Ambition needs to be rescued and put to work for God's glory. This book will encourage and embolden believers to pursue their dreams with a godly ambition that seeks more for God and from God.
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About the Author
Dave Harvey (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the president of Great Commission Collective, a church-planting ministry. Dave pastored for thirty-three years, founded AmICalled.com, and travels widely across networks and denominations as a popular conference speaker. He is the author of When Sinners Say “I Do”; I Still Do!; Am I Called?; Rescuing Ambition; and coauthor of Letting Go. Dave and his wife, Kimm, live in southwest Florida. He also writes at RevDaveHarvey.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.
C. J. Mahaney is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He has written, edited and contributed to numerous books, including Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology; Don't Waste Your Sports; and Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God. C. J. and his wife, Carolyn, are the parents of three married daughters and one son, and the happy grandparents to twelve grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
WE ARE WIRED FOR GLORY
Along the River Wye in Wales, there's a little market town known as Hayon-Wye. This quaint village has earned an international reputation for its rather unusual trade — buying and selling used books. With more than thirty used bookstores within a square mile (one occupying an entire castle), this place embodies storybook charm.
My friend Pete, an Irish Englishman living in Wales, frequented the town and its bookshops for years. He arrived each time with a single goal: to excavate the theology sections and unearth an original copy of Lectures to My Students by the great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon. But Pete wouldn't settle for just any original copy; he wanted one signed by Spurgeon's wife, Susannah.
What's with the signature? This remarkable woman was bedridden for much of her marriage but somehow managed to start a ministry called the Book Fund. Seeking to serve her husband and their church in the cause of the gospel, Susannah provided free copies of Spurgeon's books to pastors all over the world. Before they went out, she typically personalized them with her own signature.
Pete figured a few of these copies had endured a century of use and would eventually turn up in Hay-on-Wye. The keys to their discovery, he told me, were patience, perseverance, and a keen eye. This guy was like Indiana Jones on a used book safari.
On a visit with Pete to Hay-on-Wye, I stood in the theology section of a bookshop as my friend recounted his quest to find his treasure. As a first-timer to this Holy Land of Used Books, I was just honored to make the pilgrimage. I was also impressed with Pete's dedication. To search for an original-edition Spurgeon book is a true measure of theological devotion. But to return to Hay-on-Wye time and time again to rescue a book with a symbolic signature makes its own statement. Here was someone willing to pursue a valued prize with uncommon devotion.
There among the shelves, as Pete chronicled his tale of miles traveled and hours logged in his still-fruitless search for Susannah, my vision focused on a book perched on the shelf behind his shoulder. Slipping his gaze for a second, I squinted at the title. Sure enough, staring back at me was a dusty copy of Lectures to My Students. I reached over his shoulder and pulled the book from the shelf. Without interrupting Pete's continuing narration, I flipped open the worn cover and glanced down.
You guessed it. In the rookie hands of this Hay-on-Wye greenhorn was an original copy of Lectures to My Students signed by Susannah Spurgeon. A smile crept across my face. Oh boy, this was gonna be good.
One of my greatest privileges in ministry is working with churches in the United Kingdom. But these mates describe Americans as a bunch of illiterates who sack the English language like a lordless fiefdom. Since I don't know what a lordless fiefdom is, I usually just smile and nod. But right then I knew one thing: in less than sixty seconds I had nabbed this treasure for which my well-versed Irish-English-Welsh friend had spent years searching.
While Pete kept talking, I held out the opened cover and said with my best Philadelphian Shakespeare, "Yo, dude, is this what you're looking for?"
Score one for the Yanks.
We Chase What We Love
What's stayed with me most about that experience was not the astounded look on Pete's face, nor the smile as it dawned on him that the treasure was finally in his hands, but the quest itself. Pete wasn't just looking for an old book to add to his collection. He wanted to rescue something that had value beyond appearance, value that connected it to something that mattered to him in a deeply personal way.
Pete's story points to something fundamental about each of us. We're pursuers — we go after things we value.
What is it for you? Think about what you value. Maybe you can rattle off your priorities like a shopping list — God, marriage, family, work, peace — these often top the charts. But do they actually define how you live? Or are there some bottom-dweller items on the list that actually get headliner attention?
We're pursuers — we go after things we value. What is it for you?
If you're not sure, look at how you spend your time, your money. Consider what you think about, where your mind drifts, what you notice and ponder. When all is said and done, what we actually go after is what truly matters to us.
Motown captured it in "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." If we love it ... no wind, no rain, no winter's cold can stop us. That's just another way to say we all chase what we love. It's something in the way we're wired. Be it books, Broadway, or Botox, we pursue what we value. And what does all of this have to do with Brits in bookstores or pursuing what we value? Good question. Keep reading.
Recognizing this impulse isn't a big deal. The trick is getting a handle on how deep it runs and how much it determines what we do. This impulse is so big, it can determine how we respond to Jesus himself.
A Story of Glory
John 12 gives us a window into how this human hardwiring works — this impulse to pursue what we value. After Jesus arrives for the final time in Jerusalem, the scene that quickly unfolds is pivotal in the drama of redemption. He's the center of attention — everybody's attention.
In the middle of it all, Jesus prays, "Father, glorify your name." Immediately a response booms out. "Then a voice came from heaven: 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again'" (v. 28).
A voice from heaven! When was the last time you heard someone's prayers get answered at once with the audible voice of God?
One would expect this episode would permanently turn all the bystanders into Christ's followers, right?
John goes on to tell us something shocking: "Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him" (v. 37). Surprised to hear that people could be with him — and hear God speak to him — and still not believe? It gets worse. There were others who did believe, yet still wouldn't follow. "Many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it" (v. 42).
Let's track this: they listened to him, they believed in him — but they wouldn't say so publicly.
How come? What was so important that they could look straight at the Son of God and turn away?
John says it was "for fear of the Pharisees." After all, these so-called believers were "authorities" in the Jewish community, which meant their jobs and reputations were tied to synagogue life — and the Pharisees could put them out of the synagogue. To be bounced from the synagogue meant you could kiss your position and your income good-bye. That's pretty serious.
Before we judge them too severely, though, think about whether your own conversion carried any fear of reprisals. My decision to follow Jesus was a response to an altar call — several, actually. The possibility of being expelled from my neighborhood was inconceivable, although there were certainly incidents at school where expulsion seemed possible. If the fear those Jerusalem authorities felt was anything like mine during those episodes, I'm sure they were freaked out.
But here's the grabber. In the very next sentence God restrains our instinctive sympathy for these guys by flipping the light on their true motives. Why the hypocrisy? Was it something they feared? Yes, at first glance.
But deep inside it was really something they loved.
"They loved the glory that comes from man," John writes, "more than the glory that comes from God" (v. 43).
Glory. They craved it. They were addicted to it. Their drive was so powerful, it diverted them from the Son of God himself.
We're Glory Chasers
John is offering us amazing insight into the way we tick: we love glory. We were created to look for it and to love it when we find it.
A lot of glory is being promised and delivered in this section of Scripture. The idea of glory occurs at least seven times in John 12. Glory also remains a significant theme for the remainder of John's Gospel. John wants us to understand that everyone in this scene, including Jesus himself, is pursuing something — and that something is glory.
What is glory? The New Testament word — doxa — speaks of worth and dignity and weight. It's most often applied to God but also includes man. Glory is about radiance and splendor. But glory isn't just an attribute; it exists to be seen and recognized. It's about reputation, esteem, standing, honor. At its core, glory is about inherent value that's recognizable to others. It draws attention. Like a magnet, the value of glory attracts us.
The Bible presents us with a God who is glorious in himself (Ex. 33:18–22; Isa. 42:8; 48:11; 60:1–2; Rev. 21:23) and whose glory is recognized and acknowledged (Ex. 15:6; Ps. 66:2; 76:4; 145:5). In a profound sense, this glorious God created the cosmos to display his glory, his worth, his value.
To whom? To a special creature who could take it in, make some sense of it, and rejoice over the worth of his Creator — to us! That's what the Bible means when it calls us to glorify God. We can't make him something he already is — glorious. But we can recognize the glory that radiates from him, value it properly, and give God his due.
That's why we were created. The Westminster Divines understood this. "Man's chief end," they said, is tied to our glory instinct; it's "to glorify God and enjoy him forever."
You've probably heard of storm chasers. They're people who dedicate their lives to running after storms, even at great risk to themselves. If a tornado is barreling down on some Midwestern town, these lunatics are speeding up the road to catch it. They're in pursuit of this spectacular force of nature.
Maybe you don't chase tornadoes, but we're all born glory chasers. Glory moments stir us. Think about what prompts your elation. Your favorite team wins the championship. You read about a blind man climbing Mount Everest. You watch an Olympic gymnast dismounting flawlessly to grab the gold. You learn that Beethoven would sit down and improvise pieces at the piano that witnesses swear were finer than his written compositions. You hear the story again of Wilberforce prevailing over Parliament to end the slave trade.
We're awed by great comebacks, heroic efforts, sacrificial endurance, and extraordinary gifts. Glory arrests our attention.
My friend Paul Tripp describes us as "glory junkies":
Admit it. You're a glory junkie. That's why you like the 360-degree, between-the-legs slam dunk, or that amazing hand-beaded formal gown, or the seven-layer triple-chocolate mousse cake. It's why you're attracted to the hugeness of a mountain range or the multihued splendor of the sunset. You were hardwired by your Creator for a glory orientation. It is inescapable. It's in your genes.
Glory grabs us. But even more than that, it arouses something in our souls. It stirs us. We experience something totally vicarious, some strange exercise in identification. And make no mistake, it goes deep. It calls to something we value. To do something that matters. To seek something greater than our own puny existence.
It's an instinct for glory.
It pops up in a stark contrast Paul portrays in Romans between two groups of seekers. On one side are "those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality"; on the other side, "those who are self-seeking." To the first group, God "will give eternal life"; for the second, "there will be wrath and fury" (Rom. 2:6–8).
God doesn't oppose glory-seeking; he commends it. And what's more astounding, he rewards it with eternal life.
Try to wrap your brain around this: God doesn't oppose glory-seeking; he commends it. And what's more astounding, he rewards it with eternal life.
But there's a condition. We must seek a certain type of glory. We're to hunger, crave, earnestly desire — to be ambitious for — the glory that comes from God.
So where do we discover it?
Growing up, my next-door neighbor had a swimming pool. This was before the idea of "a pool in every backyard" was invented. This pool was awesome in how it attracted children. I mean, kids bused in all the way from Idaho just to have a swim. Pools had that effect back then. They gathered kids into one place.
If we want the glory that comes from God, we must begin at the place where it gathered.
This Glory Is a Person
I was converted in college, sometime around 1979. I've met people who know the day and hour of their conversion, their spiritual birthday. That's cool. But it didn't happen that way for me. God's grace was ultimately irresistible, but I can be pretty stubborn, so I resisted to the point of exhaustion. I think fatigue played a prominent role in my conversion. It's probably why I don't remember when I became a Christian.
But there are memories I treasure from that time, all of them centering on a surprising joy in becoming captivated with the person of Jesus. Reading the Gospels was a life-transforming experience — seeing his holiness, his love, his miracles, his kindness. It was entrancing. Jesus wasn't theoretical or abstract, like the logic class I was finding totally illogical. He was amazing, real, alive, and accessible.
Before, I used to think, If God would just appear to me in glory, I could finally believe. He did appear — Jesus Christ is the glory that comes from God.
Loving this glory that comes from God means first savoring the One who personified God's glory, Jesus Christ. Glory isn't simply a quality of Christ: Jane has a nice smile, Ronnie's tall, and oh, by the way, Jesus has glory. No, Jesus embodies the glory of God. He literally is the glory that comes from God.
This is why, in opening his Gospel, John leaves no doubt that glory is on his mind: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (1:14). John later notes that even Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus and testified of him (12:41).
Paul and James both call Jesus "the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2:8; James 2:1). Paul speaks eloquently of "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6), and the writer of Hebrews says of him, "He is the radiance of the glory of God" (1:3).
God's glory — his honor, his esteem, his mind-blowing perfection, his incomprehensible value — is embodied in flesh and blood, in the person of Jesus Christ. This is where God's glory gathers.
To love the glory that comes from God means we love the person of Jesus Christ. To love Christ means we value him more than anything else. This is the defining characteristic of Christian conversion — we love the Savior and want to live for his glory. We want to follow him, obey him, trust him, and proclaim him.
But loving the glory that comes from God isn't just an emotional attraction for Jesus. These days spirituality is trending positive, and Jesus is considered pretty hip. But you can have good feelings about Jesus and be far from his glory. To love God's glory means connecting Jesus, the person of God's glory, to Calvary, the summit of God's glory.
Remember when Jesus prayed in John 12, "Father, glorify your name"? Heaven's response was twofold. "I have glorified it," God said, testifying to the fact that his glory is incarnate in the Son. But the Father didn't stop there. He continued, "I will glorify it again."
When would the Father glorify his own name again? He was speaking of the atoning death Jesus was anticipating at that very moment.
God was most glorified when the Lord of glory was crucified on the cross.
We know this because Jesus immediately explained it to his listeners. He said, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." John follows up to make sure we get it: "He said this," John explains, "to show by what kind of death he was going to die" (12:32–33). God's magnificence, the magnetic power of his glory, was on full display at the summit of Calvary. God was most glorified when the Lord of glory was crucified on the cross.
As John Stott writes,
The gospel is Christ crucified, His finished work on the cross. And to preach the gospel is publicly to portray Christ as crucified. The gospel is not good news primarily of a baby in a manger, a young man at a carpenter's bench, a preacher in the fields of Galilee, or even an empty tomb. The gospel concerns Christ upon His cross. Only when Christ is "openly displayed upon his cross" is the gospel preached.
Contemplating the cross, we're left to stand and wonder at this chilling spectacle. The Lord of glory hung upon a cross of shame. Bearing the wrath we deserved, God displayed his love "so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). On the wings of this remarkable, incomprehensible historical event, God's glory soared ad infinitum.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rescuing Ambition"
Copyright © 2010 Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by C. J. Mahaney,
Introduction: Ambition's Face,
1 Ambition Conceived WE ARE WIRED FOR GLORY,
2 Ambition Corrupted GROWING SMALLER IN OUR ATTEMPT TO BE GREAT,
3 Ambition Converted WHERE TO GO WHEN YOUR BEST AIN'T GOOD ENOUGH,
4 Ambition's Agenda EVERY AMBITION HAS AN AGENDA — WHAT'S YOURS?,
5 Ambition's Confidence GOD-CENTERED FAITH SPARKS GOD-GLORIFYING AMBITION,
6 Ambition's Path THE PATH OF AMBITION IS A PARADOX,
7 Ambition's Contentment IF AMBITION DEFINES ME, IT WILL NEVER FULFILL ME,
8 Ambitious Failure WHERE IS GOD WHEN OUR DREAMS LEAD TO DEFEATS?,
9 Ambitious for the Church AMBITION FINDS EXPRESSION IN A SURPRISING PLACE,
10 Ambitious Risk AMBITION NEEDS RISK TO PRODUCE REWARD,
11 Ambition Paid Forward THE MISSION MARCHES ON WHEN AMBITION LOOKS AHEAD,
Afterword: Why I Wrote This Book,
What People are Saying About This
“In Rescuing Ambition, Dave Harvey distinguishes ambition for the glory of God, which is good, from ambition for the glory of self, which is bad. But godly ambition doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so Harvey helps us see how it is intertwined with humility, contentment, faith, and above all, the gospel. Dave Harvey is both an experienced pastor and a gifted writer, so you will find this book not only profitable but also hard to put down.”
—Jerry Bridges, author, The Pursuit of Holiness
“Thomas Watson said, ‘Selfish ambition is the mother of all schisms.’ But Dave Harvey shows us a better way in Rescuing Ambition. With wit and wisdom, Dave uncovers the truth in scripture to teach how God forms a gospel-driven ambition in us for use in his mission and for his glory. I hope every leader in the church today will read Rescuing Ambition.”
—Ed Stetzer, Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism, Wheaton College
“Dave Harvey thinks well, writes well, tells good stories, and cites people of substance and insight. I have long appreciated Dave’s integrity, wisdom and perspective. Were I not afraid of feeding his ambition for greatness, or my ambition to write a memorable endorsement, I would add that Rescuing Ambition is biblical, honest, witty, and sometimes amusing. I’m happy to recommend this fine book on an important and overlooked subject.”
—Randy Alcorn, Founder and Director, Eternal Perspective Ministries; author, Heaven, The Treasure Principle, and The Ishbane Conspiracy
“Whether you’re on Main Street or Wall Street this book has something to say to you. No author has done a better job of helping me understand my heart, my motives, and my Savior. Harvey uses humor, Scripture, and real-life examples to help us balance our dreams and callings, while always reminding us that Jesus is the Christ.”
—Josh Deckard, Former Assistant Press Secretary to President Bush
“Ambition is war; a battle between the sin-driven pursuit of autonomy, self-sufficiency, and self-glory and a humble desire that everything you do would reflect the one thing that is excellent in every way, the glory of God. On every page, Harvey alerts us to this war and trains us to be good soldiers.”
—Paul David Tripp, president, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, What Did You Expect?
“As the leader of an organization expressly dedicated to seeing the gospel deepen in our own lives as well as expand outward to the nations, I’m grateful for Dave Harvey’s recovery of the idea of ambition. Dave’s book is a powerful, plainspoken, Scripture-saturated reminder that when the gospel is the center of our identity and security, we can be freed from the petty dreams and small-minded motivations that often hamstring ministry. In the gospel, we find the freedom to be truly ambitious.”
—Bob Osborne, Executive Director, World Harvest Mission
“From page one, Dave’s writing style gripped me with his humor, humility, and down-to-earth, Bible-saturated style. I don’t think I have ever seen a book on ambition, but I have been trying to provoke men to find some ambition, borrow some, or if they were really ambitious, even steal some! Dave writes to those of us who aren’t ambitious enough to read (much less comprehend) a thick theological treatise, but are interested enough to read the words of someone who understands that we are often content to watch others with ambition as they ride up mountains, compose great music, and attempt the unthinkable—like homeschool three kids. This is not a self-help book that doesn’t really help; it is a wake-up alarm to rouse the good gifts specifically placed within us by God for his own glory.”
—Scott Thomas, Founder, Gospel Coach; coauthor, Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God
“I didn’t know that my ambition was defective and in need of rescuing until I read this book. Harvey writes with such compelling insight and clarity that you’re left thinking the lack of godly ambition ranks alongside pragmatism and theological flimsiness as ailments afflicting the church today. Yet, at root, this book isn’t about problem-hunting nearly as much as it is about the gospel, salvation, and embracing the ambitious agenda Jesus sets for our lives. Those who want to live with high and glorious purpose for the Savior must read this book. So do those who don’t, and those who never thought about what godly ambition really involves. Rescuing Ambition calls us to live large, bold lives by swiping as much glory for Jesus as possible.”
—Thabiti M. Anyabwile, Pastor, Anacostia River Church, Washington, D. C.; author, What Is a Healthy Church Member?
“Dave Harvey teaches us that God wants ambition back in our understanding of godliness and spiritual health. As Christians, we are to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:13)—that is, ambitious for them. We are to be people who dream and do big things for the glory of God and the good of others. Let’s not be content with small dreams cloaked in a guise of humility. This is a critical book for the church today because it helps us recover the spirit of William Carey, who ambitiously said ‘Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.’”
—Matt Perman, Director of Marketing, Made to Flourish; author, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
“Dave Harvey has delivered a compelling case for developing God-ward ambition in the lives of men and women alike. This insightful book carries a timely message in our ‘whatever’ culture: we all have ambition, but where it is aimed and how it is used is worth serious consideration. With self-effacing humor, Dave reveals how being wired for glory can either corrupt us or lead us to a divine agenda. Highly recommended!”
—Carolyn McCulley, filmmaker; speaker; author, The Measure of Success, Radical Womanhood, and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?
“Only an ambitious person would try to rescue ambition! Only an ambitious person would actually take the time to write a book on the topic. And only a humble person could accomplish the task! There is a vast difference between selfish ambition and godly ambition. If you want to know what sets them apart, read this book and discover the radical difference between self-glory and God’s glory. As in his book on marriage, When Sinners Say “I Do,” you will find Dave writing out of his own failures and growth in grace. Interestingly, ambition can be rescued but you won’t get there without bathing ambition in gospel virtues and life experiences like humility, service, contentment, failure, and community. And you won’t get there without a Redeemer. Dave makes certain that you meet this Redeemer, Jesus, throughout the pages of this book. If you struggle with selfish ambition or lack ambition altogether, this book will help you.”
—Timothy S. Lane, Executive Director, The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation
“Proud people will benefit from reading this book and learning to bend their ambition towards God's will. Those who are falsely humble will benefit even more by growing the godly ambition to pursue him with their whole life.”
—Mike Anderson, Managing Director, BAJI
“Dave Harvey isn’t satisfied to live a mediocre life and he isn’t satisfied to see the followers of Jesus live that way either. In his down-to-earth style, Dave takes the concept of ambition from the ‘reject’ pile of Christian vocabulary and reminds us that it is desirable, no, it is a gospel imperative to be ambitious for the right reasons and the right goals. His arguments are not psycho-babble, either, but grounded in scripture, theologically sound, and intensely practical.”
—Timothy Z. Witmer, professor of practical theology, Westminster Theological Seminary; pastor, St. Stephen Reformed Church, New Holland, Pennsylvania; author, The Shepherd Leader and The Shepherd Leader at Home
"Dave Harvey brilliantly and accessibly answers the question, ‘Can Christians be humble and ambitious at the same time?’ He explains why and how we can, always rooting his pre- sentation in Scripture. This is a book that has needed to be written. You will not be disappointed.”
—Jim Tebbe, Former Vice President of Missions and Director, Urbana Missions Conference, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship