“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord. All Kedar’s flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple. Who are these that fly along like clouds, like doves to their nests? Surely the islands look to me; in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your children from afar, with their silver and gold, to the honor of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favor I will show you compassion. Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations— their kings led in triumphal procession. For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined. The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the juniper, the fir and the cypress together, to adorn my sanctuary; and I will glorify the place for my feet. The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you the City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 60:1-14 (NIV)
Over the past two weeks, we have been digging into the story of the Tower of Babel as a case study in unbiblical ambition, using our work as a means of making a name for ourselves. In response to the Babylonians attempted glory-robbing, God “scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8). To God, the motives behind our ambition obviously matter a great deal.
But we have still yet to answer the question that I posed at the start of this devotional series: As Christians, is it possible to be ambitious in our work and still have our self-worth and identity firmly rooted in Jesus Christ? In other words, what does proper ambition look like as we create?
Today’s passage from Isaiah 60:1-14 provides a beautiful answer to those questions. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah is pointing us to a picture of the reversal of the events that transpired at the Tower of Babel. Rather than the people being scattered out of the city to the ends of the earth, Isaiah shows us a picture of all the nations coming back together into “the City of the Lord.” This isn’t Babel. This is a glimpse of the New Jerusalem on the New Earth.
But here’s what’s most fascinating about this glimpse of our eternal home: While the Babylonians were scattered throughout the earth because of their desire to create to make a name for themselves, Isaiah shows us people from around the world entering the New Jerusalem with cultural artifacts in hand. The people of Tarshish bring their ships, Midian and Ephah bring their livestock, Sheba brings gold and frankincense. “The wealth of the nations,” the best creations of the nations, are being brought into the eternal city to glorify the One who called the people to create. Unlike in Babel, the people are not using their creations to glorify themselves, they are laying their creations down as an offering of worship to God.
Scripture commands us to “work…with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23). We are called to be ambitious, to work hard, and to be good stewards of the talents God has given us. But we are called to do these things not for our own glory, but to “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When our work is motivated by a desire to glorify God, serve others, and create something that may be considered “the wealth of the nations,” laid down as an offering to God, then we have proper ambition to create with everything we’ve got.