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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Tempering Ambition

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Truth is, not all of us can fulfill our ambitions.  Desire is desperately important to achieve greatness at anything, but it is not enough.  I wanted so much when I was a kid to play basketball, but when you are built like an offensive lineman it’s just not happening.  It is no secret that I love comic books and therefore it should not be surprising that to obtain a credit in a widely read comic book remains a bucket list item for me.  But here is the thing – I cannot draw to save my life.  Lessons don’t help, desire doesn’t help – I lack the talent.  These are both ambitions that at some point in my life motivated me deeply, but I have had to learn to temper my ambition.

There is no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton’s ambition to be the first female president of the United States is powerful.  The place where she now sits proves it.  But the last two weeks reveal that she lacks some of the other attributes for the job.  Between the Benghazi report and the Comey presser we now know that her skills in a crisis, at leading an organization, and her attention to detail are all sorely lacking.  Like me and comic books, she may have the desire, but she lacks the skill and talent.

But we seem to now live in a different age; an age where desire is enough.  After all, if we fail to achieve our ambitions our sense of self might somehow be damaged.  And so, for the sake of Hillary Clinton’s ambition Americans die and national security is compromised.  That is one hell of a cost.  And yet, ambition combined with that sense of self can also be self-defeating.  Consider Matt Lewis’ excellent analysis of Trump’s handling of these Clinton Crises.

But even with Trump as her opponent, in a news vacuum, the media might have been forced to really grapple with Clinton’s sins. In an industry that craves content to satisfy the demands of 24/7 news coverage, think pieces might have been written, cable news soliloquies might have been delivered, and the press might have spent some time overcompensating in an effort to prove they are not really so biased.

Then, Donald Trump did something that would ensure this story would not live on for multiple news cycles: He praised Saddam Hussein .

Oops.  Heck, Paul Ryan is trying to do Trump’s job for him, and it seems like Trump still insists.  Ambition is important, but it needs to be tempered and channeled.

My devotional reading this morning discussed one of the times the Pharisees really got on Jesus.  Mark Roberts says of the Pharisees:

The Pharisees, who were committed to the highest standards of ritual purity, would never eat with people who were soiled by their impurity.

That is deep ambition on the part of the Pharisees – to be pure.  And yet in their desire to be pure, they almost entirely missed the point, both in the particular story I read this morning and generally as they ended up enemies with Jesus when their ambition for purity should have made them natural allies.  Their ambition needed tempering, with love, grace, and frankly a serious view at their own shortcomings.  In their efforts to be pure, the Pharisees entirely missed seeing that they were not themselves pure.  They had the ritual part down pat, but they lacked some of the other aspects required.

Nothing tempers ambition more, or better, than a genuine sense of self – one that includes not only our ambition, but also our shortcomings.  That crushing sensation one gets when ones ambitions are thwarted does not destroy the sense of self, it defines it.  We all have limitations, we cannot pretend we don’t.  We have to learn to live with them.  And there’s the rub, absent Jesus we can’t live with them.

Jesus brings grace, grace sufficient to deal with our shortcomings.  Once our sense of self comes not from achieving our ambition, but from the grace of Christ then we are set free.  Ambition is not tempered by disappointment, it is tempered by grace – disappointment is just the road to grace.  Would that we all took that road.


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