How Ambition Destroys Discernment

Over the weekend, I caught a documentary on the Jim Jones episode which occurred some 30 years ago. What a horror story. The footage was remarkable. I didn’t know that there were recordings of Jones instructing those in his fold to “drink the Koolaid.” (It wasn’t exactly Koolaid.)

Jones was typical of leaders of his ilk. According to the experts who knew and studied him, he was highly gifted, charismatic (in personality), humorous, like-able, knew how to make people feel “important,” yet … an egomaniac, very insecure, fixated on his own importance, paranoid, easily jealous, a shameless self-promoter, corrupt and dishonest.

Not long after watching that program, I was informed that a person I know joined a movement that’s exclusive, sectarian, elitist, and marked by dishonesty, unmitigated arrogance, paranoia, jealousy, and the tearing down of others falsely. All leaving behind a long, long trail of hurt and devastated Christians. (I realize that this description fits many different movements, sadly.)

The interesting thing about it is that this person had been educated in the dangers of all of the above. And I’m aware of at least one person who warned him specifically. Yet still … he’s become a “true believer” of this movement. (I realize that this description fits many different people, sadly.)

“How does this happen?,” you might ask, as you shake your head in disbelief.

One major element in the mix is spiritual ambition. There are many “dreamers” who wish to become something for God which, in reality, they aren’t cut out for, called to, or are not ready for. Such benighted ambition blinds them to truth and honesty, and it smothers both their conscience and their discernment. Good judgment goes out the window … and so does integrity. It renders the person utterly “clueless” as to what’s really going on. And they aren’t in touch with any of this.

It’s both sad and fascinating to say the least.

A word of advice to the ambitious. Follow your conscience, never let your integrity be compromised, pay attention to the warning signs, and ultimately, throw away the calender and let God promote you. Have the attitude: If God doesn’t promote me then I won’t be promoted.

To put it in a sentence: decline the Koolaid when it’s being passed to you.

Selah.

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Comments

  1. Tim de Groot says

    Wow, that’s so weird Frank. I’m on the other side of the globe and we must have some kind of mind link going or sumthin! Just kidding, I’m quite orthodox really ;) seriously though, Jones Town has been on my mind a lot for the past year: I think that what happened there poses interesting questions about obedience, conformity and Spiritual Abuse. Why is it that seemingly good, rational people, can uphold such an oppressive, abusive system and cause such atrocities? For me personally, understanding this, is playing a big part in coming to terms with what has happened to me (in thankfully a somewhat less sinister movement) and how Jesus wants me to function in His body.
    Perhaps you’ve heard of a study into obedience by Milgram and another into conformity by Zimbardo? They too give interesting insights. Zimbardo’s classic experiment was recently portrayed in “The Experiment”.

  2. Charlie says

    Frank

    Have a look at the writings of Rene Girard e.g. ‘I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning’.
    His mimetic theory and disclosure of the scapegoat mechanism has much to say about why we follow other men to satisfy our metaphysical desire especially in the field of religion.The book above is a gem that will help you greatly in your organic church work and calling.

  3. Jon says

    FROG
    I have one foot on the platform, the other foot on the train. Soon after discovering my election, I joined a Bible church. I was associated with many godly men, well versed in scripture.

    After attending my first Missions’ Conference, I knew there was an axiomatic problem.

    Unfortunately, if we put the same ambition pursuing Christ, we lose our ability to provide for ourselves, our families, the missionaries and Pastors we support, becoming another beggar Missionary, devoting time and energy to fundraising so we can continue our ministry.

    Do you see the conundrum? Unless we take an ascetic’s vow of poverty, some of our ambition (and energy) is used supporting whatever it is we do.

    And, one cannot give more than 100%. We devote a portion of our lives to Christ and a portion of our lives to the world. It’s the way it will be until our Savior returns for us.

    I am still a member of the aforementioned Bible church. I count in my association a few men to whom Christ revealed his Church. We gently reach out to others who express desire to learn about the Body, but we do it quietly and discretely. I have even shared “Pagan Christianity,” and “Reimagining Church,” with the Pastor, an Uncle who is a Pastor, and another Uncle who fits the biblical Elder description well. The Pastor and I discuss the concepts at lunch, periodically; lest I be deceived by Frank, George, and the Organic Churchers, too.

    The men who are a product of the Christian Industrial Complex are not always receptive to the organic church idea. I try to remain sympathetic to their views because they love Christ. But, God will not be thwarted.

  4. Chris C says

    I am driven by ambition! My goal is only to hear “Well done! Thou good and faithful servant!” The key to hearing these words is that I must only follow and obey my Master. Hearing well done from the crowd, or even from myself will not help me achieve my ‘ambition’.

    • says

      There’s a considerable difference in seeking to please the Lord and in being ambitious in ministry to gain the approval of others, to increase one’s own security and identity, etc. The piece had the latter in view.

  5. tracy says

    You just described the past one I was in – they joked about not dabbling in the koolaid -and made remarks that some view them as a cult and laughed about it… however deception is poison and witchcraft – even though they make there cut and paste twisting of the scriptures seem biblical and right! – they are deceiving and manipulating the sheep and made the quote * bishop * of the house Lord instead of The Lord Jesus Christ himself.. Thank God my eyes were opened..!!!

  6. Pal Madden says

    It is a good thing to desire to be an overseer, but not ones who dominates and controls, which, unfortunately, seems to be the mantra of the profressional clergy in the IC.

    I have personally experienced the abuse when having moved ahead with the desire to become an overseer developed ministries that had great effect in beringing others together in small group settings through innovative means.

    Then, once they became successful the ‘robed professionals’ wanted control. Why? Because they wanted a bullet on their resume. They’re building a “career”, and professional ministers have of a way of looking at anything being developed under their”covering” as theirs for the taking. They don’t just think they own what you accomplish, but own you as well.

    At Y LIFE Online, we offering leadership development by encouraging all to move forward toward the prize of the high call — through Christ centered ambition.

    I think the best way is to keep in front of us that we are first and foremost servants. If we can maintain that mindset then I think our ambitions will be led in the right direction, and Christ will remain the honored one – the central focus of our ambition.

  7. George says

    This sounds an awful lot like a group I know about. Its not part of the traditional church and they talk a lot about Jesus and being for Christ only but it has all the attributes you describe. I’ve wondered how christians can be so gullible but it makes sense that ambitions can cause people to not see.

  8. Jim says

    Psalm 127:1 ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it…’ I think this truth applies to both career and ministry.

    Jeremiah 17:5 ‘Cursed be the man that trusteth in man…’ 7 ‘Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord…’

    It is not WHAT we build, but HOW we build. Are we willing to lay down our own ambition and trust God with every detail. We must stop saying ‘God I’m building this ministry for you, hope you like it.’ The desire to do something for God and then attach our name to its success is self ambition and blinds us from his true plan.

    I find it interesting that ‘ambitious’ is not listed in Galations 5:23-23 as one of the friuts of the Spirit.

  9. says

    Aaron, the simple point I was making is that if a person is ambitious to “be something” in the kingdom and this desire hasn’t gone to the cross, and it trumps their desire to be obedient to Christ and to follow their conscience, then they will be very susceptible to being sucked into movements like the one I described. The simple point is that personal ambition can destroy spiritual discernment. It causes a person to become blind to reality. Others look on and see it plainly; but the person themselves are out of touch.

  10. David Smith says

    Thanks Frank, very good stuff.

    I would add this to your paragraph starting with “A word of advice to the ambitious.”

    Obey God, and let God be responsible for the consequences. It is when we think that God is not up to doing it right, that our hope and trust is in the wrong places. Jeremiah 17:5-9 shows us this is not a good place to be in.

  11. Jim says

    We also have recently come out of a control centered ministy. It is amazing that when you are under the cover of a controller, you can’t see what is really happening. It is only when you get out from under the cover, that you can see again.

    To quote a 70’s song, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone…It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiney day!”

    The good news for us is that we learned what couldn’t be taught in books and out of our expereince an organic church has been planted. There is no substitute for tearing down the old structure and starting over only knowing what it shouldn’t look like.

  12. John Hanner says

    Seth,
    I appreciate your comments. I am fighting bitterness – and for the past year I have been seeking the Lord for my part. I know I have sinned, and asked for God’s forgiveness and have received it. I also sought it from the body and this particular person. It is still hard. Our plan is to find a ‘safe’ place to mark time so-to-speak to get re-aligned right with the Lord and wait on Him for next steps. Jesus is where my focus is for now. Thanks much,
    John

  13. Seth says

    Coming out of a group like this or any controlling group that has gone south requires the grace of God and a heart willing to look at ourself. Instead of becoming bitter which is the great temptation as well as exposing the falsehood of the leader or the group hoping that that would bring some kind of closure or justification for what you went through is not neccasarily the right thing to do.
    As ded commented seek and you shall find. It is somewhat difficult to not blame others and instead take a hard look at yourself and your own heart and see who we really are, then look to Christ as our all. Remember the heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all else. Our only hope is Christ.
    I remember when I was a young Christian I so much wanted to please God by my own effort and only ended up in self-condemnation. I would fall on my knees exhausted at trying to be holy only to fail. Then the Lord would speak to me about simply seeking Him and being intimate with Him. How could an imperfect being make himself perfect. The Lord would tell me let me be concerned about changing you, you just seek me.
    Unfortunately this was too easy and didn’t leave any room for my self. So I ran after what i thought was the movement of God and tryed to receive all of the teaching and revelation, kind of a short cut way to get closer to God. At the end of about 7 years the Lord led me out and began to open my eyes to see I was right back where I was before. The Lord was telling me that I learned alot about Him but didn’t really know Him and know His voice as well as I had thought. It was clouded by my own ambition. (On one quick note for those who have been exposed to the prophetic movement of the charismatic side you will find that most of the personal prophecys received is to puff you up spiritually instead of help ground you in the truth of Christ, that was my experience anyway).
    I see the Lord always calling us unto Himself but will also allow us to go the way we choose until we come to the end of ourselves and He just calls us closer to Him again.
    It definately takes time to heal and recover from a bad spiritual experience especially if you are left confused or hurt and had your identity in the group you came out of. My only encouragement is to echo what brother Frank said- throw away the calendar and just get to know Him- let Him take care of the rest. Also, resist the temptations that will arise to dwell on the past or get involved again emotionally or mentally. The only help you can provide is to point to Christ.

  14. John Hanner says

    I hesitate to respond. I am just coming out of the receiving end of something like this. There’s been a lot of hurt and lost relationships. I am concerned for I believe that some are seeing “change” and “activity” as the sign of God’s approval and blessing on this one person as the anointed one for this particular body.

    It is very true to say – leaving it up to God to promote. I am just saddened by how many do not see what the few of us have seen. We are moving on – and still praying for those left behind. But by God’s grace any of us can fall into the subtle trap.

  15. says

    Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find.” This statement is generally regarded as a reference to finding God and in context, that would be clear. Does it also indicate a principle? If so, then those who seek self-aggrandizement, find it, along with commensurate consequences..

    Also, in the Sermon on the Mount we read, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Since there is no purity except in Christ, I suggest only those who have connected with and put their faith in the in-dwelling Christ can see God. In other words reliance on the righteousness of Christ opens one spiritually to “see” God.

    Conversely those without faith in the in-dwelling Christ never see God, though they might be able to deceive others to the contrary, through the use of their over-inflated self-esteem and passionate rhetoric of their fidelity with God. Again, those following such wolf in sheep’s clothing, have found the object they seek.

    If the above be correct, it compels us to understand how idolatry works and is undone by humility before God.

  16. Seth says

    I also have been there done that meaning I was part of a movement that was “The” move of God, so we thought. One of the main emphasis was the Apostle and the need for discipleship. Although much of it was good. Those of us that were being trained had our spiritual egos stroked on a continual basis all to serve the ministry which in fact was to serve the “man of God” who had much of the characteristics as described of Jim Jones.
    Coming out of that the Lord has graciously kept me in His hand and from running out and trying to be a minister and prove myself for Him. I have found that the Lord has challenged me to die to my ambition and desire to be used of Him. This sometimes is very difficult more so when i was under the strong impression that my acceptance of Him depended on my service and dedication to Him. Now that I realize I can do nothing apart from Him-I always thought that and agreed with that mentally but didn’t actually have that revelation. Now I am learning to live by His life. The simple understanding of Christ in me and me in Him and the truth of Christ and the Church that totally liberates from self-ambition and religious do more try harder mentality is in so much need. I find that when I talk to other believers and I just share Christ with them they are being relieved and set free. However, even in that I have found myself wanting to run with it, like now I have the answer and there is so much need. I must share this with all.
    It is so true that the need for the understanding and revelation of the simplicity of Christ and His church is abundant. I have found the Lord still sitting me down challenging me to be still and wants me to truly get it, not just in understanding but in reality of experience and life (Him in me living). Although the need is so great and many can and will benefit by the truth of Christ now, He is still very concerned that we truly get it, get Him and live by Him that we are not lost in our ambition to make Him known. Instead we are led by His Spirit and driven by His passion not mingled with our own self righteous ambition. Thankfully many have embraced the cross and are living by His life and are being released to share Christ. I am learning not to be anxious but to be still and know Him and that He will be exalted in all the earth.
    Also, see the story of Gideon. It isn’t in the strength of the many. It is when each of those who drink the water of the word carefully and not just drink up all the teachings of the self-centered Koolaid gospel and then are willing to come under the truth of the cross, which is a dying to self and a living by Him, united with Him, with others that are in Him. Each barley (each individual life) willing to be smashed at the mill (cross) and lose our entity in Him and be joined with those who also have done so- we become that united body of Christ- the barley loaf. When each of us as the earthen clay jars are broken and allow the life of Christ shine by the power of the Holy Spirit will the enemy be wiped out. Much like on the day of pentecost. They were all of one accord broken and the Holy Spirit came upon them they became that one loaf. and 3000 were layed low, baptized and became one with them.
    Let us make it our ambition to embrace His life and let go of our own, completely.

  17. Kate says

    I, too, happened to watch this program. It made me think about how the enemy gathers people together by convincing them that a man can be your Savior. Many will be deceived in the last days in this exact way. A person who has not had a revelation of Jesus Christ has not had his eyes opened to the Real Person hood of who He is and will naturally follow the path of least resistance of following a man who they can see, hear and touch. Man is desperately seeking love today and there are a multitude of voices that will promote and promise satisfaction to their search.

    It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And that’s how it is with God’s love once you’ve experienced it (to quote an ol’ campfire song). Those who have received the revelation of Christ will admit to those around him, I can not resolve your love problem, but I can tell you about the reality of the One who came to me to resolve mine. And He will do the same for you. Lift Jesus up and He will draw all men to Himself (not to us). But He must be REAL to us first or we have nothing to say or give them.

  18. Theresa says

    Selfish ambition and building of personal kingdoms is an epidemic in institutional Christianity. I have to admit I was under it for so long that I have to be careful not to get caught up in what “success” is in His Kingdom. Some people who are caught up in “the success driven church” give lip service to being submitted to Gods promotion while they drive others to build their ministries. Instead of strengthening the people of God they add the strength of the people to their ministry. You know what it is like, get around a bunch of ministers and conversations go something like “so how’s the ministry?” “Oh we’re up 15% this month nearly 600 last Sunday” Or being involved in itinerant ministry…..how booked you are and are you international yet? So while the vast majority will not be a Jim Jones offering sinaid laced Koolaid to their followers, many will slowly poisen the sheep with a distorted gospel deminishing the spiritual vitality of true Kingdom life.

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