The boy was thirteen when, in 1848, he arrived in the United States from Scotland. Like many young immigrants, he started work under conditions appalling by modern standards. He was a bobbin boy in a dirty, dangerous cotton factory, working long, hard hours for little pay. Later he became an engine tender, telegraphic messenger, and operator for a railroad company. Then, during twelve years’ employment with the Pennsylvania Railroad, he thought people might appreciate sleeping cars on trains; the idea took.
A few years later, rightly predicting the growing importance of steel in a nation charging ahead in the Industrial Revolution, he started the Keystone Bridge Works. We know that company today as USX—the former United States Steel, once largest of the giant steel manufacturers in the world. And we know its founder as one of the richest men of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Andrew Carnegie.
Almost a century later another young man converted to Christ and began witnessing constantly. Soon he was discipling converts, teaching them to do what he did.
Next he gathered a small group and went regularly into the lonely hills to pray. For what? For daily food, or family needs, or their churches? Sometimes perhaps, but those weren’t at the top of the agenda. They were praying for the whole United States—and then for the whole world. They’d take maps with them and pray for specific countries, asking God to send laborers into the harvest.
From those prayers grew The Navigators, a worldwide ministry that has employed tens of thousands and been used by God to win millions to Christ. And Dawson Trotman’s vision has spilled over into the work of many other Christian organizations whose leaders—like Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ— were strongly influenced by him.
What did Dawson Trotman and Andrew Carnegie share? Ambition. They were ambitious men, and their ambition gave them the energy necessary to achieve many times more than most people ever begin to imagine.
It’s common to talk of great industrial moguls as ambitious, less common to talk of Christians that way. Many Christians struggle with how to relate ambition and Christian spirituality. They might be uncomfortable with their own ambitions. Or perhaps they know someone whose powerful ambitions make them wonder whether he has the humility that should mark followers of Christ.
Handling ambition would be immeasurably easier if there were an eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt not be ambitious.” But in the absence of such guidance, we must consider prayerfully what Scripture says and how other Christians have resolved the relationship of spirituality and ambition.
–Discipleship Journal, Issue 46 (July/August 1988) (NavPress, 1988).