When Healthy Aspiration Becomes Harmful Ambition

Bishop’s Message

When healthy aspiration becomes harmful ambition

Here’s an old Irish blessing that I remind myself of at the start of every new year.

May you have the hindsight to know where you have been,
the foresight to know where you are going,
and the insight to know when you are going too far.

I think the composer of Psalm 131 would have said “Amen”. He wrote in verse 1,

“My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty.
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

The psalmist recognises that pride and haughtiness can sometimes seduce us into getting involved in matters that are too great and too grand. Pride makes us bite off more than we should chew. And if we keep on chewing, we end up choking—ourselves, and others.

There is an important difference between healthy aspiration and harmful ambition. Pride blinds us from seeing the distinction.

Yes, it is good to aspire to be the best that we can be. Yes, there is value in pushing oneself and reaching for the stars.

But too much pushing, and what is good will become bad; the healthy will become harmful. Water is good for us, essential for good health and good living. But too much water, and we will drown.

Psalm 131 seeks to save us from forfeiting the health of our souls in the relentless pursuit of too much.

The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “Psalm 131 takes only a few seconds to read, but a lifetime to learn.” Its wisdom is appreciated by most only in the twilight years of life.
When we are young, it is difficult to avoid the harmful ambition that seduces us into ventures that stretch us too far.

This new year, may God grant to me, and you, and all our families,

the hindsight to know where we have been,
the foresight to know where we should be going,
and the insight to know when we are going too far.

Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020.
He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2012-2020.