(Im)Perfect: The Ambitious Heart

Growing up, my parents always said my brother got the brains and I got the personality.

It was the 80s–parents said stuff like that all the time without understanding the therapy bills that would come later.

By the time grades became important, my brother took them very seriously. I’m not sure he cared so much about the learning, but he definitely cared about the letter grade that was attached to his assignments.

This didn’t end with high school.

After graduating at the top of his class, he went on to college, grad school, and grad school again (Is there a name for that? Post grad school?). 

When it came to his academic successes, there was nothing that would get in the way of his ambition.

In its purest form, ambition isn’t bad.

The world we live in today, though, has placed an emphasis on ambition that, if unchecked, has the potential to be incredibly dangerous. It can infiltrate every aspect of our lives:

  • We want the most high-paying jobs.
  • We seek recognition from our bosses, co-workers, friends, and churches
  • We want the validation of seeing our names in lights.
  • We push our kids to be on the best travel ball teams.
  • We want our kids to be at the top of the class, the MVP of the team, to have the lead role
  • We want the biggest house.
  • We want the most expensive cars.
  • We want more clothes in our closets than we could ever wear.
  • We want more channels on tv than we could ever watch.
  • We want our refrigerators to be so overflowing that we throw more food out than some people eat.

Do you see a theme here?

Ambition has caused this “bigger and better” mindset to be the norm in our world today.

The Root of the Ambitious Heart

I like to blame the world today or the society we live in for pretty much everything that is wrong or eventually going to be wrong around me, but, if I’m being really honest, the core problems we face are problems that have been around since the beginning of time.

Ambition is no exception.

Let me introduce you to Jacob, otherwise known as Israel–the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. 

Jacob was born ambitious–literally. 

When his mother, Rebekah, was pregnant, she was miserable. Genesis 25:21-25 (MSG) says:

But the children tumbled and kicked inside her so much that she said, “If this is the way it’s going to be, why go on living?” She went to God to find out what was going on. God told her,

Two nations are in your womb,

    two peoples butting heads while still in your body.

One people will overpower the other,

    and the older will serve the younger.

Genesis 25:21-25

Rebekah was pregnant with twins, Jacob and Esau, who were constantly tumbling and kicking inside her womb, representative of the relationship the two would have throughout their entire lives, ultimately ending with the older serving the younger.

When it came time to give birth, Esau was born first, but Jacob was right behind him, his fist clutched tight to his brother’s heel.

Things didn’t get any easier for these two brothers as they grew older. While Esau preferred to be outside hunting, Jacob preferred to be inside. This fact is at the center of Jacob’s second truly ambitious act. 

Esau came in from the fields–exhausted and hungry–only to find his brother had made stew. Desperate for this sustenance, Esau asked Jacob for his stew. Jacob agreed, but only after Esau agreed to give up his birthright as the first-born son. Short-sighted, Esau agreed to give up his birthright because “What good is a birthright if I’m dead?” (Genesis 25:32 MSG). 

The birthright alone wasn’t enough for Jacob, though. When Isaac had grown old, blind, and was on his deathbed, he asked Esau to go hunt game and fix him a meal. Rebekah overheard this, and as Jacob was her favorite and she believed God wanted Jacob to have the blessing, set him on the task of fixing a meal for his father and gaining Isaac’s blessing–in addition to the birthright. Through much trickery, Jacob achieves this mission, leaving nothing for Esau (Genesis 27).

It doesn’t end here for Jacob. No, his struggles and ambitions continue throughout the rest of his life:

  • Jacob fled Esau to look for a wife and ended up with his Uncle Laban 
  • Jacob worked seven years to marry Rachel, but Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah
  • Jacob worked another seven years to marry Rachel
  • When Rachel wasn’t able to get pregnant, she gave him her maid to have children
  • When Leah quit having children, she gave her maid to Jacob to have more children
  • Leah bargained for another night with her husband, and he got her pregnant again
  • Finally, Rachel got pregnant by Jacob
  • Jacob deceives Laban to ensure Jacob receives the strongest and best of the livestock
  • Jacob becomes wealthy due to his deception of Laban

Just to make sure you really understand the dynamic here–Jacob has children with two wives and two maidservants at this point and is still living in Laban’s land.

Jacob wants nothing more than to return home at this point, but Laban is not so keen on letting Jacob leave with his daughters and grandchildren, so he continues to make things exceptionally complicated for Jacob. Eventually, Jacob and his wives end up deceiving Laban so they can sneak out with all the house’s possessions in the middle of the night.

Of course, Laban catches up to them and there’s a big altercation where Laban looks for his household possessions and can’t find them because his daughter is hiding them. Finally, the family goes on their way to return to Jacob’s homeland.

Are you exhausted reading that?


There’s so much to process here.

Redeeming the Ambitious Heart

I’m always conflicted when I revisit these old testament stories. To be really honest with you, I’m not sure Jacob and I would have been the best of friends. He frustrates me endlessly.

But, God.

It’s so easy for me to look at Jacob’s life and his decisions and see nothing but his ambition and his deception–after all, the list is essentially never-ending. 

Scattered in Jacob’s stories of ambition and deception, though, is the redemptive story of God, His plan for this man, and his plan for the nation of Israel.

If I skip over those parts, this story is nothing more than an illustration of deception and ambition.

When Jacob and Esau were in the womb, God spoke to Rebekah and told her the oldest son would serve the younger. We see this in that scripture from Genesis 25:25 (MSG):

Two nations are in your womb,

    two peoples butting heads while still in your body.

One people will overpower the other,

    and the older will serv

Genesis 25:25

Knowing this, Rebekah pushed Jacob to steal the blessing of his father from his brother. Interestingly, God’s fingerprints are all over this particular act of ambition and deception.

After that, when Jacob fled from Esau, God confirmed his covenant with Jacob. In Genesis 28:13-15 we read of God coming to Jacob in a dream and telling him:

“I am God, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I’m giving the ground on which you are sleeping to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will be as the dust of the Earth; they’ll stretch from west to east and from north to south. All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants. Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”Genesis 28:13-15

Genesis 28:13-15

Then, when Jacob was working for Laban and fled during the night with his family and Laban caught up to them, God appeared to Laban in a dream and told him “Be careful what you do to Jacob, whether good or bad” (Genesis 31:24). 

Finally, there’s the famous incident of Jacob wrestling through the night with God (Genesis 32:28) where God renames him Israel.

 How differently does the story of Jacob read when we see God’s fingerprints on it?

The Art of Imperfection

We could stop reading the story of Jacob here and walk away questioning Jacob’s behavior but also seeing God’s will play out in his life.

The story doesn’t end there, though.

The story doesn’t end until Jacob’s sons and grandsons become the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

God’s people were Jacob’s descendants.

Without God’s will and his guidance, Jacob’s story would just be another story of an ambitious man deceiving others to get ahead. We would read it and shake our heads because, frankly, he was a bit of a mess.

Within the context of God, his grace, mercy, and guidance, our perceptions differ. Jacob was still an imperfect mess of a human being, but he was a mess of a human being who chose God and God’s plan. And, it’s only because of that choice that Jacob is redeemed and his covenant with God stays intact.

(Im)Perfect: Our Own Ambitions Hearts

When I look at this story of Jacob, I have to wonder how different we really are from this man.

When we are left to our own devices, we make terrible choices. We are driven by ambition and the need for success. We get inundated with busyness and chaos, and before we know it, we find ourselves wandering around in the wilderness, completely off the path God is trying to guide us down. 

If we ignore God’s fingerprints on our lives and the times God has intervened in our lives and brought us into difficult situations and through these same difficult situations, we might look just like Jacob did before we saw God’s fingerprints in his life.

Jacob was imperfect, but God used him and blessed him incredibly–despite his deception, ambition, and imperfection.

We are all imperfect as well, but God wants to use us and bless us incredibly–despite our flaws, failures, and imperfections.

Friend, I don’t know what your life looks like, but I am confident that what it looks like when I see it with God’s fingerprints all over it is simply this–redeemed. 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What parts of your story do you recognize in Jacob’s?
  2. How do God’s fingerprints on your life change the way you see it?

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7 thoughts on “(Im)Perfect: The Ambitious Heart

Add yours

  1. Kristen, don’t you just love how God’s Word is filled with stories of real life people who struggled with exactly what we’re dealing with? He knew we’d need steady doses of hope all these years later.


  2. We do live in such a society of more, more, more. Never enough. To find our contentment in the Love that surrounds us and lives in us is a daily struggle, but it is the way to peace.


  3. I love the story of Jacob in the Bible. We do live in such a society of more, more, more. Never enough.Thankful for a Perfect God who does extraordinary things with imperfect people!


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