wondrous for me.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like a weaned child.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
both now and forever (Psalm 131).

The song cuts right to the chase. Let’s call ambition what it is. Pride. Haughtiness. Biting off the things that are too big for our souls to handle. But thankfully, the psalm also offers us a better way. For the psalmist, the way you combat corrupted ambition is through the gospel.

The imagery presented here is of a child and a parent. Surely, if you’re a parent, you can remember those days. The days when home was a safe place. When your children were free from self-consciousness and anxiety. When they were (at least sometimes) content with the smallest things, and especially so when they were with you. Their father. Their mother.

For they knew without even knowing they knew that they were loved. Accepted. Safe. And because they were, they had no compulsion to validate themselves or prove their worth.

But now we are adults. We’ve had all that innocence beaten out of us by failed relationships, career disappointments, and subtle betrayals. And yet there is a way back. And the way back is through the gospel.

For it’s only through the gospel that we truly have a Father that accepts us, not because we have validated ourselves to Him, but because of the righteousness of Jesus. The security that comes in that kind of relationship is the antidote to ambition because in the arms of our Father we can know beyond any doubt that we have nothing left to prove.

We are His. We are home. We are safe.

Embrace it again today, Christian. Remember who you are. And let that memory temper the ungodly desire for “more.”

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