Thursday, January 21, 2021
Faculty Feature | Anthony Ikwueme
This past fall semester our Ehrhorn Law Library Director, Anthony Ikwueme, gave an inspiration presentation to students, faculty, and staff at Law School Convocation. This is a summary of his Convocation message:
“A purpose-driven life: Finding God’s calling on your life or pursuing your ambition?”
Christians often grapple with whether it is proper to be ambitious or self-driven. Some are of the view that we should not be anxious about anything. Others do not see anything wrong with being ambitious; and that all depends on what drives determination. Even the Scriptures note that anyone who does not work, should not eat [2 Thes. 3:110]). Although the above saying more aptly connotes hard work, rather than ambition; an ambitious person is a hardworking person although the motives might differ.
Ambition can also connote either a positive or negative term depending on the circumstances. In most African societies, where the governments are corrupt and access to public office is the only means of survival, it takes an ambitious person to survive. The same term will be looked at differently in a typical North American society such as Canada or the U.S. Ambition can therefore mean different things to different people depending on their goals and circumstances.
As Christians, the common denominator for deciphering whether a Christian can be ambitious is whether the purpose is scriptural driven. Growing up, I have always wanted to be a lawyer. It was not until when I was preparing to leave Nigeria for further studies abroad that I paused for the first time to question why I decided to be a lawyer in the first place and the need for pursuing graduate studies abroad when I had a rewarding legal practice that enabled me to travel overseas and interact with many foreign clients? Even at that time, I could not clearly articulate any Biblical principle for my ambition except to advance myself. Was that decision bad of itself? I sincerely cannot make judge myself negatively. It was not until after my graduate program in Canada and deciding to work for a Christian law firm that the faith foundation of my career began to unravel so that I did not have any hesitation saying yes when the opportunity to join Liberty opened up in 2005.
Related to ambition, a Christian faces the challenge of finding God’s purpose for his or her life. God can plant a burden in one’s heart that will not go away. It can also be a new career opportunity that comes with many unanswered questions forcing one to seek God’s guidance so that one does not make a wrong decision. At other times we face some uncertain situations that leave us with no answers. The case of young Samuel who was serving under Eli the high priest is instructive of God’s calling (I Sam. 3: 2-11). Samuel heard a voice calling his name and each time he went to Eli to inquire why the priest was calling him. At the third time, Eli realized that it was God who was calling Samuel. Similarly, God asked Abraham to leave everything, including his father’s household and go to a land that God will show him. Recall that Abraham had great wealth by the standard of his day, and then add to the that the uncertainty he must have felt going to a place he did not know. Yet Abraham left everything and set out as requested of him. Abraham’s encounter with God presents us with the nature of God’s call in our lives, particularly the uncertainty, but also the importance of trusting the almighty God with total surrender. The assures us that “He that calls us is faithful and worthy of our trust” (I Thesa. 5:24).
To be scripturally ambitious, therefore, is to submit our drive, determination, and ambition to the will of God. Obedience to God’s call translates to many blessings. When we submit our ways to God, he will
make our path straight (Prov. 3:6). Abraham was ascribed as a man of faith for obeying God’s command. God assured him that he would be a father of multitude of nations (Gen. 12:1-4). On the other hand, disobedience to God’s call may lead to some adverse repercussions (Jonah 1:2-11; I Sam. 15:24).
It is also instructive that following God’s plan or his call for our lives do not always guarantee a life that is free from pain. To the contrary, following God’s purpose for our lives can sometimes involve going through the storms of life. However, God offers us the right insight through which we can come to a deeper knowledge of God through our lived experiences. God wants us to understand that salvation comes through the cross. Our challenges prepare us for the greater good. Pain produces endurance, and endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation (Rom. 5:4). Accordingly, the Israelites wondered in the wilderness for forty years before they could enter the promise land. Arguably, the Scriptures is teaching us that there could be no salvation without the cross. So, whether we are at the top of the mountain of our lives, and everything is going great, or down in he valley or wilderness of life (e.g. the challenges of law school, your health, or even marriage), God is still good. His faithfulness never ceases. So This piece exhorts you not to despair, even if you are in the deep valley of your life. Always remember that the same God is the Lord of the mountains as well as the valleys. And when you find yourself at the deepest valley of life, be rest assured that God has not forgotten you. He will indeed make things right again for you. It is better to be in the zone that God has made for you, rather than pursuing the desires of your heart. Our ambition should be to find the will of God and to pursue it with all our hearts and minds and soul.
Finally, God commends diligence and hates the indolent. Ambition is good if we find our zeal in Christ Jesus. It becomes bad when it is tainted with a self-serving motive. Let him who boasts boast in the Lord (I Cor. 1:31).