It is great to be driven! Life is not a matter of que sera sera. To be driven is to be ambitious. We are told to take life by the horn and not merely cruise along and hope for the best. We are encouraged by the media to live our dreams and to reach our goals and beyond! The sky’s no longer the limit if you have the drive. As the saying goes, if you aim at nothing, you will hit it.
The word ambition comes from a Latin word which means “to canvas for advancement.” In our modern world, it is no longer a dirty word. We admire those with a consuming and obsessive desire to move up the corporate ladder of success or to acquire fame and fortune or to possess and wield power over others. We applaud those who make things happen and get the job done. So what if the newspapers and daily gossips center around stories of business rivalry, family struggles, political feuds and church conflicts. Life’s tough, dude … deal with it!
Imagine the difference if life is a matter of que sera sera. Unfortunately cultures and nations that espouse such a way of life are left behind in the mad race to modernize, urbanize and globalize. Or they get threatened and overwhelmed by the more enterprising, expansionistic and exploitative economies of the world.
Unfortunately, we fail to realize that drivenness is a symptom of a deep need inside us which is the human quest for meaning and significance. We are driven to as well as by success, fitness, popularity, perfectionism and religious zeal. These are some of the expressions of our deepest needs and longings. As such, drivenness is behind all addictive behaviors. Workaholism is drivenness at work (pardon the pun)! Driven people will focus all their energies to meet these needs without realizing that they are all subject to the laws of diminishing returns.
Paul the rabbi was a certainly a driven man. He was on a mission to exterminate Christians as they threaten the Jewish religion and race. Then the encounter with the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus transformed not just the man but also his zeal. However, Paul was no longer just a driven person as much as he was now a called person. Yet as a called person, he had a different motive to pursue his new mission. His zeal was redirected towards the right cause and for the right Person. Well, we could still say Paul was driven by his calling and passion and devotion to his Caller as he attested in Colossians 1:29, “To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.”
There is a difference between just being driven and being driven as a result of being called although externally both seem similar in expression and behavior. The difference lies in the source. The driven person has a selfish and self-centered obsession that is ultimately destructive to himself and to others around him. The called person is motivated by a cause beyond himself and seeks to build, liberate and empower others.
Gordon MacDonald in his classic book Ordering Your Private World lists eight characteristics of driven people. They are most often gratified only by accomplishment, preoccupied with the symbols of accomplishment, usually caught in the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion, have a limited regard for integrity, and possess poor relational skills. They tend to be highly competitive, possess a volcanic force of anger, and are usually abnormally busy. Of course, driven people are not necessary bad or evil people. Driven people are movers and shakers of society. Today, they build business empires, make billions, even help the less fortunate and disadvantaged. Some rise to music or movie superstardom and provide inspiration for the young generation. Others may aim to lead the biggest church on the face of the earth. Yes, we need people with passion, drive and oomph! However, in their blind drivenness, they may also cause harm to themselves and to others. Some have driven themselves to the ground.
On the other hand, a called person sees life as a stewardship rather than an entitlement or a privilege. Life, relationships, talents, wealth, opportunities, etc., are perceived as gifts from God. The pursuit of excellence in these areas is a response to God’s grace rather than competition and achievement.
The pursuit of excellence in these areas is a response to God’s grace rather than competition and achievement.
A called person operates from a clear sense of identity, destiny and purpose. A clear sense of identity cannot be found from external circumstances; it can only be built on the foundation of core values and beliefs, which define our selfhood. Similarly, a clear sense of purpose cannot be found from trappings of success; it can only be based on a deep conviction of our calling and mission in life. Selfish ambitions for fame, power and wealth are misguided, because in the end, they only lead to disillusion rather than fulfilment. The trappings of success never fill the inner void for meaning and significance.
Where do we strike the balance?
We live in a culture where advancing one’s self is considered a worthy virtue. Perhaps the advice of S D Gordon, the early 1900’s Christian speaker and author could point us in the right direction:, “Let it once be fixed that a man’s ambition is to fit into God’s plan for him.” From Jeremiah’s counsel to Baruch, we learn what not to do: “But as for you, do you seek great things for yourself? Stop seeking!” (Jeremiah 45:5). And pioneer of the Moravian missionary movement Count Zinzendorf summed up so poignantly the true source of personal meaning and significance of life in his immortal sentence, “I have one ambition: it is He, He alone.” Commitment rather than drivenness is what drives the person towards accomplishment.
If being ambitious means the pursuit of excellence, then we ought to be thoroughly ambitious. If being driven is to live life to the full, then we ought to go for it. If ambition refers to a noble passion in life, then Christians ought to set the example. Paul himself declared in Romans 15:20 that “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”
It is great to be driven. It is better to be called and driven.