WHEN GOD SHUTS OFF THE VALVE OF AMBITION


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I‘m the kind of person who has a creative idea just about every day, whether it’s a way to make something better, a new innovation, or a business. At the same time, I believe God put a dream inside me to be a storyteller through the medium of film when I was only 11 years old. That dream has kept me going for many decades, that is, until a week ago when everything changed. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

When God gave me that dream as a child, the first thing I wanted to do was purchase a $500 video camera, but that was a pretty expensive purchase for an 11 year old, especially in 1991 dollars. So, what did I do? I made a deal with my parents that I would wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning every day for one year to walk our new dog. If I did that, I would earn an allowance that would give me enough money to afford that video camera. I did just that.

When most kids my age were focused on playing video games, I spent my days using my camera to shoot silly things. I built sets out of boxes and produced skits with my neighborhood friends to perfect my craft as a “director.” That 8-millimeter video camera brought me so much joy. 

As I got older, I started to take filmmaking more seriously. My first job at 17 was as an intern at a movie studio in my neighborhood where they shot Miami Vice in the 1980s. From there I got a job working on a feature film that was in production on one of the sound stages. 

Throughout my early 20s, I worked with many producers, directors, and actors I admired as a kid. But instead of moving out to Los Angeles like most people who want to work in the film industry do, I decided to stay in Miami and pursue a career in publishing. I wanted to make it as a screenwriter and I believed publishing would give me the strong writing chops I needed. 

There are many interesting details and colorful Hollywood anecdotes I have to leave out because I want to get to my point. And here it is. With as much ambition as I’ve had since I was 11 years old to fulfill this dream of making movies, along with my ambition for other creative ventures in recent years, today, at this moment, that ambition is … poof … completely gone! It’s almost as if God shut off my valve of ambition from one day to the next. Not only am I not feeling ambitious about my goals, I’m also questioning why I had any ambition toward them in the first place. What will reaching any of these goals really achieve? Will they help anyone? Will they leave a legacy? What’s the point? These are the questions going through my head.

While I was experiencing these feelings, I asked myself three questions: 1. Is ambition a bad thing? 2. Does God have the power to just completely turn off ambition? 3. If He does, were those dreams and goals really mine in the first place? Well, they aren’t, and they are. You see, Psalm 37:4 talks about God giving us the desires of our heart, which He placed there, and which are very real. But there’s a caveat. You must delight in the Lord first and foremost.

To tell you the truth, and as much as it hurts me to say this, I haven’t really been delighting in the Lord these last couple of years. Yes, I pray every morning. I go to church on Sundays. I faithfully lead my bible study group. I serve on my team at church consistently. And I frequently surround myself with God’s word. And no, I haven’t been doing any of these with an obligation mentality. I truly enjoy each of these activities. But despite all of this, I realized, I haven’t been all in for God. Truth is, for much of my life I have been betting on my own ambition even while I have been doing God’s work.  

In the midst of my striving to release my first two books as an author, work on a movie project, and take my social media startup to the next level, I was putting the spotlight on … me. I wasn’t dying to self. I was trying to make myself. I was trying to achieve the results in my life that only God could achieve. So now here I am, and you know what? I’m tired. I’m exhausted. And I’m depleted from all of this ambition. Well ... I was a week ago anyway. Right now in this moment I’m actually feeling more refreshed than I have in years because I’ve completely surrendered to God’s will in a way that is more than just lip service or activity, and it’s an incredible feeling. 

This whole experience began after I took a week off from work to catch my breath and ask God what he wanted me to do next because I believed I was at a crossroads in my career. Yeah, God definitely spoke to me, but He didn’t give me some awesome plan. He said what He says often: “Wait. Wait on me. I’ve got somewhere I want you to go, and that dream I gave you at 11 is still what I have for you, but you need to trust my path and the pace of my grace. You don’t have to hustle or grind. I will open the right doors, and in due time, I will turn that valve back on. But don’t ever let your ambition become selfish like it was. I need you to focus on me. And I need you to stop striving and let go. I love when you don’t want to know where your next season will take place and that you don’t care what the next step will be, because it tells me you trust me no matter what.”

These were eye opening words, even for someone who has a pretty good understanding of grace and God’s timing. Is God telling you the same thing today? To die to self and trust Him blindly? Has he shut off your selfish ambition so you can focus on Him and only Him? If so, that’s the best place to be because it’s at the center of His will.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

— Psalm 37:4

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

— James 3:14–16