Ambition Re-Vision

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.  –Mark 9:35

I don’t want to be first. I just want to be full: fully me, fully serving God in the fullness of my gifting. Recently, I’ve come to realize the pursuit of a writing career isn’t getting me there.

Changing career paths is not what I expected when I named ambition as my 2020 word of the year. Quite the opposite.

Of course, I also didn’t expect a pandemic. So there’s that.

And I didn’t expect to read Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. My friend said, “You’ll like this because of your design background.”

She wasn’t trying to change my life, but the book led me to ask myself some tough questions.

Why do I write?

I’ve been blogging since 2012 and writing for publishing since 2014. There have been times when it was almost a full-time job and times when writing took a back seat to other important happenings in my life, but it has never satisfied me.

I thought it would.

Writing has spurred my spiritual growth in permanent and beautiful ways. It’s a form of worship that helps me understand God and get closer to him. Nothing has been wasted. But on the horizontal plane, its’ very one-sided. There isn’t adequate opportunity to dialogue—to learn from others as they learn from me—about the things of God. I couldn’t name this dissatisfaction until I read Designing Your Life and had space to think about these deeper things. (Perhaps the one positive in this whole pandemic: space to think.)

What do I relish?

I delight in ideas conveyed through words beautifully assembled, in dialogue, in research, in delighting in the Word alongside someone else. I also love speaking those well-pondered words in front of others.

But deeper than putting words on paper or into speech, I want my words to influence others’ thinking. I also want to take in new ideas from other thinkers, turn them around in my mind, test them, and form sound responses.

Am I quitting just shy of my goal?

My goal was publishing a Bible study (or series of Bible studies). There comes a time, however, to take an honest look at yourself. I have nine bullet points (which I’m not going to share here) honestly evaluating my writing career alongside the rest of my present-day life. The conclusion is that I’ve been living on a treadmill: running hard in one direction but getting nowhere. It’s clear I need a change of direction.

Actually, a pause. Then a change of direction.  

How has Scripture informed this transition?

After Jesus fed 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:30-44), he spent the night praying on a mountainside (Mark 6:46). Then He walked across the Sea of Galilee to meet the disciples in their boat. Mark says,

They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.  –Mark 6:51b-52

I wonder if Jesus knew that already. I wonder if He spent the night praying for the disciples to really see Who He was. Over and over, He presses them to change their thinking, to re-vision the Messiah (e.g. Mark 8:27-30).

Jesus was burdened that those closest to Him would understand what was happening. With two teenagers in the house and neighbors I don’t know yet, I feel the same kind of burden to be a catalyst for understanding among those I can touch.

Secondly, there were times in Jesus’ ministry when He had to back off, that is, to be less public. His brothers wanted him to go to a festival in Jerusalem, but he refused, saying, “My time has not yet fully come” (John 7:8). When the crowds got too big in Galilee, he left for awhile (e.g. Matthew 8:18, maybe Matthew 15:21 and context).

Jesus knew when to keep a low profile while the timing all worked out. I can do that, too. Nothing has to happen right now.

What else have I learned?

“If you seek great things for yourself, thinking, ‘God has called me for this and for that,’ you barricade God from using you.”

“When I stop telling God what I want, He can freely work His will in me without any hindrance.”

-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Nov. 10

In the Nameless series, I learned that what we say we want is often more a symptom than a solution. What we need is something different, something deeper. A leper, for example, wants to be healed of that horrific disease, but the healing is not his “why.” He asks for healing so he can rejoin society, enter into relationships again, and resume his life. (See also, What’d’ya Want?)

Writing for its own sake is good, but I have a deeper “why” that’s gone unmet all these years: influencing ideas. It’s time to change that.

So you’re not going to see me here on the blog very often. I’m living the life God has given me in these days and waiting for the next pursuit He’s preparing for me. I think I know what it is, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Thanks for reading.

I asked myself some questions, and now a revision of my ambition is leading me in a different direction for 2021 and beyond. It’s not what I expected, but what in 2020 was expected? My #ambition is (surprisingly) #NotAboutMe.

Of course, I’ll keep an eye on any comments. Feel free to respond.

The Preposition of Presence

It’s the small words that get me: the sight words we learned in first grade. Sure, I can talk about predestination, sanctification, eschatology, and all the rest, but the simple words are the ones that often bring me to my knees or cause my hands to raise in praise.

Recently, one word keeps rising to the surface, like blueberries in milk. The word is with. I’m calling it “the preposition of presence.” From Genesis to Revelation, the Story of God is about presence: His presence with His people and our presence with Him.

Continue reading

Prioritizing the Person of Peace

Paul took off on his second gospel-sharing journey probably more than a year after the first journey ended. This time Silas went with him. Apparently, the two grew close while Paul was at the Jerusalem Council. In addition, Silas had returned to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to encourage the church there (Acts 15:22, 32), giving these new partners more time to get acquainted. (For more on the Jerusalem Council, see Antioch, part 2.)

Paul and Silas headed north out of Antioch. They probably stopped in Paul’s hometown of Tarsus. Then, they travelled through Derbe and the three cities where Paul had been persecuted on the first trip: Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. In Lystra, they picked up Timothy.

Continue reading

Nameless: a Woman in Tyre

Here’s the first study in our series about unnamed—but not unimportant—people in the Bible.

Jesus took off from Gennesaret, on the Sea of Galilee, after a confrontation with the Pharisees (Matthew 14:34-15:20), and He headed west, away from his normal stomping grounds. He probably traveled through the mountains of Upper Galilee, passing Gischala and Mt. Meron before he reached the coastal city of Tyre in Syrian Phoenicia. (Can you tell I just bought a Bible atlas? Yay!) His disciples must have wondered what He was doing. Continue reading

Let God Shatter Your 2020 Expectations

The new year is so pretty and clean, sitting here on the first weekend of the year. I have significant expectations for this year, partially because I will soon turn 47, and since 47 is my favorite number (for no particular reason), I have long thought this year would be big for me. But God is doing something a little weird in my heart right now. Let’s see if I can break it down. Continue reading

The Gospel Trickled Out of Jerusalem

People like to say that, in Acts, the Gospel explodes across the known world. But it doesn’t really explode. It trips, tumbles, and trickles out of Jerusalem, sometimes one person at a time.

Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  –Acts 10:43

Everyone.

Still, it took believers awhile to catch on to what everyone meant. Continue reading

Acts Progression: Philip and Paul

We’re making our way through Acts, talking about the situations and verses that rise to the top this time. Now we’ve come to my favorite story in the New Testament: Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40). Not surprisingly, I’ve already written a bit about this here on #NotAboutMe.

Philip 1
(c) Carole Sparks

In Things Not Said: Philip, part 1, we spend the whole post in Acts 8:26. Meeting Philip at the height of his career in Samaria, we watch his obedience take him down an unknown road–literally.

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  -1 Samuel 15:22

Philip 2
(c) Carole Sparks

Watch God arrange innumerable circumstances so that Philip and the Ethiopian cross paths at the right time. In The Right Place at the Right Time: Philip, part 2, we cover Acts 8:27-29 and rest in the confidence that God is in control.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  -Isaiah 55:9

Philip 3
(c) Carole Sparks

Finally! In Intersection: Philip, part 3 we see Philip speak to the Ethiopian guy, climb into his chariot, and share the Gospel. It’s Acts 8:30-40, and the principles for evangelism are clear.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  -Hebrews 11:6

I’ve also spent some time with Saul-who-became-Paul. Click on one of these links if you’d rather read more about Saul/Paul.

Paul inauspicious beginning
(c) Carole Sparks

Acts skips over it, but Paul spent three years in the wilderness before his ministry was effective. Paul’s Inauspicious Beginning pulls from Acts 9 and Galatians 1 to explore the early days of what became the most fruitful Christian ministry ever. The principles for us are clear.

An early post, “Do Me a Favor?” looks at the way we responded to God’s personal leading in our lives, using Ananias (Acts 9:10-19) as an example. There’s also a bit about my friends asking me for money.

This post, A Martyr Mindset, came up in conversation just this week. Sometimes our greatest personal sacrifice isn’t the path to God’s greatest glory. Sometimes we sneak out of town in a basket (Acts 9:23-25, 2 Corinthians 11:21-29)…or the modern-day equivalent.

A pile of previous, but still pertinent, posts on Philip and Paul as we progress through a pair of chapters in Acts. Both my alliteration and my #BibleStudy are #NotAboutMe.  (click to tweet)

With over six years of blogging now, I’ve covered a lot of territory. Which of these posts looks most interesting to you? I would really appreciate it if you leave me a comment on that post or pop back over here to let me know. 

 

Called to Brokenness

Bread doesn’t grow on trees. If I want to make bread, I have to use flour. Flour typically comes from a grain, such as wheat.

Grain  ⇒  Flour  ⇒  Bread

We once lived in a place with less strict processing standards than the United States FDA. Sometimes, a few kernels of our rice retained their tough outer hulls. That hull was like the shell of a nut! It was difficult to break with your hands and almost impossible to chew. We checked and cleaned our rice to remove those pieces before we cooked. Other grains grow the same way. Continue reading