Ambitious? But for what?

Ambitious?

Look how many marks she got!” “He is a top­per.” “Did you hear that he man­aged to do his master’s in the USA?” “She was blessed with an MNC1 job.” “It’s great how much you earn now.” “My son stud­ies in Amer­i­ca and my daugh­ter works in Lon­don.” “He is hard-work­ing, God will bless him.”—Don’t you hear such state­ments very often? Wouldn’t you also like to belong to those who are suc­cess­ful?

Sta­tus in the soci­ety

The sta­tus in the soci­ety is very impor­tant for peo­ple nowa­days. Par­ents want their chil­dren to be ambi­tious and become doc­tors or at least engi­neers. If stud­ies abroad can­not be achieved, then high­ly reput­ed col­leges such as IIT or NIIT are pur­sued. “Hard work” is the slo­gan which accom­pa­nies so many stu­dents through­out their col­lege years. A bach­e­lor degree is not enough; one has to sit nation­al exams to be hon­ored and respect­ed.2 If you man­age to get a gov­ern­ment job, you would be a hap­py per­son because this seems to be the high­est aim in life for many around us. One of the most impor­tant points for choos­ing a mar­riage part­ner is which posi­tion in the soci­ety one has reached. Each one is com­pared with every one. Who is bet­ter, more intel­li­gent and ahead of oth­ers? Par­ents want to boast about their chil­dren who suf­fer under this great pres­sure to be bet­ter than oth­ers.

World­ly-mind­ed vs. spir­i­tu­al­ly focused

Isn’t all this a very earth­ly view of our lives? Per­ma­nent and imper­ish­able val­ues seem to be com­plete­ly for­got­ten. But just these are essen­tial for our inner peace, last­ing joy and ful­fill­ment. A per­son should not be mea­sured by his achieve­ments and suc­cess. What real­ly counts, espe­cial­ly for rela­tion­ships, is hon­esty, faith­ful­ness, reli­a­bil­i­ty, etc. Inner qual­i­ties show much more about a per­son than earth­ly suc­cess.

Peo­ple are usu­al­ly very mate­ri­al­is­tic world­ly-mind­ed. But this is a short-sight­ed approach and miss­es the essen­tial things of life. Life is much more than just the vis­i­ble real­i­ty if we are ready to think deep­er. The out­come of striv­ing for mate­r­i­al aims or seek­ing enter­tain­ment and fun is always dis­sat­is­fac­tion. You have prob­a­bly expe­ri­enced that after watch­ing a movie, lis­ten­ing ten times to a song you like, or reach­ing some goal, you feel emp­ty and dis­sat­is­fied. Ulti­mate­ly, what makes peo­ple real­ly joy­ful are good rela­tion­ships and not much mon­ey, mate­r­i­al pos­ses­sions or short-lived fun.

If you had much mon­ey …

You could buy medicines—but not health.
You could buy a bed—but not peace­ful sleep.
You could buy a house—but not a home.
You could buy books—but not wis­dom.
You could buy entertainment—but not real joy.
You could buy admirers—but not true friends.
You could buy a gold­en idol—but not a rela­tion­ship with God.
You could donate to a charity—but you could not buy an entry to heav­en.
You could have a com­fort­able life—but not eter­nal life.

Giv­ing back to our par­ents

But shouldn’t we see it as our respon­si­bil­i­ty to give back to our par­ents what they have pro­vid­ed for us? Most of our par­ents worked hard and self­less­ly only to enable us to attend a good school and col­lege. Isn’t it them to whom we can be thank­ful for every­thing we have achieved? This ques­tion miss­es the most impor­tant point—God.

It is God who enables us and our par­ents to study and work, even to sim­ply live. God is the source of life and with­out Him we can­not do any­thing. So we should see our lives as a present from Him and give Him thanks for it. Every one, includ­ing our par­ents, depends on God. We should give back to God what He has done for us.

Is God inter­est­ed in what we achieved?

Have you ever thought about whether God is inter­est­ed in what we achieved? Can we impress God with our achieve­ments? The almighty and per­fect, good God does not need any­thing from us. He is the least inter­est­ed in mate­r­i­al or world­ly things. In His self­less love toward us, He does not expect any “giv­ing back”. That’s just what self­less means, to give with­out the wish and even the thought of receiv­ing some­thing in return. What we can nev­er­the­less do to express our thank­ful­ness toward God is to lis­ten to His voice and serve Him.

With­out ambi­tious peo­ple, we would still live in the Stone Age”

Is this true? We have to dis­tin­guish between ambi­tions with the only aim to progress in world­ly mat­ters and the effort to improve and ease our lives con­sid­er­ing spir­i­tu­al val­ues. The sec­ond approach takes the emo­tion­al and spir­i­tu­al sides of man into con­sid­er­a­tion and is nev­er one-sided. Not every inven­tion was con­nect­ed with ambi­tions and not even with sober effort. Look­ing back in his­to­ry, dis­cov­er­ies were often made by chance or through a sin­gle strik­ing thought. Long-term inves­ti­ga­tions, explo­rations and tests were often not nec­es­sary. Also, not every inven­tion was use­ful. Nev­er­the­less we can be thank­ful for all the progress peo­ple before us made because it sim­pli­fies our dai­ly lives and gives us much spare time. We can, how­ev­er, not say gen­er­al­ly that with­out ambi­tions we would not have all the facil­i­ties we have nowa­days.

If man lived a sim­ple and mod­est life in har­mo­ny with his cre­ator (God) and focus­ing his atten­tion on eter­nal val­ues, he would be able to under­stand which improve­ments are impor­tant and nec­es­sary for a peace­ful and hap­py life. This is what every­one actu­al­ly longs for. But there are lots of inven­tions which make life rather more hec­tic and lead mankind to more greed, com­pe­ti­tion and dishar­mo­ny.

We have to take great care not to depend on tech­nol­o­gy. We can live with­out it as well. It is not the essence of our lives. Can you imag­ine liv­ing with­out a smart phone or mobile phone? Why not? Peo­ple through­out cen­turies and even mil­len­nia did so. They man­aged their work and lives as well. If you can’t imag­ine this, you are prob­a­bly already depen­dent on your phone. It is true that nowa­days we need them due to our work in jobs, but let’s ask our­selves whether we always use them respon­si­bly.

We do not have to be always up-to-date. Not every­thing that is new is use­ful or sen­si­ble. And—joy is not depen­dent on abun­dance!

Ambi­tions or rather self­less ser­vice?

Ambi­tious peo­ple are usu­al­ly very con­cen­trat­ed on their own suc­cess, not think­ing about the needs of oth­ers. At times, they even regard the needs of oth­ers as oppor­tu­ni­ties for giv­ing solu­tions and thus feel­ing impor­tant. Ambi­tion is close­ly con­nect­ed with self­ish­ness which destroys rela­tion­ships. Who wants to have a self­ish friend or col­league? If some­one, how­ev­er, renounces his own inter­ests and instead serves his neigh­bor self­less­ly, we are glad and thank­ful for it. This does not con­tra­dict pur­su­ing one’s own stud­ies or job in a respon­si­ble way, but pri­or­i­ty should be giv­en to oth­ers and not one­self. This is the essence of self­less love which gives real ful­fill­ment in con­trast to a self-seek­ing ambi­tious way of life.

Entrust your future to God!

There­fore I tell you, do not wor­ry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heav­en­ly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valu­able than they? Can any one of you by wor­ry­ing add a sin­gle hour to your life? And why do you wor­ry about clothes? See how the flow­ers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon3 in all his splen­dor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomor­row is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe youyou of lit­tle faith? So do not wor­ry, say­ing, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heav­en­ly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his king­dom and his right­eous­ness, and all these things will be giv­en to you as well. There­fore do not wor­ry about tomor­row, for tomor­row will wor­ry about itself. Each day has enough trou­ble of its own. (Gospel of Matthew, chap­ter 6, vers­es 25–34)

Jesus says that we should not wor­ry about our future. God takes care of us, as He takes care of every­thing in His cre­ation. He knows what we need. He is a lov­ing God whom we can entrust our future to. Instead of try­ing to secure our lives with our ambi­tious activ­i­ties, we should seek first God’s king­dom and God’s right­eous­ness, and all things we need for life will be giv­en to us as well. This promise of Jesus calls for faith, faith in him and his word.

For many peo­ple secu­ri­ty is very impor­tant, espe­cial­ly earth­ly secu­ri­ty. Let’s see what Jesus says about this in the fol­low­ing para­ble:

The ground of a cer­tain rich man yield­ed an abun­dant har­vest. He thought to him­self, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build big­ger ones, and there I will store my sur­plus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plen­ty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be mer­ry. ’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demand­ed from you. Then who will get what you have pre­pared for your­self?” This is how it will be with who­ev­er stores up things for them­selves but is not rich toward God. (Gospel of Luke, chap­ter 12, vers­es 16–21)

Secur­ing our lives in an earth­ly man­ner will cer­tain­ly lead to a great loss, lat­est when we have to die. How will us our high marks at col­lege, our degrees, our high posi­tions in our jobs, mon­ey and hon­or from peo­ple help us then if we are not rich before God? All this does not save us. We can’t take any­thing of these with us when we die.

For all can see that the wise die, that the fool­ish and the sense­less also per­ish, leav­ing their wealth to oth­ers. … Do not be over­awed when oth­ers grow rich, when the splen­dor of their hous­es increas­es; for they will take noth­ing with them when they die, their splen­dor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count them­selves blessed—and peo­ple praise you when you pros­per. (Psalm 49, vers­es 10, 16–18)

So why should we strive ambi­tious­ly for the fame of this world which is only tem­po­rary and pass­es away?—And not only this, it harms us spir­i­tu­al­ly.

But god­li­ness with con­tent­ment is great gain. For we brought noth­ing into the world, and we can take noth­ing out of it. But if we have food and cloth­ing, we will be con­tent with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temp­ta­tion and a trap and into many fool­ish and harm­ful desires that plunge peo­ple into ruin and destruc­tion. For the love of mon­ey is a root of all kinds of evil. (Paul’s First Letter to Tim­o­thy, chap­ter 6, vers­es 6–10)

Bet­ter a lit­tle, but with a joy­ful heart and with God

Bet­ter a dry crust with peace and qui­et than a house full of feast­ing, with strife. (Proverbs, chap­ter 17, verse 1)

Bet­ter a lit­tle with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with tur­moil. Bet­ter a small serv­ing of veg­eta­bles with love than a fat­tened calf with hatred. (Proverbs, chap­ter 15, vers­es 16–17)

Con­tent­ment with lit­tle but with an hon­est and pure heart before God gives real joy. The world looks at those who are strong, skill­ful and suc­cess­ful. God looks at the heart and bless­es those who obey Him. His bless­ings are first of all spir­i­tu­al bless­ings, giv­ing us eter­nal life. In con­trast to our mate­ri­al­is­tic soci­ety, Jesus speaks about these spir­i­tu­al bless­ings:

Blessed are the poor in spir­it, for theirs is the king­dom of heav­en.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be com­fort­ed.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inher­it the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for right­eous­ness, for they shall be sat­is­fied.
Blessed are the mer­ci­ful, for they shall receive mer­cy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peace­mak­ers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are per­se­cut­ed for right­eous­ness’ sake, for theirs is the king­dom of heav­en.
Blessed are you when oth­ers revile you and per­se­cute you and utter all kinds of evil against you false­ly on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heav­en, for so they per­se­cut­ed the prophets who were before you. (Gospel of Matthew, chap­ter 5, vers­es 3–12)

We should live in the aware­ness of God our cre­ator. Our life­time is short. Let’s not waste it by run­ning after worth­less, sin­ful things or earth­ly suc­cess which can nev­er give us real ful­fill­ment. Let’s ful­fill our duties, be it at school/college or work, faith­ful­ly and respon­si­bly, always keep­ing in mind that this is not the most impor­tant. God knows the best what is good for us. Let’s lis­ten to His voice.

What I mean, broth­ers and sis­ters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are hap­py, as if they were not; those who buy some­thing, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is pass­ing away. (Paul’s First Let­ter to the Corinthi­ans, chap­ter 7, vers­es 29–31)

The apos­tle Paul is a good exam­ple of how we should view suc­cess in this world. He was a very ambi­tious and suc­cess­ful Jew in the time of Jesus; but through Jesus he under­stood that any career in this world is worth­less. See what he says about the time of his life before he met Jesus:

If some­one else thinks they have rea­sons to put con­fi­dence in the flesh, I have more: cir­cum­cised on the eighth day, of the peo­ple of Israel, of the tribe of Ben­jamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Phar­isee4; as for zeal, per­se­cut­ing the church; as for right­eous­ness based on the law, fault­less. But what­ev­er were gains to me I now con­sid­er loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I con­sid­er every­thing a loss because of the sur­pass­ing worth of know­ing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I con­sid­er them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not hav­ing a right­eous­ness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christthe right­eous­ness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Paul’s Let­ter to the Philip­pi­ans, chap­ter 3, vers­es 4–9)

Look­ing back to his life before he became a Chris­t­ian, Paul regards all his achieve­ments rub­bish. He would have had the capac­i­ty to become a very impor­tant per­son in the Jew­ish soci­ety, but he renounced his career for the sake of becom­ing a dis­ci­ple of Jesus, know­ing that only in Jesus he can find the pur­pose of life.

Chris­tians use the things of this world with a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty and thank­ful­ness, but they do not get absorbed or con­trolled by them because they know that they have some­thing much better—an ever­last­ing rela­tion­ship with God. This is what we should take care of with all our strength.

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Foot­notes:
  1. MNC means multi­na­tion­al com­pa­ny. 
  2. We under­stand that IITs/NIITs offer much bet­ter edu­ca­tion than the many pri­vate col­leges where the lev­el, espe­cial­ly of bachelor’s degrees, is pathet­ic. We want to point at the boast­ing that goes around study­ing in these insti­tu­tions. 
  3. Solomon was a king in Judah approx. 1000 BC. 
  4. A Phar­isee is a mem­ber of a Jew­ish reli­gious par­ty known for strict obser­vance of rites and cer­e­monies of the writ­ten law and their own oral tra­di­tions. They knew the law of Moses very well and were hon­ored by the peo­ple.