In Romans 15:20, Paul reveals his life goal: to spread the gospel to those who have not yet heard. He uses the word philotimeomai. It means “to love or seek after honor, or “strive eagerly, desire very strongly.” We call this ambition. Below is my story of re-routed ambition, authored by a merciful God who persistently rescues me from my selfish dreams of fame and glory. That sentence is in the present tense because it’s a daily process.
I arrived in New York City in the Spring of 2003, armed with a BFA in Musical Theatre and a suitcase full of determination and naiveté. The ambition of my foolish 22 year old heart was to see my name spelled with lightbulbs above Shubert Alley. That’s not my love of drama flaring up; that is seriously all I wanted. I aspired to a life on a Broadway stage, creating leading roles and soaking in praise. And I wanted it badly enough to fight for it. I worked numerous side jobs, got little sleep, and ate A LOT of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After much hard work and even more beauty and fashion advice, I was cast as a swing in the Broadway musical Wonderful Town. When I got the blessed phone call, my 5 x 8 foot living room could not contain my joy! With numb legs and a full heart, I made my Broadway debut at the Hirshfeld. I was utterly content.
Until a few months later.
My unhappiness really confused me. I had reached a great station, and it didn’t complete my life the way I had expected. My discontentment felt like a cage. Every six months, I found myself saying, “I won’t be happy until I have ______.” As I chased after my dreams, they were always replaced by bigger and “better” ones. I racked up marvelous experiences, but full contentment and joy seemed to come and go. They kept slipping out of my hands. Don’t get me wrong—to share my heart on a Broadway stage was a high honor and a precious gift. “Exhilarating” isn’t a strong enough word to describe it.
It just wasn’t enough to live for.
At the time, I claimed to be a Jesus follower, but I was only “following” when I needed something from him. I did not grasp the amazing truth of the gospel. Rather, I liked the logic of earning God’s love by my good behavior. Thankfully, some new friends inspired me to actually read the Bible! I finally settled on the Good News that God accepts me, loves me, listens to me, and acts on my behalf all because of Jesus. His love is unshakable and based on our faith in His son, not our ability to follow the rules. Let us all breathe a sigh of relief!
As if that wasn’t already wonderful enough, He wants the whole world to know the beauty and freedom of this truth…and He calls us to be a part of that purpose. We are called by name and appointed to this great cause (see Isaiah 43:7, John 15:16). In Matthew 28:19, we are told to “make disciples of all nations.” And we get to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth,” empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
See, not all dreams are bad. The tragedy of mine is that they were all about me. Alas, my resume, all my titles, possessions, accolades, and applause will all vanish someday. The gospel invites us to participate in one huge glorious dream about God and His Kingdom.
That doesn’t always translate into dropping your career and funnelling all your talents into full time ministry. We are united in our purpose and yet unique in our callings. As one big family, we get the privilege of knowing Him and making Him known, and God has a specific way He wants each of us to go about it. God sees us as individuals. He says in Psalm 139:16 that He has mapped out each day of our lives. So whether we are crunching numbers, changing diapers, or fighting fires, may we be found sharing the Good News of Jesus.
As you read this, I’m may still be on a stage, telling stories and singing songs. And yet, I dare consider myself in “full time ministry.” No matter who signs my paycheck, I aim to work full time giving people a glimpse of who Jesus really is. I hope to serve, bless, and love through the means of storytelling and everything inbetween. Don’t let me fool you into thinking I’m the portrait of grace. I fail at this task daily, but I press onward toward the goal.
It’s a grand mission we are part of, you and me. We are unleashed toward something that is so much greater than us. Together, we get to work for things that last forever. Yes, it is still indeed “work.” Will it be at times painful, embarrassing, difficult, and uncomfortable? Will we lose friends, jobs, respect, and reputations? If we boldly and lovingly spread the gospel of Jesus, we’ll likely experience all of the above.
Will it be worth it? Without a doubt.