The following post was first published on YouVersion by Jordan Raynor, author of the national bestselling book for faith driven entrepreneurs, Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk.
All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. Proverbs 16:2
As Christians, is it possible to be ambitious in our work and still have our self-worth and identity firmly rooted in Jesus Christ?
The world tells us that ambition is essential to accumulating wealth, fame, and glory for ourselves. The meta-narrative of work today is that it is the primary means by which we make a name for ourselves in this life and prove to the world that we are important, valuable, and worthy.
Of course, this is nothing new. Since the Fall, human beings have been using work to make a name for themselves, rather than to glorify God and serve others.
Take the Babylonians as an example. In Genesis 11 we read the account of these ancient entrepreneurs discovering the incredible technical innovation of brick making. With the invention of the brick making process, the Babylonians could build better homes, roads, and cities—all wonderful things; but driven by pride, the Babylonians’ ambition wasn’t to glorify God through their work. Their ambition was to make a name for themselves. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). And if there was ever a question as to whether or not our motives matter to the Lord, the rest of the passage provides the answer. “The Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8).
Creating a tower, a new business, a piece of art, or a piece of music is not inherently bad. Our cultural creations can and do reveal God’s character and love and serve others. But when we create something out of a motivation to make a name for ourselves, we are attempting to rob God of the glory that is rightfully His.
While Scripture makes clear that creating to make a name for ourselves constitutes improper ambition, the Bible makes equally clear that ambition can indeed be God-honoring, so long as it flows out of a response to the work Christ did on our behalf on the cross. That is the subject we will turn to in tomorrow’s devotional.
Why We Work
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
As we saw in Genesis 11, the Babylonians were driven by improper ambition to create a tower that would reach the heavens and make a name for themselves, a temptation that still plagues humankind today. When we create out of a desire to make a name for ourselves, or, to put it in more modern terms, to accumulate fame and fortune, we are essentially trying to save ourselves.
When the Babylonians invented the art of brick making, they weren’t content simply putting that innovation to work to build better roads and homes. They had to leverage their creation to make a name for themselves. Why? What is it about the human condition that causes us to use our work as a tool for proving something to the world? Deep down, all human beings know there is something wrong with us. We know we are flawed. We know we aren’t “right.” Deep down, we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Ever since Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden, we have been trying to cover up these flaws, not with fig leafs, but with our accomplishments. We think that if we write a bestselling book, or sell a business for millions of dollars, or sign a record deal, or get 100,000 Instagram followers, or build the world’s tallest tower, then we’ll be able to mask our sinful human condition. Essentially, we use work as a means of saving ourselves.
But as Christians, we know that the work of salvation is complete! Because Jesus said, “It is finished,” we no longer have to use our work as a means of saving ourselves. What incredible freedom we will experience when we let that truth really sink into our hearts! Because of the gospel, we are free to work and create not as a means of making a name for ourselves, but as an act of worship to the One who made us, saved us, and called us to create. As we will see in tomorrow’s devotional, this truth replaces our improper ambition with proper ambition that flows out of a love for Christ and a desire to make His name famous throughout this earth and the next.
“Lift up your eyes round about and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, And your daughters will be carried in the arms. “Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you. “A multitude of camels will cover you, The young camels of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba will come; They will bring gold and frankincense, And will bear good news of the praises of the Lord. “All the flocks of Kedar will be gathered together to you, The rams of Nebaioth will minister to you; They will go up with acceptance on My altar, And I shall glorify My glorious house. “Who are these who fly like a cloud And like the doves to their lattices? “Surely the coastlands will wait for Me; And the ships of Tarshish will come first, To bring your sons from afar, Their silver and their gold with them, For the name of the Lord your God, And for the Holy One of Israel because He has glorified you. “Foreigners will build up your walls, And their kings will minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, And in My favor I have had compassion on you. “Your gates will be open continually; They will not be closed day or night, So that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, With their kings led in procession. “For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish, And the nations will be utterly ruined. “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, The juniper, the box tree and the cypress together, To beautify the place of My sanctuary; And I shall make the place of My feet glorious. “The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 60:1-14
We have been digging into the story of the Tower of Babel as a case study in improper ambition, using our work as a means of making a name for ourselves. In response to the Babylonians attempted glory-robbing, God “scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8). To God, the motives behind our ambition obviously matter a great deal.
But we have still yet to answer the question that started this post: As Christians, is it possible to be ambitious in our work and still have our self-worth and identity firmly rooted in Jesus Christ? In other words, what does proper ambition look like as we create?
The above passage from Isaiah 60:1-14 provides a beautiful answer to those questions. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah is pointing us to a picture of the reversal of the events that transpired at the Tower of Babel. Rather than the people being scattered out of the city to the ends of the earth, Isaiah shows us a picture of all the nations coming back together into “the City of the Lord.” This isn’t Babel. This is a glimpse of the New Jerusalem on the New Earth.
But here’s what’s most fascinating about this glimpse of our eternal home: While the Babylonians were scattered throughout the earth because of their desire to create to make a name for themselves, Isaiah shows us people from around the world entering the New Jerusalem with cultural artifacts in hand. The people of Tarshish bring their ships, Midian and Ephah bring their livestock, Sheba brings gold and frankincense. “The wealth of the nations,” the best creations of the nations, are being brought into the eternal city to glorify the One who called the people to create. Unlike in Babel, the people are not using their creations to glorify themselves, they are laying their creations down as an offering of worship to God.
Scripture commands us to “work...with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23). We are called to be ambitious, to work hard, and to be good stewards of the talents God has given us. But we are called to do these things not for our own glory, but to “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When our work is motivated by a desire to glorify God, serve others, and create something that may be considered “the wealth of the nations,” laid down as an offering to God, then we have proper ambition to create with everything we’ve got.