Ambition is complicated. When related to material things it sounds like greed, so we often take the idea of "bigger and more" in our lives and boil it all down to sin. We sit in the back like my friend Jamie, who aches to dream, but says, "It always seems easier to sit on the back row and kill my dreams than to fight the sin that may be attached to those dreams."
We are afraid of big dreams because we are afraid of ourselves.
We are afraid of greatness because we are afraid of our arrogance.
And yet Jesus said of us, "Whoever believes in me . . . they will do even greater things than these" (John 14:12). It almost sounds blasphemous to do even greater things. We rarely say it, but when we start to have hints of great thoughts or visions, we often quickly dismiss them, afraid that we may be vain. Arrogant. Prideful. Or worse, simply that we would appear prideful.
I fight these wars in my soul nearly every day. For so long I just sat in the back, my dreams spilling out on the floor. But a few months ago I found myself in a room with a woman who did not seem to know how to dream small. She is a giant in the world of ministry, and we had the afternoon with her to ask any questions of her that we wanted. With a big vision growing in my heart, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask: "How do you know if a vision is from God?"
She looked down, and then very directly and simply said, "At some point you look at the motives of your heart, and if they are for God, then just do it."
It was simple and difficult all at the same time, because a convoluted mixture of motives undergirds every pursuit in life.
As Zac and I prayed, "God, we will do anything," I knew the reason I had not been using my gifts in any great capacity was because I was afraid of appearing arrogant. When I was an 18-year-old, I knew I had the gift of teaching and I knew how to lead. For years I taught younger women in my living room. I looked around our community and saw so many women who needed more God. Though I knew I had visions of how to give him to them, I was paralyzed with this fear. Beginning a small Bible study in our church seems like no big deal now, but it was a painfully scary thought then.
I remember telling myself things like, I will humbly sit in the back and give other people the chance to lead. It sounds good. But I was completely disobeying God, and I wasn't playing the part in the body of Christ that God had designed me to play. Because by using my gifts, others would be released to use their gifts, and so on.
We need to quit apologizing for using our gifts and start apologizing for not using them. I would say to myself, I am ministering to younger girls in my living room. That is enough. Greatness isn't in size.
Of course it would have been enough, if God wasn't calling me to something more. Some people charge mountains with no fear of themselves, and they need to check their motives. Some never take a mountain because of too much fear of themselves, and checking those motives is just as important.
God exposed my false humility. Nervously, with the support of our church leaders, I offered my first public study, Stuck, to our small church plant. Somehow 150 women found their way to a little cafeteria, and I taught them how God designed the spaces within us to be full of only him. Christians' lives were turning upside down; some even wondered if they had ever truly been saved. Unbelievers found safety, and a dozen people received Christ in the months that followed. God had been wanting to move through me, and I had never let him because I was worried I would appear arrogant.
Near the end of the study, after watching God work in the most unbelievable ways, two people in the study voiced criticism about the very fears that had paralyzed me before: my motives. As I processed their criticism, I began to spin. Yes, the thing I most feared was happening. I had stepped out and led in our community, and I was potentially coming off as arrogant to people I cared about. I craved a return to the safety of the back row and the anonymity it once had given me.
As I shared the hurt from this with my friend Karen, rather than comfort me with all the good things that God had done, she simply asked me, "Is God pleased with you in this?"
Everything in me quit spinning, and with 100 percent certainty I answered, "Yes, he is."
I knew how difficult the last few months had been. In faith I had acted in obedience, pushing through my fears of approval to lead for his name's sake and for people's healing and freedom. I knew that God was pleased. I could not say that my motives were in the right place other times in my life, but this time I had complete peace.
Then Karen said, "Then what else is there?"
At the core of our souls lie our volitions, our wills, our deepest desires. Karen asked me a question she could not know the answer to. She asked me to reveal something that mere results and criticism or visible greatness or failure cannot reveal. She asked me if my motives were pure. She asked me if my heart was right before my God.
Every one of us was made to do great things, and it is why something in us feels restless and discontent. Because deep down, we know we were created for some great purpose. And these great things we were built to do are for God, through God, and in God.
Excerpted from Restless: Because You Were Made For More by Jennie Allen (www.JennieAllen.com). Used with permission. Published by Thomas Nelson, © 2013 by Jennie Allen.