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Lessons On Ambition From An Original Tiger Mom


We live in city and county filled with Tiger Moms – ambitious moms who push and promote their kids in every way, everyday (term coined by Amy Chua). If you want a picture of unbridled and unchecked ambition, you need look no further than your closest Tiger Mom.

What can the ambition of Tiger Moms teach us about our own ambitions?

In Matthew 20:20-28, we have an account of Jesus’ interaction with an original Tiger Mom – the mother of James and John, the “Sons of Thunder.” Her ambition was infectious, in the worst way, as we can see in this story about her sons. Through it, we can learn six clear lessons about our own ambitions:

(1) Jesus wants us to bring our ambitions to him

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. (Matthew 20:20 ESV)

Most of us know that many of our ambitions are tied to less than perfect motivations. This makes it hard to think about bringing our ambitions to Jesus, the Perfect One. And yet, like an understanding father, friend or teacher, Jesus wants us to bring our ambitions to him, imperfections and all.

More than that, Jesus wants us to bring to him what we really want, not what we think he wants to hear about what we want.

And he said to her, “What do you want?” (Matthew 20:21a ESV)

What this Tiger Mom wanted seemed outrageous:

“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21 ESV)

And yet, she is heard by Jesus. 

Do you believe Jesus really wants to hear what you really want? 

(2) Jesus wants to lovingly re-align our ambitions

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” (Matthew 20:22 ESV)

One of the most loving ways Jesus can help us with our ambitions is by helping us to re-align our ambitions around the real implications of them.

Too often, we have too many ambitions that have too many implications we know too little about. But Jesus knows. Don’t make the mistake this Tiger Mom and her sons did, thinking you know enough to chase your ambitions without listening more intently to Jesus about the real implications of them.

Do you trust Jesus enough take his help in re-aligning your ambitions?

(3) Jesus wants to lovingly re-calibrate our ambitions

Another loving way Jesus can help us with our ambitions is by helping us re-calibrate our ambitions around our development and his desires for us.

He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:23 ESV)

Jesus tells James and John that they weren’t ready for the real implications of their ambitions. Not yet. They weren’t far enough along in their personal development. Only after more time following, learning from and submitting to Jesus, would they be far enough along in their development to live out their ambitions, including all the implications that go along with them. Their time would come, just not yet.

You may have ambitions that will be realized somewhere down the line, when your personal development can hold the weight of your personal ambitions. Don’t push it. Walk with Jesus, wait on Jesus, and watch your ambitions unfold in his time.

Jesus also tells James and John that the Father’s ambitions for them might be different than their ambitions for themselves. Instead of removing their ambitions, Jesus helps them re-calibrate their ambitions around what the Father knows is best for them. They might not ever sit at the right and left, but they would contribute to the growth of the Kingdom in significant ways.

You and I may never have the highest position, salary or influence we’re ambitious for. And it will have nothing to do with our drive or inability, but everything to do with His loving desires for us.

Your most fulfilling ambitions will unfold at the intersection of your development and his desires.

Do you trust Jesus enough take his help in re-calibrating your ambitions?

(4) Jesus wants to protect us from the consequences of unchecked ambition

And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.

(Matthew 20:24 ESV)

Unchecked ambition is off-putting. When we have such singular focus on our ambitions that we crowd out even those closest to us, or worse, attempt to fulfill our own ambitions at their expense, it will alienate us, and may ultimately keep us from arriving at the things we had the greatest ambitions for in the first place.

Are you alienating anyone close to you because of your unchecked ambitions? 

(5) Jesus wants to give us greater ambitions

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave – even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

Many of our greatest ambitions revolve around things like money, power and authority, because these things can afford us a life well-served - the most clout with those closest to us, the most influence in the office, fine service at the finest restaurants, the best treatment at the best vacation destinations. And so on.

These things seem like great ambitions at the start, but if you’ve seen them realized in any significant way for any significant time in your life, you know that they prove to be too small an ambition, not too great. You know there is more. Much more.

Jesus wants to give us these greater ambitions – ambitions that revolve not around being served, but serving others. Ambitions that focus on serving our family in sacrificial ways, coming alongside a neighbor in unexpected ways, sharing successes with others at work in selfless ways, serving our community in philanthropic ways. And so on.

These are the ambitions that prove to do the greatest good, bring the greatest joy, and bear the greatest resemblance to our great Savior - which is why they are the greater ambitions.

Do you believe Jesus has greater ambitions in store for you? 

(6) Jesus wants us to place our ambitions between the cross and the cross

Its interesting that this story about ambition lands literally between two pictures of the cross (Matt.20:17-19 & Matt.20:28). This isn’t an accident. It means something. Matthew is trying to say something.

I believe part of what Matthew is trying to say is that we should place our ambitions right between the cross and the cross – that the cross and the cross should be the bookends, the guardrails for our greatest ambitions.

The cross is the place we re-align and re-calibrate all things in our Christian life. It’s hard to go wrong when we see anything, including our ambitions, in light of the cross.

Do you have the courage to place your ambitions between the cross and the cross?

What lessons have you learned here, or other places in Scripture, about your ambitions and your life with Jesus?