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.

Prayer in the “Sacred Ordinary”

Prayer is an effort of the will.

-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Prayers are not tools for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.

                        -Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer

Tool: anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose (dictionary.com)

The thing about a tool is, you have to pick it up and use it. It does you no good laying on the table.

I spent 2017 entirely in the Psalms, studying/reflecting on them for my daily quiet times, listening for sermons/talks about them, and reading books related to them. (Here’s a summary of what I shared.) I expected the year to be about praise, but it quickly became more about prayer than anything else. The Psalms, more than any other book in the Bible, talk to God as much or more than they talk about God. Continue reading

5 Best Books for Spiritual Growth

When we lived overseas, books were our primary means (outside of the Bible) of receiving discipleship. So in recognition of a new year and new starts, I offer you my top five best books for spiritual growth. You’ll hear echoes of these authors in everything I write.

Hearing God by Peter Lord

If you read one book in your
life about spiritual growth,
Hearing God should be it!

This is ostensibly a book about prayer, but it applies to every aspect of the Christ-follower’s life. In Hearing God, Peter Lord opens the door to recognizing God’s will and responding. This is not a technical or cerebral book, neither is it mystical or charismatic. It’s a friendly, practical companion for improving your quiet time, your prayer life, even your day-to-day existence. If you read one book—ever—about personal spiritual growth, this should be it.

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

We can always be meditating, always be attune to the Holy Spirit’s leading. In this centuries-old book, a Carmelite monk documents his habit of remaining constantly aware of God’s presence. This is not a novel or biography but rather a collection of conversations and letters, so it’s not easy to read (although it is rather short). It can, however, teach you how to adopt a mental posture of prayer and humility even while you’re peeling potatoes or making a presentation.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller

C.S. Lewis said that humility is not about thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Keller expands that concept into a small but provocative book. Always an excellent and theologically-sound writer, Keller is at his best in this book. When I stop thinking it’s all about me, I find incredible freedom to just live the Christ-life (as the title suggests). I learned to separate myself from what’s happening around me so that neither criticism nor praise affects me deeply and I exist more purely for His glory.

Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay

The Word became flesh
and made his dwelling
among us.
John 1:14

Jesus Himself became tangible, touchable, accessible…real. We are the Kingdom of God on earth, and we are called to do the same. This book challenges the way you live your life, pushing you to recognize where you’re making choices that you didn’t realize you were making. It’s about finding your unreached community—your personal people group—and being intentional about sharing Christ in it. If Hearing God is the manual for your personal Walk, Tangible Kingdom is the manual for your public Walk. Even if you don’t agree with everything they say, don’t skip it.

Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God by David McCasland

This is “the life story of the author of My Utmost for His Highest,” a devotional book that’s been hugely influential in my life and the lives of many others. But MUHH is excerpts of sermons; they aren’t the real man. I discovered that Chambers was an artist and a thinker who saw life with God as an adventure to be grasped. Through it, God gave me permission to be the artist, the expressive soul, the free-thinker that He created me to be! McCasland is a good author, and his subject is inspiring…worth the time it takes to read the 350 pages.

I hope you found something here to encourage you and challenge you in 2016. If you’ve already read any of these books, please let us know what you thought by sharing in the comments section below!