When I was in the midst of a difficult ministry transition in the summer of 2006, a brother in the Lord, a man I didn’t really know very well, gave me this book, and I’m glad he did! It was just what I needed at that point in my life. I needed to be able to trust God to do some new and different things in and through me. Holy Ambition: What It Takes to Make a Difference for God by Chip Ingram, pastor in California, is a simple and practical study (223 pages) of a couple of lesser known Old Testament characters, Asa and Nehemiah.
The author explains the purpose of his book in the introduction:
“This book is about living beyond Christianity 101. It’s about moving beyond what the Christian subculture tells us is right and holy and acceptable. It’s about the truth we’ve lost that the God of the universe is actually looking for regular people like you and me to accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams. It’s about holy ambition. What God is seeking, what’s He’s looking for are people who are willing to live on the edge. People who long to have a life of significance and impact. People who are willing to believe that what God has said is true and will step out in incremental steps as He leads.”
In the first chapter, Ingram looks at the life of King Asa who began his reign well but ended it very badly. The theme verse is 2 Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” God desires not people who have education or abilities, but people who will be completely His, people who will trust and obey Him step-by-step in their lives to the very end. Sadly, King Asa, after 35 years of following God, began to make foolish choices. He died of a serious foot disease in his forty-first year of reign, never admitting his foolish ways nor asking God for help.
Ingram believes from experience that once people like you and me in churches and Christian organizations have experienced some success in our ministry, we are likely to go on to do one of two things:
“We take the success and its results for granted and become arrogant, or we forget the process God used and settle into a comfort zone that leaves God in a corner out of our lives. Survival tactics gradually replace holy ambition. We get respectable inside Christian circles and gradually come to resist the idea that faith has anything to do with risk.”
Making a difference
The author believes that if we are going to make a difference for God we must have (1) a dislocated heart, (2) a broken spirit, (3) a radical faith, (4) a strategic plan, (5) a personal commitment, and (6) a courageous soul. He then traces these qualities through the life of the cupbearer Nehemiah who went back to Jerusalem to rebuild the broken walls.
I’m glad Ingram doesn’t stop with all the great things Nehemiah did in going back to Jerusalem. He goes on to remind us of the opposition (ridicule, criticism, and discouragement) that Nehemiah faced when he sought to obey God.
Discouragement from life
The writer points out four causes of discouragement from the life of Nehemiah: (1) loss of strength – you’re tired, (2) loss of vision and perspective – you’re confused, (3) loss of confidence – you’re feeling uncertain, and (4) loss of security – you’re feeling vulnerable. (By the way, I’ve personally been discouraged in all four ways at different times in my life.)
Again, thankfully Ingram doesn’t stop there, but he goes on to teach from Nehemiah’s life four keys to overcoming discouragement: (1) be proactive – do something practical and positive, (2) remember who’s on your team – remember the Lord, (3) Fight! Fight! Fight! and (4) never fight alone.
Let me close with an excerpt from Holy Ambition, something that rang all too true to me personally:
“When we get tired, and I mean, flat-out, physically tired, something happens to us even though we might be right in the center of God’s will. Days come earlier, nights come later and the pressure rises, but you keep pushing ahead because you are doing exactly what God wants you to do. You are about to make a valuable discovery. It doesn’t really matter if the spirit is willing if the rest of you can’t keep up. Something begins to give. You become vulnerable and you get discouraged.
“Fatigue doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. It may just mean you’ve done a little too much of what’s right! It doesn’t mean that you are out of God’s will. It means that your body is tired; your emotions are frazzled. Welcome to the limits that come with living in a fallen world. Welcome to the value of the fourth commandment – where God orders us to stop, to rest, to Sabbath for our own spiritual and physical renewal.
“If you are battling discouragement, it may be that you simply need to stop and rest. In our zeal to make a difference for God we can often become our own worst enemies. We start to live like we have no limitations.”