Is It Okay to Have Ambition?


Ambition can be as simple as a specific goal, or it can be a broader desire for success or fame. But what does the Bible say about ambition? Erin Davis explains.

Note: I asked the readers of a blog to finish this sentence “Is it okay to . . .?” Many readers wrote in with deep questions about what’s okay (and what’s not) for girls who love Jesus. As I read the comments, I picked up on a theme. See if you can figure it out from the comments of real readers below.

            “Is it okay that I want to be rich as long as I have good intentions?” –Anna
            “Is it okay for Christians to want to be an actress? That’s my dream, and I want it so badly.” –Kiley
            “Is it okay to have a career plan?” –Lindsay
            “Is it okay for Christians to have their own plans for their lives?” –Kathryn

These are just a few of the comments from girls who were really asking one big question . . .

Is it okay to have ambition?

Ambition can be as simple as a specific goal, or it can be a broader desire for success or fame. Ambition is highly valued in our culture. Those who set goals and do what it takes to achieve them are our national heroes. They win trophies, hold high offices, and get their pictures on the covers of magazines. But what does the Bible say about ambition? Let’s dig in together and find out.

God Has a Plan for You

Jeremiah 29:11 says,

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
God has a plan for you!

Let that sit for a minute. Marinate in it. God doesn’t see your question as a giant question mark. He isn’t just gonna throw a dart to decide your fate. He has a plan—for you.

It’s possible that your dreams are a part of that plan. Psalm 37:4 says,“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

If you’re like me, it’s easy to miss the point of this verse. We think it means if we love God He will grant us wishes, kinda like a cosmic genie. “I love you Lord, so you’re gonna give me the job of my dreams, right?” But I’m pretty sure that’s not the heartbeat of this verse. Instead, I think that when we delight in God, when we really and truly find our satisfaction in Him, He changes our desires to better match His desires.

It is possible that passion for acting, or for writing, or for children, or for a certain region of the world that burns like a hot coal in your heart is a desire that God has given you. As you wrestle with your own ambitions start asking the Lord, “Are these ambitions from You?”

Say “No” to Selfish Ambition

Philippians 2:3 says,

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

There’s a difference between ambition and selfish ambition. Is the Bible anti-goal setting? No way! Does God get mad if you make a plan for your life? I don’t think so. But God is always, always most concerned about the motivations of our hearts.

As you make plans for your future, who is your primary concern? Here are some questions to help you identify your motivation:

            Do I want to make money in order to live a comfortable life or in order to give generously to others?
            Do I use my success to champion others or to grab attention for myself?
            Am I okay with sharing the limelight, or do I want it all for myself?
            Am I willing to listen to wise guidance when planning my future, or am I determined to do what I want not matter what others think?

As you set goals for your future, ask God, “Is this rooted in selfishness?”

Goal #1: Please God

Have you ever heard people say that they’re living their lives for “an audience of one”? It’s kind of a cheesy saying, but it’s rooted in biblical truth. Second Corinthians 5:9 says,

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

No matter where we go, where we live, what kind of job we have . . . we should make it our goal to please Jesus.

Grab a sheet of paper and a pen. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here.
On the left side of your paper write down your goals. Do you want to go to college? Get married? Start a family? Have a certain career? Write it all down. Then, search the Bible for answers to this question for each goal . . .

“Does this please God?”

Some answers may be obvious. Others might not. That’s okay. Remember that we learned at the beginning of this series that discernment (that’s a fancy word for seeing a situation clearly) takes practice according to Hebrews 5:14. Ask God to clearly show you if your plans are pleasing to Him.

Live Open-Handed

In Genesis 22:2–14, God asked Abraham to lay his only son on a fiery altar. But the sacrifice was bigger than that. Isaac was Abraham’s dream come true. He was what his daddy had been wishing for for decades. He was also Abraham’s plan for the future. All of Abraham’s prospects for the future of his wealth and family were in that basket.

And God asked Abraham to give it up.

In this way, Abraham’s story is not unique. The Bible is full of this same narrative. Moses’ goal was to tend sheep in the dessert when God showed up and totally rewrote his ten-year plan. Many of the disciples planned to spend their lives in a fishing boat before Jesus interrupted their lives with a call to sold-out discipleship. Mary planned to marry a nice boy and settle down until an angel showed up with a new plan for her future. She shows us how to respond when our own plans go haywire . . .

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled'” (Luke 1:38).

Set goals. Make a plan. But hold it all loosely. Leave room for God to interrupt your ambition with a change of course for His glory and your good.

Written by Erin Davis

Encouragement for Young Dreamers
Cynthia Giles
Be Who God Created You to Be
Shauna Niequist
Five Things to Do While You Wait
Pastor Rick Warren
The Purpose Test
Robert Morris
What I Wish I Would've Known Yesterday
Emily Manke
Follow Us

Want to access more exclusive iDisciple content?

Upgrade to a Giving Membership today!

Already a member? Login to iDisciple