After Sarah’s death, Abraham knew it was time to find a wife for his son Isaac. Although this level of nuptial involvement is insupportable today, the parental quest for a wife for Isaac was initiated by divine secret impulse. Abraham, too advanced in age to travel afar, turned to the executive manager of his estate to find just the right match for his son. The Scripture identifies this manager as the “eldest servant that ruled over all that Abraham had.” Servants were employees in Abraham’s world. And this servant was the CEO of his estate.
Abraham’s CEO had many distinguished qualities that separated him from the pack. As I was reading about him this week it was clear to me that he was loyal, trustworthy, innovative, diligent, thankful, courageous, focused, determined, and most importantly was sold on the spiritual reason why this was such an important assignment.
This CEO would be very unique in today’s business, corporate or institutional culture. Not because of the qualities he did have but the character trait that is missing in the Biblical account: there is no indication that he was ambitious. So I started thinking about ambition and other Biblical characters that we admire. For me at least, it was difficult to single out any of them with ambitious character traits. However, all of them were industrious. If we just consider Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: there is abundant evidence of their industrious personalities and character traits but little or no evidence they were ambitious.
The lesson for me is, there seems to be a difference between ambition and industry. And being industrious appears to be the better of the two. Ambition can often get us into trouble where industry rarely finds itself in a predicament. The ambitious are held in high regard in business, parents praise (implicitly or explicitly) the benefits of ambition, and print and television outlets upgrade ambition to premium status. I concede that it is counter-cultural and maybe even counter-intuitive to suggest another way.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that prioritizing industry over ambition would not help us to be more at ease with ourselves: accepting that it takes time to improve our lives, that there is nothing wrong with incremental progress. This mindset would likely take the pressure off of us to be super-performers! To be super-rich! To be super-popular! Prioritizing industry over ambition would help us to accept our station in life, and those in authority until we are promoted without the unsettling internal strivings that motivate us to push upward into places that are unsuitable or before we are ready. In addition, we might experience more harmonious relationships with friends, family and co-workers. We would likely be less suspicious of the intentions of others. The freedom from jockeying for position would certainly create a better community feeling and be less stressful. In the end we just might end up as the CEO of something, even if it is of our own lives.
Joseph C. Hutchison, Rochester Hills, Michigan 2020
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