My great-uncle always seemed happy and he had a way of making me feel important. During the summer months my grandfather and I fished at his pond, and if he was home we would talk first. The last time I saw him he said I should come back some day to go horse riding. But the horse ride never came.
I was unaware my uncle had been battling depression, and I remember how strange the news seemed since I thought depressed people sat by themselves in dark rooms with frowns on their faces. My uncle never frowned, and was always upbeat. But something was terribly wrong, and not long after the invitation to go horse riding, he took his own life.
My grandfather had been at my great-uncle’s house the night before his death, trying desperately to speak hope into his life. My great-uncle said, “You just don’t understand.” We didn’t. As I would discover later, sometimes people carry unbelievably heavy burdens through life. Whether or not the burdens are anchored in reality is irrelevant.
One of the burdens I encounter frequently in my conversations with others is a profound feeling of failure. Most of us want to be successful, but chances are, we aren’t going to reach all of our goals all of the time. How we define success, and how we interpret our circumstances will determine how we recover from our disappointments. We will return to this thought in a moment.
There is another important subject that naturally intersects with success: that of human ambition. Ambition is a part of our God-given composition. It gives us the drive to get up in the morning and pursue purpose in our lives. After sin entered the world, however, ambition went the way of other human characteristics as Satan exploited our sinful nature. We developed selfish ambition, which leads us to use the gifts and opportunities God has given us for our own gain, at other’s expense. On the flip side we embraced apathy, which is the sinful habit of wasting our gifts and opportunities by failing to use them for any meaningful purpose. The first sin is a refusal to care about others and the second a failure to care about anything.
How do success and ambition relate to one another within the context of the beatitudes? Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). I am convinced the meek are those who seek a restored vision of ambition where success is measured by how well we use what God has given us for His glory. When we grasp this principle, we experience a revolution in the way we establish and strive after goals in our lives.