Ordinary Ambition

starsI’m always amused by the L’Oreal strapline: “Because you’re worth it.” You’re worth what? Mascara? It’s a back-handed compliment. Like saying “Your house is nice but have you considered painting it?”

What’s wrong with au naturel? What happened to being ‘alright’?  Not stunning, not minging, not ‘a bit of alright’ – just, alright. ‘Normal’ – like on Gogglebox, instead of ‘Normal’ like on Made in Chelsea.

Why have I got to be an Olympic champion? Or an academic? A master-chef or a perfect parent? Why have I got to have The Best Marriage?  The cleanest house? The best broadband package?

At school they said ‘Aim high!  Be the best you can be. You can do anything you set your mind to’.

This would be nice if it were true.  But it’s cobblers and it’s a terrible slavery too. Aiming higher does not ‘set me free’. It makes me unhappy and discontented with what I’ve got. Striving all the time is tiring – especially when I haven’t got a hope of reaching my destination. Plus, who am I doing it for?  The teacher who said I’d never make it?  The parent I always wanted to impress?  The perfect version of me? That person is always a gym membership or a boyfriend or a PhD out of reach.

Worst of all, this kind of “shoot for the stars” mentality can get taught in the church too. I’m meant to live “my best life now”, following 14.5 steps to (spiritual) success. Even if it’s subtle, we can all feel pressure to live up to certain ideals; to attain Premier League Christianity.

But let’s do an experiment. How do you think Paul should finish this verse:

Make it your ambition to…

… lead prominent ministries in the church?

… be a model Christian?

… get serious about spirituality?

Paul actually says this:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.   (1 Thes 4:11-12)

He’s just been talking about God’s will for our lives (1 Thes 4:3). What is God’s will? Simple: our sanctification. And Paul’s not starting a “holier-than-thou”competition. He’s just telling us not to take advantage of each other sexually (v4-8) and to serve each other in love (v9-10). That’s what sanctification looks like and that’s God’s will: Don’t mess people around, love each other,  lead a quiet life.

Which means, I reckon, that muddling along is fine. In fact it’s a life’s work! Whether that’s feeding your kids turkey twizzlers, giving up on the book you swore you’d finish or simply staying in bed on ‘Doctor’s orders’ – ordinary is the order of the day. Being cool is all well and good, but once you make it, you have to maintain it – which sounds exhausting. The Bible simply says “Don’t mess people around, love each other, lead a quiet life.” Liberating, isn’t it?

We spend our lives ogling the stunning beauty, the breath-taking artiste, the tortured genius but have you ever noticed how happy those people are? Not very. Jesus calls us to something better than ‘our best life now’. He calls us to here and now, to be the person we already are, to love the folks we’re already lumped with. It’s ordinary. And it’s amazing. Let’s embrace it.


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9 thoughts on “Ordinary Ambition

  1. Thanks Emma. Just what I needed to hear. Whatever are job we are pushed to be the best, I work in the NHS and am told to fight my way to the top, even if that means stamping over people, and at the risk to myself.

    Thanks. Best wishes. Xxx

  2. This reminds me of, “Jesus being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Thanks for the reminder Emma that it’s ok for me to be ordinary because Jesus is extraordinary. If you live in this city where everyone is here because they’re exceptional and its easy to forget. The amazing thing is that once you stop grasping for all that stuff and trying to make yourself special you can finally start to realise how special you are because the God who made the universe has loved and chosen you. And breathe.

  3. That really helped me. Ambition may take a back seat when we meet jesus, but I think we all strive way too much and I want to learn to rest more. I heard from one of our young people at church that the advice of the school was to go for the best paying job. Concerning

  4. Emma, what a lovely post! There’s one verse you overlooked though: Colossions 3:23. That crushed me. A verse paraphrased as “Do as if doing it for the Lord”. How hard would I try and achieve??? He’s perfect, so doing something for his approval means aiming to do it as it would be done in heaven…

    ..talk about feeling pressure every day, at work (boss asks you to do more than you can; I think “I must do it as if working for the Lord…”), at home. Miserable Christian? “Come all you are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” — it was him who gave me the burden :(

  5. Ah ha, but the quiet life turns out to be the hardest.
    It is there in the quiet that we must choose to be content with a world that is so far from the one we were made for.
    It is there in the quiet everyday that the world does its groaning.

  6. Hi Suzy, I know what you mean. It seems much easier to believe that the Lord is the ultimate Task Master when – even in Colossians 3:23 – He’s *still* the ultimate Rest Giver. It’s so easy to read our experience of earthly masters onto Him but the rest of Colossians 3 reassures me that my life is hidden with Christ in God.

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