Teeter-totter: Perhaps the greatest name for piece of playground equipment. The name itself paints a picture, doesn’t it?
I recently took my son to a park where he became fascinated with a teeter-totter. After a few minutes of “teetering” (or is it tottering?) with him, I had to take a break. As I sat down on a park bench, he continued to play on the teeter-totter by himself. At first it was hilarious. As hard as he tried, he just couldn’t get it to work. Then, he got a great idea: to stand on the center of the teeter-totter and attempt to balance himself.
As I watched him compensate his weight from side to side, it reminded me of my own balancing act. You see, I struggle to compensate between ambition and godliness.
I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with this. Just visit a few funerals to see what I mean.
Attend one funeral, and everything is focused around a lady’s accomplishments in life. Attend another funeral, and the preacher is using the deceased as an example of how nobody on their deathbed wishes they had spent “one more hour at the office.”
So which one is it? What are we supposed to applaud –ambition or godliness?
Is it possible to have “God-centered ambition?” I’m not just talking about the ambition to go into full-time ministry. Instead, is it possible to be a “God-centered ambitious entrepreneur,” a “God-centered teacher,” or a “God-centered ambitious police officer?”
I think it is.
At the same time, He was a man of ambition. He led armies into battle and ruled the nation of Israel.
So how did he reconcile a God-centered heart with his strong ambition?
First of all, it’s worth noting that he didn’t always do a good job of this. Reading through books like 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Chronicles, and the Psalms will make this very clear. In fact, David wrestled with the issue of “God-centered ambition.” Consider his words in Psalm 131:1.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
Can you imagine what it takes for a king to say, “my eyes are not raised too high” or to admit that there are “things too great and too marvelous for me”?
It’s obvious that David gave thought to his ambition –to the degree that he chose to be intentional about what he set his sights on.
In the past, I have tried to balance my ambition with my desire for God –as if there is a huge teeter-totter with ambition on one side, God-centeredness on the other side, and me in the middle. Each side is calling for me to “go all in.” But every time I take a step in one direction, I feel like I have to take a step back in the other direction to keep everything balanced. And the greater my leadership responsibilities, the greater the teeter-totter becomes, until I just can’t keep up the balancing act. It’s a classic case of the double-minded man (James 1:8).
But David takes a different approach. Instead of trying to balance two things, he chooses to “go all in” and see everything through one lens –the lens of God centeredness. In verse two he explains:
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
By choosing to look at everything through the lens of God-centeredness, David submitted to God’s ambition for his life (which is much better anyway). Instead of abandoning ambition, David chose to embrace what God had prepared for him (Ephesians 2:10). In this way, David didn’t abandon his gifts or talents. Instead, he chose to see them in light of God’s desires.
You see, if ambition were wrong, God would be a sinner. Why? Because He has the grandest ambition of all: to seek and to save sinners who will become a world-wide network of worshippers filling the universe with His glory!
The greatest ambitions are the godliest ambitions. If your ambitions don’t tie into His ambitions, your ambitions are way to small –like tiny idols crafted by human hands (Acts 17:25).
Attempting to “balance” is attempting to do something only God can do. It’s trusting yourself to manage your heart rather than trusting God to rule your heart. In this way, the “teeter-totter temptation” can be more than a burden –it can be sin.
How did David avoid the teeter-totter temptation in order to look through God’s lens?
He “calmed and quieted” his soul.
And the godliest ambitions begin in communion with the Lord when we quiet ourselves before him. In that moment, our lenses are re-focused with a godly perspective on our life’s calling.
Here we are able to relinquish the burden of “balancing” and rest in the joy of “refocusing.” The result? Hearts that are emblazoned with a greater ambition -a godly ambition!