Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fighting Selfish Ambition

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18 ESV)

Like anyone who has followed Jesus for a while, I am keenly aware of just how far He's brought me. I can recount a number of areas where I am just not the same person, thanks to His transformational power to deliver me.

Undoubtedly, though, the most powerful area of deliverance I've experienced is in the area of selfish ambition. I grew up in a Christian home but while church was part of my life, and I even read my Bible on occasion to meet a checkbox requirement for Sunday School, I don’t remember ever truly loving Jesus.  What I do remember most is how much I thought of myself, how competitive I was, how full of selfish ambition. Undoubtedly, I was on the throne of my life. At my high school graduation I was proud and eager to enter a world I was sure that I would conquer. I intended to win the Pulitzer Prize by the time I was 30 and have my name known. To make sure of that I went to a school where I could be a big fish in a little pond – and all that time, I considered myself a Christian.

God has a way of getting our attention, though, and for me the next seven years were painful, dark years with one silver lining: I came to the end of myself. By age 25 rather than feeling proud, I was miserable and ashamed. I finally found something I wanted more than that Pulitzer Prize: A fresh start. I wanted to live a life without the regrets that constantly whispered in my ear.

About that time I married my sweet husband, and God began to do a work in me by prompting me to seek Him for wisdom on how to build a good marriage. Then, God brought across my path an in-depth, verse by verse study of Romans. This study is designed to take two full years, but I blew through it in somewhere around 10 months. We also started attended a church regularly, and got involved in a Sunday School class. God began blowing my mind with His Word. He showed me through Romans 1-3 that I was a sinner, despite my belief that I was a Christian. Then Romans 4-5 showed me what it means to be saved, and I cried through Romans 6-8 to realize that He does the sanctifying work in my life. You see, I had somehow absorbed the false message that we are saved by grace but after that were on our own. I already knew I couldn’t trust myself, so I was feeling pretty hopeless until those chapters. Sometime in 1997, somewhere between Romans 1 and Romans 8, I quit religion and started trusting in Jesus for my salvation. I realized that I had to trust totally and completely in His finished work on the cross for every aspect of my faith.

Ever so slowly, He began to transform my mind and my actions. I was so confused by what was me and what was Him that I would literally write out Scriptures such as Galatians 5 and make a chart – these are deeds of flesh, these are fruit of Spirit. I learned to look at that and ask Him to help me to do the things on the right (the Spirit) not the things on the left. For years that Scripture hung by the sink. For some reason I had lots of fleshly thoughts when I did the dishes :)

He has so completely transformed me, I cannot even put it into words. Pretty much everything about me is opposite of how I used to be. One of the biggest areas is that selfish ambition I told you about. See, when I got saved that didn’t leave me overnight. There were lots of sins that did – things I never once struggled with again – but that one hung around. I just Christianized it and decided that I was going to be a famous speaker. HA. God patiently kept teaching me, showing me more of Himself and His Word, revealing the gifts He’s given me and the call He has on my life. 

Soon, God used the crucible of parenting and caregiving to purify me, refining that selfish ambition out of my life, making me know how to recognize it when it rears its ugly head. For a season, God called me to lay down all ministry to focus on the needs of my step-daughter and my mother-in-law. My earlier goals seemed so far behind me, yet something in me still struggled. I knew I was being obedient, but I felt so obscure. 

At some point near the end of my mother-in-law's life, I was studying the life of John the Apostle. We see John first as a “Son of Thunder”, one of Jesus’ inner circle, with a desire for recognition in Jesus’ kingdom. He was the closest one to Jesus, and was charged to take care of Mary after Jesus left. We see John busy in the early chapters of Acts – preaching, being thrown in jail, healing a man at the Gate called Beautiful – but then he disappears from the scene. We don’t know much until his writings appear, after all the other apostles were dead. We can assume he was active in the Jerusalem church (where Mary was based) because he became a bishop over Ephesus. But other than serving his church and taking care of Jesus’ mother, John remained relatively obscure for decades. That spoke to me deeply, and sitting in my mother-in-law’s house watching over her one day, I penned these words:

Lessons from Obscurity
I asked You to give me something to do for Your glory, something grand and magnificent.
You gave me a wounded child and said "Believe".

I asked You for more, for a grander task.
You gave me a husband with dreams and said "Hope".
I wanted to reach even higher and sought a broader place to serve.
You gave me a sick mother-in-law and said "Love".
The bigger the vision you have given me for the world
The more you remind me that faith, hope, and love begin at home.
I have the faith to do big things for You.
Do I have the faith to be obscure?
Today, I am a transformed women. I am learning to live for His glory and His purpose and not my own selfish ambition. I am learning to trust Him with my future. That young, proud girl with selfish ambitions of winning a Pulitzer has become a woman at 44 who truly, honestly has no 5 year plan. I don’t even have a one year plan. I have learned enough to know that I want my words to fall to the ground and His words remain. 

The apostle Paul realized that selfish ambition temptations don't go away when we come to know Jesus. He wrote to the church at Philippi:
Philippians 2:3 ESV  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
That's my deepest desire for this blog - that, as public as it is, it won't be a place for selfish ambition. I want to encourage and "stir up" other believers toward a kingdom mindset, toward being world Christians. Over the years, the purpose for this blog has shifted. Initially started to encourage missionaries, this blog for one year hosted a daily prayer through Operation World (found in the 2012 Archives) and most recently a series on persecution (found in the 2013 archive). For this season, I'm really not sure what the blog will look like. I just know that I don't want selfish ambition to drive my posts. Wherever it's going, I look forward to the journey - a journey that won't end until the throne room.

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