How know I if Thou shoulds’t me raise
That I would there raise Thee?
Perhaps great places and great praise
Do not so well agree. —George Herbert
My friend Ray Stedman told me one day that he made a vow when he was a young man that he would never do anything for money, fame or position—a lofty ambition both then and now.
If God chooses to exalt us we should be grateful, but we should never seek greatness for ourselves. "Do you seek to be great" Jeremiah asks. "Seek it not.” Selfish ambition is a terrible trait, one that can take away our spiritual vitality and intimacy with God. "Ambition dulls the prophet-eye; It casts the unseen out," George MacDonald said (The Mother of Zebedee’s Children).
There's a remarkably relevant New Testament text describing a day on which the Apostles fell into a debate around the question, "Who's the greatest of us all" (Mark 9:33-37). Later that evening, having reached their destination, Jesus asked his disciples what they had been arguing about along the way. They lapsed into silence, ashamed of the question, as anyone should be.
Jesus then gave his disciples the secret of authentic greatness: If you want to be great. He said, make it your ambition to be very, very small, loving and caring for the little people all around that have no power or influence, that cannot advance your ends at all.
Just then a little unwashed street urchin ran into the room, or so I imagine the scene. Jesus, catching him by his shirttail and wrestling him onto His lap, cradled him in his arms close to His heart. "This is the way to be great,” He said.