Dave Harvey: Don’t Waste Your Ambition

Dave Harvey, pastor, Sovereign Grace Ministries leader, and author of one of our favorite books of 2007When Sinners Say ‘I Do’ (Shepherd Press)—was in town Sunday to preach on ambition. The topic informs the main theme of a book he is currently writing (proposed title, Wired for Glory: Ambitious for What Matters Most). It looks to be another excellent book.

For a little glimpse into the focus of the book you can listen to the message here:

Or download it here.

Here are my sermon notes from Sunday [not edited for exactness, but a snapshot of sermon flow and overview of content.]


Don’t Waste Your Ambition
Dave Harvey
John 12:27-29, 36-44, Romans 15:19-20
August 10, 2008
Covenant Life Church; Gaithersburg, MD

Ambition is a frequently neglected topic in the church. Yet without ambition we all become lazy. But we don’t arrive at biblical understanding of ambition by going directly at it, but by building from a foundational understanding of glory.

We chase after what we value. In the text some followers of Christ, true believers, would not confess Christ publicly out of fear of the Pharisees (vv. 42-43). They believed in Christ but lived inconsistently because they loved their own glory, reputation, esteem, etc.

We are glory hunters. We are wired for glory. We are born with an instinct to chase glory. – We pursue what we value. The question is not about whether we seek glory, but where we seek glory. There is a greater glory than self-glorification. So how do we love God’s glory?

[1] The glory that comes from God is first in a Person. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s glory. Christ is the radiance of God (Hebrews 1:3). Back in John 12, for these believers the very embodiment of God’s glory is right there before their eyes, yet they are seeking their own glory (an irony, an absurdity). We are called to love the person of Christ and value Him above all else. This is more than finding Christ contemporarily “cool,” but about looking to the value of the Cross. Notice the future tense reference to God glorifying His name in Christ on the cross: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28). God is more glorified in the cross than anything else (creation, parting of the Red Sea, etc.). [Reminds me of Thomas Goodwin’s book, “The Glory of the Gospel,” where he argues the Cross is now where we now find the unmasked glory Moses so adamantly requested to see on Sinai.] At the cross, mercy and justice kissed. God says to us, “Don’t waste your ambition on anything but Christ.”

[2] The glory that comes from God demands pursuit. We are all familiar with ambition derivative of a zeal for personal glory. We need to learn to transfer glory to God, something modeled so well in C.J. Mahaney’s life. So do I seek my glory or do I seek transfer glory to God?

Ambition is not bad, in fact ambition is essential to godliness and humility. C.K. Chesterton writs, “The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”

Scripture makes clear that ambition is not the problem, selfish ambition is. The problem is our aim. I am too “Davebitious.”

Godly Ambition

A. Perceive. We must see the value of God’s glory or we will fail to pursue it. Where we fail to see the value we fail to act.

B. Prize. Affections follow our perceptions. “Ambitions rise to what we prize.” In the Olympics we see athletes who sacrifice throughout their entire lives for one Olympic race that will last but seconds in length.

C. Pursue.


So what does all this mean for tomorrow morning (Monday)?

1. The search for approval is over so ambition for God’s glory can begin. So much of our lives are spent to gain approval. Yet in the cross we have been freed from a life of attempts to meet the approval of God. Christians have all the approval we need. All the energy we invest in personal-image-management can now be redirected towards the glory of God. We now obey God from His approval not for His approval. Ambition for God’s glory can begin when our approval before God has been settled.

2. Godly ambition should lead us to explore new paths and new opportunities to glorify God. Read Romans 15:19-20. Here we see the Apostle Paul moving outwards to find new opportunities for the spread of the gospel. There is too much of God’s glory to spread globally to stifle Paul’s ambition. Here is a model of godly ambition—innovation and initiation—that challenges us to ask how we can serve in the spread of the gospel. It is provoking to think of how we can take new ground for God’s glory today.

We are tempted limit ambition to our occupations and not to think of ambition within the realm of church. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). We seek to align our ambitions with the ambitions of Christ. Ambition is not only played out in global missions. Take your ambition and apply it to the local church. Seek to serve this local church and perceive the paths available to glorify God in your life. Don’t waste your ambition.

3 thoughts on “Dave Harvey: Don’t Waste Your Ambition

  1. Tony,
    Thank you for sharing this word from Dave Harvey! I’m determined to study the related Scriptures and re-read(and listen)to this message several times over!

    Being semi-retired, healthy, and not (too!) old, my sincerest desire is to serve the Lord, His church, and bring glory to Him the rest of my days. As Psalm 92 encourages, I wish to “flourish in the courts of our God…still yield fruit in old age”, and “declare that the Lord is upright!”

    Thanks to Dave and you for sharing a word in season! Linda

  2. Hi Tony,
    thanks for sharing this. I have enjoyed listening to this series online and was actually able to visit your church for the “don’t waste your job.” thanks for your comments – I look forward to listening to this one too! :)

  3. Linda and emily, thank you for the kind words. It’s a joy to share this message with you and a great encouragement to hear that you have (or will be) listening to it. It’s a dandy by a greatly gifted preacher in Dave.



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